Working Papers by Author

Adrienne Mayor - Classics Department, Stanford University


071202 Making Sense of “Nonsense” Inscriptions: Non-Greek Words Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Ancient Greek Vases
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University; John Colarusso, McMaster University; and David Saunders, J. Paul Getty Museum
Download PDF Abstract: More than 2,000 “nonsense” inscriptions (meaningless strings of Greek letters) appear on ancient Greek vases. We ask whether some nonsense inscriptions and non- Greek words associated with figures of Scythians and Amazons represent meaningful sounds (phonemes) in foreign languages spoken in “Scythia” (Black Sea-Caucasus region). We analyze the linguistic patterns of nonsense inscriptions and non-Greek words on thirteen vases featuring Scythians and Amazons by otherwise literate vase painters (550-450 BC). Our results reveal that for the first time in more than two millennia, some puzzling inscriptions next to Scythians and Amazons can be deciphered as appropriate names and words in ancient forms of Iranian, Abkhazian, Circassian, Ubykh, and Georgian. These examples appear to be the earliest attestations of Caucasian and other “barbarian” tongues. This new linguistic approach to so-called nonsense inscriptions sheds light on Greco-Scythian relations, literacy, bilingualism, iconography, and ethnicity; it also raises questions for further study.
This paper replaces 031201 originally published in March 2012.

031201 Making Sense of “Nonsense” Inscriptions: Non-Greek Words Associated with Amazons and Scythians on Ancient Greek Vases
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University; John Colarusso, McMaster University; and David Saunders, J. Paul Getty Museum
Revised July 2012. See 071202 entry.

051101 The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University and Antoinette Hayes, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
Download PDF Abstract: Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus, Justin, and other ancient historians report that rumors of poisoning arose after the death of Alexander in Babylon in 323 B.C. Alexander’s close friends suspected a legendary poison gathered from the River Styx in Arcadia, so corrosive that only the hoof of a horse could contain it. It’s impossible to know the real cause of Alexander’s death, but a recent toxicological discovery may help explain why some ancient observers believed that Alexander was murdered with Styx poison. We propose that the river harbored a killer bacterium that can occur on limestone rock deposits. This paper elaborates on our Poster presentation, Toxicological History Room, XII International Congress of Toxicology, Barcelona, 19-23 July 2010, and Society of Toxicology Annual Meeting, Washington DC, March 2011.
This paper replaces 091008 originally published in September 2010 and 071001 originally published in July 2010.

091008 The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University
Revised May 2011. See 051101 entry.

071001 The Deadly Styx River and the Death of Alexander
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University
Revised September 2010. See 091010 entry.

061001 Sweating Truth in Ancient Carthage
Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University
Download PDF Abstract: Richard Miles’s Carthage Must Be Destroyed (2010) justifies a new look at Gustave Flaubert’s controversial novel Salammbô (1862). An abridged version of this essay appeared as “Pacesetter,” London Review of Books 32 (June 2010): 30-31.