Blog really is back.
The following is another in an occasional series and a book I finished in early January. Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth crackles with intrigue. In fact the subtitle should have been “a mystery in three acts” rather than The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code.
Fox presents Arthur Evans, the slap-dash amateur who discovers tablets on the island of Crete written in the ancient language Linear B; Alice Kober, the dogged scholar, constrained by time, money, and then ill health, who comes within a hair’s breadth of solving the riddle; and Michael Ventris, the brash, driven architect who solves the mystery.
On the whole, Fox sustains the narrative and offers a grand picture of Minoan life. She does on occasion get deep into the weeds of “known knowns” and “unknown unknowns” with multiple grids and linguistic juggling. There isn’t enough of meandering to detract from the way through the labyrinth, though.
Linear B lacked the Rosetta Stone that helped scholars translate Egyptian hieroglyphics. It crossed my academic path briefly during a course in ancient Greek, and the story is even better than I remember.
There are multiple layers of intrigue here besides cracking the code. The ending, though, is a letdown because of the content of the tablets and because the “mystery” surrounding Ventris’s death really isn’t. In the end, though, The Riddle creates a thought-provoking image of a world that disappeared from collective consciousness.