Alice Kober

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Alice Elizabeth Kober
Alice Kober

December 23, 1906
DiedMay 16, 1950 (1950-05-17) (aged 43)
Brooklyn, New York City
Alma materHunter College (BA)
Columbia University (MA, PhD)
RelativesFranz Kober (Father), Katharina Kober (Mother), William Kober (Brother)

Alice Elizabeth Kober (December 23, 1906[1] – May 16, 1950) was an American classicist best known for extensive investigations that eventually led to the decipherment of Linear B.

Life and career[edit]

The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Kober was born in Yorkville, a neighborhood on Manhattan's Upper East Side. She attended Hunter College High School, and in the summer of 1924, she placed third in a New York City scholarship contest. The $100-a-year prize helped her to attend Hunter College, where she majored in Latin, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude.[2] She earned a master's degree in classics at Columbia University in 1929 and a PhD in 1932.[3]

While working on her doctorate, Kober taught at Hunter High and Hunter College and, in 1930, became an assistant professor of classics at Brooklyn College where she remained for the rest of her career.[4] On campus she shared an office with four other faculty members and served on standard committees.

Kober mastered a host of ancient and modern languages including Hittite, Old Irish, Akkadian, Tocharian, Sumerian, Old Persian, Basque and Chinese. From 1942 to 1945, while teaching full-time in Brooklyn, she commuted weekly by train to Yale University to take classes in advanced Sanskrit. She also studied field archeology in New Mexico.[5] After teaching herself Braille, she translated textbooks, library materials, and final exams for blind students at Brooklyn College.[6] Kober never married; she lived with her widowed mother and, so far as is known, never had a romantic partner.[7][8] A chainsmoker, Kober died, probably of cancer, in 1950 at the age of 43.[9]

Linear B[edit]

A Linear B tablet found in Pylos

A descendant of a Minoan script, the tablets documenting Linear B were discovered by Arthur Evans at Knossos in the early 1900s. Although Evans was reluctant to release access to the physical tablets, he published Scripta Minoa, a book outlining his hypotheses on the tablets.

Beginning in the 1930s, Kober privately studied Linear B, as yet an undeciphered script of an unidentified Aegean language of the Bronze Age, keeping massive statistics on 180,000 hand-cut cards and tabulations in forty notebooks.[10] Kober used a hand punch to create a kind of "database, with the punched holes marking the parameters on which the data could be sorted."[11]

In 1946, Kober received a one-year Guggenheim Fellowship to study Linear B full-time.[12] Making the acquaintance of John Linton Myres, she gained access to many more Linear B inscriptions collected by the archaeologist of Knossos, Sir Arthur Evans, and hand copied most of them at Oxford University in 1947.[13] Kober's major discovery was that Linear B was an inflected language, difficult to write in a syllabic script.[14]

Further progress in deciphering the language was delayed by her renewed teaching duties and the thankless job of proofreading and correcting Myres's Scripta Minoa.[15] After her death in 1950, the architect Michael Ventris built on Kober's work and with some inspired guesses deciphered the script in 1952, establishing that it was Mycenaean Greek.[16]

Correspondence and papers[edit]

Kober's extensive correspondence and papers, including support for her search for inflections in Linear B, are available online at the Program for Aegean Scripts & Prehistory (PASP) at the University of Texas at Austin: Alice E. Kober Papers.

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ Kober collection
  2. ^ Margalit Fox, The Riddle of the Labyrinth, chapter four, location 1149 of the Kindle edition
  3. ^ Fox, 91.
  4. ^ Fox, 91, 151.
  5. ^ Fox, 115.
  6. ^ Fox, 109-100.
  7. ^ Fox, Margalit (2013-05-11). "Alice E. Kober, 43; Lost to History No More". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-04-11.
  8. ^ Fox, 92.
  9. ^ Fox, 191. A much younger cousin said that it was whispered in the family that she had died of a rare form of stomach cancer.
  10. ^ Fox, 93, 104-06.
  11. ^ Fox, 108.
  12. ^ Fox, 113.
  13. ^ Fox, 128.
  14. ^ Fox, 134.
  15. ^ Fox, 178.
  16. ^ Gallafent, Alex (5 June 2013). "Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B". BBC News. Retrieved 5 June 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]