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What is Mycenae?


First fact: Leesville has a student-run school newspaper. Second fact: It’s called the Mycenaean. Third fact: You have no idea what Mycenaean means, stands for, relates to, or describes.

I caught up with Grace Newton, a freshman who is going to be a part of the newspaper team next year. Newton calls herself excited to be a part of the newspaper and thinks she is ready for the class.

I asked, “Do you know the name of the newspaper?”

“Yes,” she said, sarcastically, already proving her aptitude for the class.

“Do you know what Mycenaean means?” I ask.

“I don’t know what it means,” she replies, sheepishly. “I think it has something to do with ancient history….I think Mr. Dink told me, but I don’t remember what he said.”

In fairness, Newton is closer to the mark than she thinks, at least relative to the majority of the Leesville population. Mycenae, actually pronounced My-see-nee, was a fortified ancient Greek city just south of the arguably more famous Corinth.

Mycenae has a rich mythological history, supposedly founded by Perseus. That Perseus. The one who killed Medusa and defeated the Gorgons and rode the first Pegasus. He installed his progeny as the Perseid Dynasty, eventually giving way to the Atreid line. One of the Atreides was Agamemnon, the commander of the allied Greeks in the Trojan War.

Mr. Dinkenor, a world history teacher, was the one to suggest the name Mycenaean for the newspaper.

“In the fourth week of the fall semester in 1993, they sent around a flyer to all the teachers. It came to my room in first period, where I was teaching World History. I was on the ancient Greeks and the correct name for the mainland Greeks of that time was Mycenaeans,” said Dinkenor.

This confused me. I was just told that our newspaper has a fascinating name by chance? I wondered, what if the flyer had come around later in the semester–could the newspaper have been named the Forum for the Romans or the Han for the ancient Chinese?

“There’s so many misconceptions about Greece. You know, most people already say ‘it’s all Greek to me’. I thought, well, alright, that’s a cool name, nobody will really know what it’s about, and it was accepted….I’m glad it stuck. It’s a cool name. That’s one legacy, I guess, after twenty-three years [of teaching at Leesville],” said Dinkenor.

Solely as a sophisticated and interesting name, “Mycenaean” works extremely well. However, I was disappointed that the name had occurred by happenstance. Now the question was, who do you turn to to talk about an obscure ancient Greek city? Leesville’s resident classics doctorate: Dr. Mash.

Dr. Mash has a Ph.D in Classics and is an expert not only in Latin but in Greek language and Greek history. Even better: he’s actually been to Mycenae.

“It’s a very, very old city. Homer describes it as ‘rich in gold’, and ‘well built’ and as ‘having broad streets’,” said Mash.

Dr. Mash provided me with two strong connections between the ancient city of Mycenae and Leesville: the Lion Gate and Linear B.

The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate is one of the most famous and earliest sculptures of ancient Greece. It’s a massive entryway, three meters wide and tall, built from limestone slabs. Adorning the top of the gate are two headless lion or lioness statues, facing each other with a column in between them. This is a style shown in many small figurines found at ancient sites, but the only large scale example is at Mycenae.

“The connection to the school is the Lion Gate. It dates to about 1250 BC and is very imposing,” said Mash.

He then describes the controversy surrounding the lions, a link to Leesville’s mascot, the Pride: “There’s some debate as of whether they’re lions or lionesses, and some people say they’re griffins.”

Some scholars believe the missing heads were actually human models, making the lions into a composite form of something like a sphinx. This is the most obvious link between Mycenae and Leesville. In the ancient city, the lions represented the king and royalty; now, at Leesville, lions represent a pride, a group that works together to benefit each other and themselves.

Linear B

In the time of the ancient Greeks, most information was transmitted through speech. Slowly, written language began to evolve, beginning as a series of administrative and tax related pictographs. The first such language was Linear A, developed and used by the ancient Minoans. This language has never been deciphered, but its descendent, Linear B, was translated in 1952 by a cryptologist named Michael Ventris. Linear B was the primary written language of the Mycenaeans.

“Inscriptions in clay tablets as a sort of administrative catalog of goods and things have been found at Mycenae, as well as Pylos in the western side of the Peloponnese, but the Mycenaeans are responsible for giving us this treasure trove of Linear B,” said Mash.

Linear B is an important link from the proto-script of the Minoans to the more highly developed strains of written ancient Greek. The Greek language then heavily influenced the development of Latin, which spread across all of Europe and Asia; from there, it intermingled with Germanic languages to eventually result in modern English.

In a way, modern school teaching, based around written notes and calculations, owe its roots to the very early beginnings of writing of Linear B. The language began as a way to keep track of trades and wealth, eventually giving rise to mathematics and geometry. In this way, the Mycenaeans are directly connected to Leesville and the newspaper; without the original basis for written language, a newspaper could not exist.

Dr. Mash, on his first day teaching at the school, was excited to see the name of the newspaper. “I was really impressed when I saw that it was called the Mycenaean. I thought, ‘I’m home.’ It’s a really neat imagery that the school has adopted,” said Mash.

The Mycenaean is a central part of academic Leesville culture, especially for students interested in English. The freshman Paideia class acts as a virtual pipeline, channeling motivated, well-spoken students into the newspaper class. Even though the name was originally chosen due to chance, Mycenaean has become synonymous with the ideas central to Leesville: intelligence, teamwork, and pride.


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