2 Jan 2010
Happy 2010, everyone. Rise and shine! Party's over so let's get back to dead languages. (Coffee helps a hangover so drink up, my puppies.)
Let's talk about the Minoan name for ''Minoa'' (ie. Crete and the surrounding region controlled by Minoans in the 2nd millenium BCE). Although we continue to use Sir Evan's label for Minoans, there's little mystery anymore what we probably should be calling them: Kaptarians. Alas, even so, I don't think the name will catch on any more than Nessite for the technically incorrect term Hittite. We have Kaptara in Mari texts, the Akkadian rendering Kabturi, Egyptian *Kaftiu (kftiw) and Biblical Kapthor. All of these names point to Crete and Minoan civilization. Yet if we know this much, we must ask: What exactly was the Minoan form of the name then and what did the name mean?
So far, I've settled on the form *Kapadar with stress accent fixed on the first syllable, as is the norm in Proto-Aegean languages. If *-r is the Minoan plural (nb. U-NA-(RU-)KA-NA-SI = una(r) kanasi 'they bear a libation/libations'; Etruscan -(a)r [animate plural]), there may be a singular noun *kapada here. But then, what would that word even sensibly mean in a way that explains the name for Crete? (Yes, I realize this is wild conjecture so far but bear with me.)
Coincidentally Latin capitalis 'capital, of the head' from whence English capital, a column, is derived from caput 'head'. Germanic *haubida- 'head' is related in some way but the reconstruction of PIE *kaput is illegitimate when supported by only two adjacent branches in Western Europe which don't even obey accepted sound correspondences. I don't have faith in it and it makes me suspect that, to the contrary, this is not a genuine PIE root but rather evidence of an underlying Proto-Aegean word *kapada 'summit', which would have syncopated in Pre-Etruscan, yielding Etruscan *capaθ, precisely the form to explain the source of Latin caput. The semantics work as well since the 'head' is the 'summit' of the body. (You may be asking "Why 'summit'??" but, again, bear with me because this all ties together.)
Solving the 'caput caper', we come back to this name for Crete, *Kapadar, and an interesting value now of 'Summits' or 'Peaks'. But what summits? Why, the divine peaks, of course: Mount Ida (Minoan *Ida I-DA) and Mount Dikte (Minoan *Adíkitu A-DI-KI-TU). We know these two in particular to be very sacred to the Minoans. That might explain the Horns of Consecration motif in Knossos, pictured below, which start to look a lot like twin peaks much like the undoubtedly related Egyptian aker symbolism also pictured below. The Egyptian symbol is reverence to both the evening sun as it passes into the underworld and the morning sun as it rises out of it and I doubt the meaning behind the Minoan symbol was much different.
Now we see why the value of 'summit' for an Aegean root *kapada works well to tie all of these ideas together. So is it possible that the true Minoan name for Minoa was also the name of an important symbol of their world-view?