Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
by Margalit Fox
HarperCollins, 2013.  363 pgs.  Nonfiction

The decipherment of Linear B, the language of ancient Crete, has never had the same press or romance as the cracking of the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics (thanks to the Rosetta stone). But, the greater difficulty, and even seeming impossibility, of the task gives this story an intellectual vigor and sense of urgency that makes it a great puzzle book for summer reading. Although Fox gives attention to each of the three principals--the archaeologist who discovered the Linear B tablets, the scholar who laid all the groundwork, and the amateur linguist who finished solving the puzzle, the book's main character is Alice Kober, a professor of classics at Brooklyn College who devoted every spare minute, and ever scrap of rationed paper (during wartime) to decoding Linear B.  Largely overlooked in linguistic history, and overworked and neglected in her time, she died at an early age before she could finish her life's work. One may learn much about the nature of language from this text, but also the nature of hard physical and intellectual work in pursuit of a transcendent goal.


No comments: