Clay tablets from Haghia Triada #poetry #dVerse

Minoan Linear A
By Y-barton – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Their fates sealed in fire
3,500 years before
we found them
at a place we now call Haghia Triada
or ‘The Holy Trinity’
on the plane of Mesara.
I went there
young student
just wanting to see where they’d been found
‘Dissi-looken! Dissi-looken!’ pointed out
a helpful local man who spoke German
but not English
He spelled it out in syllables
like an inscription from one of the tablets itself.

We haven’t managed to decipher them
the entire known corpus of Linear A
would fit onto two sides of A4 paper.
What’s the hope then?
We know a lot, from what we’ve got:
numerical systems,
the word for ‘total’
names of places and personnel.
Fragments, hints
remnants of a lost race:
I can’t forget them.

in the wet clay of a once-real day
tell us everything we need to know
about humanity:
we are merely
scratching the surface
of something so profound
we only glimpse it in a heartbeat
remembered in a whisper
etched in clay.

© All Rights Reserved.

Written for dVerse

Tonight, Merril hosts Poetics, and has asked us to:

…write about a historical artifact…You may write about any object—a family heirloom, a museum piece, a monument, or a palace. The choice is yours, but there must be some link to history and the past. You can write in any form or free verse.

There was really only one choice for me. As a Classics student, I became fascinated (perhaps a little obsessed?) with the Linear A script from Bronze Age Crete, which remains undeciphered to this day. The script was mainly found etched into clay tablets which were later baked in destructive fires deliberately started, perhaps by invaders.

The largest hoard of tablets comes from Haghia Triada on the Mesara Plain close to Phaistos. I visited the site during a study trip to Crete in 2006. There was also a famous Minoan sarcophagus discovered here (see featured image) depicting Minoan funeral rituals. But for me, the most moving artefacts ever recovered from Bronze Age Crete are those clay tablets. Perhaps that’s because, as a writer, I feel some kind of intimate connection with the scribes who wrote thousands of years ago.

Featured image: Haghia Triada Sarcophagus By Jebulon – Own work, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

71 thoughts on “Clay tablets from Haghia Triada #poetry #dVerse

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Ingrid! I especially love the last stanza–“ghost etchings. . .scratching the surface
    of something so profound. . .”
    I think that’s true of so much of history.
    I recently read the novel Cloud Cuckoo Land, and through centuries of time, people are connected through a story pieced together from ancient fragments.

  2. Linear A fascinates me. That we have so few of the words, and can’t even tell if some of the words are names of people, makes me wonder about this civilisation. Not secretive, I think just businesslike. Run (by women possibly) just to keep families alive and comfortable, not to leave a mark in history, start wars, conquest and build monuments. So unlike the Mycenaean culture.

    1. They did build some fantastic palaces! And I think their navy was so strong until after the Thera eruption that they didn’t need to be warlike. Women did seem to play an important role at least in ritual functions though!

      1. Their navy was commercial. They didn’t have an army, not as such. They weren’t interested in conquest. Signs are it was a matriarchy, husband going to live in the wife’s house and inheritance through the mother. That tends to calm them down a bit 🙂

  3. Love your take on the prompt. Can you imagine work as a scribe “back in the day”?? To write in stone….strong hands, brilliant minds.

  4. This has a wonderful shape and feel to it, Ingrid: the trinity of stanzas and even the lines themselves suggesting findings and half-lost things; mosaic patterns and, uh huh, ‘ghost etchings’.

    It’s about language and meanings and communicating and understanding, too, isn’t it? The ‘helpful local’ speaking German, trying to make his words make sense by breaking them down! I’m drawn to the connection between clay (tablets), A4 and (tablet) screens, too! Wonderful.

    The sarcophagus ain’t too shabby either 🙂

    1. Thank you for the close reading, Nick! It is indeed about all of those things. The ‘dissi looken’ guy was a legend 🙂 and I didn’t make the connection with electronic tablets when I was writing, but I think it is there.

  5. So interesting, lovely start, and lines—reminds me of the Assyrian tablets, in Iraq, which when they finally decoded were epics, speaking of a great flood, and outlining advanced geometry.

  6. I loved your sstory and information. I chose a similar subject. Those stories yet untold have always fascinated me. Good challenge, Ingrid.

  7. wow the history and connection to the writing and the fact they are preserved and didn’t burn is amazing. Of course your incredible writing goes without saying Ingrid! 💖👏

  8. I think this evokes the central mystery of the past so well–it fascinates us and the more it puzzles us, the more we wish we knew. The detail brings this piece alive.

  9. The sarcophagus is beautiful. The clay tablet is meticulously made by hand. That human touch is what makes it so compelling for me. Poignant that its meaning is likely to remain a mystery. Your poem is lovely, and the last verse is perfection! <3 I appreciate exposure to your education in the classics. I was a little surprised that that is your background, as you certainly have very broad interests and knowledge.

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