Nimble Dancing


More fun facts from Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond:

While the Mycenaean Greeks had a written language called Linear B, it was known only to scribes and was used exclusively for taxation. It was also a syllabic language, meaning it had a character for each syllable, unlike the phonetic alphabets of modern languages, where you can make all kinds of syllables using a much smaller combination of symbols.

Mycenaean civilization ended around 1200 B.C.E. — we’re not sure why. The ancients attributed it to a Dorian invasion, but it also could have been due to volcanic activity. Anyway Greece had 400 years where nothing was built or written.

Just after 800 B.C.E., around the time of Homer, society was revitalized and they borrowed the alphabet of the Phoenicians, adding a few letters and voila! The beginning of European literature. Homer was the first known author, although many say his poems were actually written by another blind poet of the same name.

But the first preserved example of Greek alphabetic writing is on a potsherd from around 740 B.C.E. which reads:

“Whoever of all the dancers performs most nimbly will win this vase as a prize.”