In Chapter 1 of The Decipherment of Linear B John Chadwick describes
the character of Michael Ventris, the man who in 1952 figured out the meaning
of the inscriptions on ancient clay tablets found in Crete and a few other
locations --- writings which had baffled archaeologists since their discovery
in 1900. Chadwick writes:
"If we ask what were the special qualities that made possible his achievement,
we can point to his capacity for infinite pains, his powers of concentration,
his meticulous accuracy, his beautiful draughtsmanship. All these were
necessary; but there was much more that is hard to define. His brain worked
with astonishing rapidity, so that he could think out all the implications
of a suggestion almost before it was out of your mouth. He had a keen appreciation
of the realities of a situation; the Mycenaeans were to him no vague abstractions,
but living people whose thoughts he could penetrate. He himself laid stress
on the visual approach to the problem; he made himself so familiar with
the visual aspect of the texts that large sections were imprinted on his
mind simply as visual patterns, long before the decipherment gave them
meaning. But a merely photographic memory was not enough, and it was here
that his architectural training came to his aid. The architect's eye sees
in a building not a mere facade, a jumble of ornamental and structural
features; it looks beneath the appearance and distinguishes the significant
parts of the pattern, the structural elements and framework of the building.
So too Ventris was able to discern among the bewildering variety of the
mysterious signs, patterns and regularities which betrayed the underlying
structure. It is this quality, the power of seeing order in apparent confusion,
that has marked the work of all great men."
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