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Dreros #1


This inscription was found in autumn of 1936 by P. Demargne and H. van Effenterre in the western part of the large Hellenistic cistern next to the east wall of the Delphinion (temple of Apollo Delphinios) in Dreros, at a depth between 3 to 4 metres. It probably came from the east wall of the Delphinion where seven other texts giving official religious and political decisions were found. It was published by Henri van Effenterre in Revue de Philologie, 3rd series, Volume XX, Fascicule II, 1946 (Paris), pages 131 seqq. According to the publication, this is a block of grey schist, complete except on the right where a fragment of the inscribed surface has been detached by chipping; the missing fragment probably contained several letters in each line.

Before World War II it was kept in the museum at Neapolis in eastern Crete. Regrettably it was lost during the Germano-Italian occupation of the island.


facsimile of inscription

Dimensions: width 750 mm; height 260 mm; thickness 245 mm.

Text A (first two lines):

  • has deeply engraved characters in an archaic Cretan alphabet;
  • has both lines are written sinistrorsely, in the Semitic fashion, as all writing was in the very earliest Greek inscriptions (This inscription is from 7th century BC);
  • uses a vertical bar as a word divider;
  • writes upsilon (υ) in the older style as image of  early archaic upsilon

Text B (last three lines):

  • has much less deeply engraved letters which are, therefore, less well preserved.
  • are boustrophedon, with first and third lines being sinistrorse and second line dextrorse in the usual Greek manner of the late 7th and early 6th centuries.
  • uses no word division;
  • writes υ in the later style as image of  later archaic iota



(a ) In standard Greek script Direction
of writing
  1. --.ρμαϜ|ετ|ισαλαβρε|̣κομν
  2. --.δ|μεν|ιναι|ισαλυρια|λμο vac.

  1. --..τοντυρονμηα.οαοιεϜαδ
  2. ετυρο...μ̣υνα.οα.ενη̣--
  3. --ματριταια--

(b) In modern Roman script Direction
of writing
  1. --.rmaw|et|isalabre|̣komn
  2. --.d|men|inai|isaluria|lmo vac.

  1. --..tonturonmēa.oaoiewad
  2. eturo...ṃuna.oa.enẹ̄--
  3. --matritaia--

Line 1
Before the initial ρ (r) there is an indistinct symbol. After βρε (bre) the position of the vertical stroke suggests the symbol is the word-division sign and that the horizontal mark is an accidental scratch; it may, however, be an oddly positioned τ (t).
Line 2
Before the initial δ (d) there is an upper arm of a symbol which might be ν (n), μ (m) or υ (u).
Line 3
The symbol before the initial τ (t)might possibly be σ (s) (the ancient 'san', written rather like modern upper-case sanserif M), or it may be two characters of which each (or both) could be α (a), δ (d) or λ(l). The symbol after the first α (a) might be τ (t) but, evidently, was too faint to be read with any certainty.
Line 4
After the first α (a) there was evidently a trace of a vertical line; as the Greek text does not appear to mark word division, we must assume this was part of the downstroke of a letter. The remaining letters on the right were, according to Van Effenterre, very faint; he suggests that the letter between α (a) and ε (e) might be either μ (m) or σ (s), and the final 'legible' letter might be Ϝ (w) rather than η (ē). After this, he says, one cannot distinguish anything with certainty.
Line 5
As in the line above, Van Effenterre was not able to distinguish anything after the final α.


Attempts like those of Georgiev (Reveue Philologique, XXI, 1947, pp. 132 sqq.) to read this inscription as a single text are, in my opinion, perverse. Michel Lejeune set out the all too obvious objections to Georgiev's interpretation in REA, XLIX, 1947, pp. 274 sqq.

There can really be no doubt from Van Effenterre's description and from the facsimile itself that we have two texts. The first certainly cannot be read as Greek; the second is probably Greek, although the bad preservation of this text makes complete translation impossible. Indeed, it is most regrettable that the Dreros inscriptions are now lost, as modern advances in technology may have enabled us to read more of the Greek text.

Text B (the Greek text)

Let us start with this text, assuming it to be written in Cretan Doric Greek. At the end of line 3 and the first character of line 4, we see the Greek word ἔϜαδε (3rd person singular of the aorist indicative of Ϝανδάνω, classical Greek: ἁνδάνω) = " it pleased [the people, the council, etc]", "it was decided [that...]".

This verb is typical of the Delphinion inscriptions; it appears in five of the six purely Greek inscriptions published by Henri van Effenterre in Bulletin de correspondance hellénique (BCH), namely:

  1. ἔϜαδε πόλι· = "it pleased the city:", i.e. "the city decided:" [BCH 61 (1937), pp. 333 sqq.].
  2. ἔϜαδε ἆι οἰ Πρέπσιδαι κὀι Μιλάτιοι ἆρκσαν ... = "it was decided since the Prepsidai and Milatians have begun....." [BCH 70 (1946), p. 589].
    Note for those who read Greek: the Cretan Doric dialect was psilotic, i.e. "they dropped their aitches".
  3. ἔϜαδε πόλι διαλήσασι πυλᾶσι· = "the city decided, after consulting the tribes:" [BCH 70 (1946), pp. 590 sqq.].
  4. ἐ͂ ἀρήιαν ἔϜαδε ὀζα· = "if they should go hunting, it was decided how much [they may hunt]:" [BCH 60 (1946), pp. 597 sq. and BCH 85 (1961), pp. 544 sqq.].
  5. ἔϜαδε τοῖσι θύστασι· = "the sacrificing priests decided:" or, the reading being not entirely clear,
    ἔϜαδε τοῖς ἰθυντᾶσι· = "the directors decided:" [BCH 60 (1946), pp. sqq.]

That the verb should appear in the Greek part of this inscription is hardly surprising; indeed, it would be more surprising if it did not appear. This verb is followed by τυρο. In the line above we may have τὸν τυρὸν (the cheese [accusative]), possibly followed by μὴ (not). Unfortunately, the remainder of lines 3 and 4 are not clear enough to allow us to read any more Greek satisfactorily.

The last line appears to show: ματρὶ τᾶι α... (to/for [dative] the ?? mother), i.e. there is a lost τᾶι before ματρὶ with the definite article repeated after the noun before the epithet of which only the initial letter remains. The reference, if this reading is correct, is likely to be to Leto, the mother of the divine triad venerated in the Delphinion (the other two members being her twin offspring, the goddess Artemis and her bother Apollo).

Van Effenterre suggests that the text is some regulation concerning the offering of cheese (from Drerian goats) to the mother goddess (i.e. Leto). The connexion of goats with the Delphinion triad is shown in that the hollow altar set against the rear wall of the Delphinion, and supporting three statuettes (one male and two female), was filled with horns (mostly left horns) of young male goats (see: R.F. Willetts, Cretan Cults and Festivals, London, 1962, page 263).

But the last line might equally well be: -μα τριταία. If indeed this inscription is to do with cult practice, then possibly the text is stating that a particular observance is to take place on the third day (of the month? of the festival?) or is to last for three days.

Text A (the Eteocretan text)

Van Effenterre has pointed out the similarity of ισαλαβρε (isalabre) and ισαλυρια (isaluria) and that they seem to be two forms of the same root; he suggested thεy might even be two cases of the same noun. There is a corresponding repetition in the Greek text: τυρὸν (line 3) and τυρο- (line 4) "cheese". The element ισαλ- (isal-) is reminiscent of a non-IE pre-Greek element found in the word attested in the various Greek dialects as: ἰξάλη, ἰξαλῆ, ἰζάλη, ἰζάνη, ἰσάλη, ἰσσέλα, ἰτέλα, ἰσθλῆ, ἰσσέλη = "goatskin", being a specialized use of the feminine of the adjective ἴξαλος etc. The latter was used as an epithet of the ibex; its meaning is obscure, ancient authorities variously explaining it as "perfect, accomplished", "bounding, leaping" or "castrated". All we can say is that these are words of non-Greek origin with "goatish" meanings. It is, tempting, therefore to see the Eteocretan ισαλαβρε (isalabre) and ισαλυρια (isaluria) as words for "goat's cheese".

If the identification of ισαλαβρε (isalabre) and ισαλυρια (isaluria) with the Greek τυρὸν and τυρο is correct, then, as Van Effenterre also suggested, ετ (et) may well be the definite article, ετ ισαλαβρε (et isalabre) corresponding to the Greek τὸν τυρὸν "the cheese". This is not implausible as dental plosives are commonly used in forming demonstratives in many different, unrelated languages, e.g. Finnish tuo "that", t­­ämä "this"; Malay itu "that"; Tamil itu [ɪðu] "this", atu [aðu] "that".

If all these suggestions are, indeed, correct, then ιναι (inai) may well, as Van Effenterre, also suggested, correspond to the Greek ἔϝαδε "it was decided". Certainly we would surely expect a correspondence in the Eteocretan text of this verb which is so typical of the Greek texts from the Delphinion.

Semiticists such as Cyrus Gordon, have suggested that the final Eteocretan word λμο (lmo) corresponds to the Greek ματρὶ τᾶι α[ὐτοῦ] (for [the] mother the of-him = for his mother), comparing it with Hebrew לאמו lĕ-ʔem-ō. It may indeed be that we have a particle λ (l) prefixed to the monosyllable μο (mo) = "mother", as we find monosyllabic or short words for "mother" containing /m/ in many parts of the world in many quite unrelated languages. But, it should be noticed, Gordon analyzes μο (mo) not as a single word meaning "mother", but as two morphemes: μ (m) "mother" + ο (o) "his". There are two observations one can make:

  • To deduce from such slight 'evidence' that Eteocretan is a Semitic language is as groundless as establishing a link between Latin and Swahili by noticing that the Swahili for "that" is a concordance prefix + -le (yule, wale, ule, ile etc.) and for "this" is h- + concordance suffix (huyu, hawa, huu, hii etc.) and supposing a connexion with Latin ille "that" and hic "this" respectively. (Alas, in my experience, such unsound connexions are too often made!)
  • In any case, as I have explained, the reading of the last line is not certain; it could well be - μα τριταία rather than ματρὶ τᾶι α - and thus have nothing to do with "mother".

Let us return to Van Effenterre. In one of the footnotes of his article in Revue de Philologie, he draws attention to the fact that κομν (komn), which occurs at the end of the first line, is found in the Greek name given to one of the months in the Drerian calendar, namely κομνάριος. The name is as meaningless in Greek as, e.g. January and February are in English; Van Effenterre offers no suggestions as to the meaning of this word nor of μεν (men) in the 2nd line. And I make no suggestions either.

From the inscription it appears that, unlike Greek:

  • words could end in a dental plosive, e.g. -δ (-d) and, possibly, the word ετ (et). But if the latter means "the" it will be pronounced as one with the following noun which, in this inscription, begins with a vowel. Before we can sure about ετ (et) we need to find it used before a word beginning with a consonant.
  • sonorants occur in positions which suggest they may be syllabic or that there may be a svarabhakti vowel, e.g. ̣κομν in the 1st line and possibly λμο in the 2nd line.


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