How I Became a Dilettante
Richard Franklin Bishop
by Richard Franklin Bishop
the following was published in the Epigraphic Society Occasional
Papers, Volume 27, 2009 (pp 144/145), Danvers, MA.
I didn't buy a home computer until 1984 and it was a Commodore C-64 (I was 53 years of age and was long retired from the Military). Then, in the next 32 years, I acquired three more Computers including the present one. During the process of becoming “computer literate”, I was both a Lecturer and a Coordinator for 17 years and arranged classes for City Colleges of Chicago (CCC), an American Community College, in their Overseas Program for the Military. Among other Business courses, I taught Data Processing 101 & 102 to Military and Civilian personnel stationed in Augsburg, Germany. Back then, our CCC Computer room had 16 Apple terminals.
one who pursues art or literature for amusement: a dabbler (from The
New American WEBSTER Handy College DICTIONARY, A Signet Book - The New
American Library, Inc. - Times Mirror, New York, 1976).
The Awesome Dedication Required
Just how does one become a dilettante? By initially pursuing a hobby until it becomes practically an obsession. I first started chasing down Phoenician inscriptions back in the early 1980's; first it was one or two inscriptions, then I began building a home-made Phoenician Dictionary which just "grew and grew." Phoenician interested me more than any other language, but don't ask me why. Perhaps it was their habit of traveling and trading for a living which had a sort of Romantic lilt to it . . . but it was also the Alphabet that attracted me. Their language was alphabetic, very early in History too (13th Century B.C.), and not nearly as difficult for the Scribe as making Cuneiform tablets. It lasted a long time, 2 millenniums or until about the beginning of the 7th Century A.D. - there were lots of inscriptions around the Middle East and the Western Mediterranean area and there were plenty of transcriptions to examine in the library archives.
Dictionary was begun with one inscription that I had sweated over
endlessly; which I then disassembled and recorded in a notebook where
one page equaled one Phoenician alphabetic letter and the words, as I
collected them, became spread among the notebook pages according to the
first letter of each word. Page 1 became words starting with the letter
ALEPH (A), Page 2 became words starting with the letter BET (B), Page 3
became words starting with the letter GIMEL (G), Page 4 became words
starting with the letter DALET (D) and so on for a total of 22 pages;
the length of the Phoenician alphabet. I recorded the Phoenician words
in Right to Left format (the style of Semitic Languages - Hebrew,
Aramaic, Assyrian, and Arabic) but already converted) to Latin (Roman)
letters (this is called transliteration).
first inscription already had been translated into English and German
by 2 different Experts. In the next couple of years, much of my spare
time was used in visiting Libraries to locate and transcribe
inscriptions and their Expert translations. Often, I would run across a
Glossary or a Vocabulary or a dictionary of Phoenician hidden away in
some dusty archive and I started adding these to my Dictionary. Also,
56 more inscriptions joined the original to become a hand-written
Phoenician Notebook & "Dictionary" of 3,014 words in Phoenician
translated into English.
of the more important documents consulted were:
Name of Document Search Abbreviation
Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum Part I,CIS
Ephemeris für semitische Epigraphik EPH
Répertoire d' épigraphie sémitique RES
Hand-buch der nordsemitischen Epigraphik NE
Experts (and all of a sudden, they had become my personal tutors) were
famous names such as W. F. Albright, J. B. Chabot, J. Friedrich, Z. S.
Harris, M. Lidzbarski, T. Nöldeke, J. B. Peckham, F. Rosenthal and S.
names of 11 of the inscriptions were milestones of translation such as
Ahiram, Amrit Stelae, King Azitawadda (Karatepe,Turkey- a rare
Bilingual), Kition, Kilamuwa, Massinissa, Mesha Stone, Paraiba Stone
(now lost), Milkyaton, Shipitbaal, Yehawmilk, and 46 others.
1984, using my newly purchased Commodore C-64, I started entering the
data into my Computer - a massive typing job for a "two-finger" typist.
It was done part-time and it took weeks --- the Phoenician words and
their English counterparts (less of course, any duplicates that dropped
out during the alphabetic sorting process) were stored on a "Floppy
Disk." I also wrote a simple program in assembly (machine) language to
retrieve the Phoenician word from the Dictionary (together with the
English meaning) whenever I encountered it in a new inscription.
the file got too big (3,621 records - or words - and 60,163 bytes) for
the C-64's Memory (38,911 bytes free). So I decided to buy a 1764 Ram
Expansion Unit (262,144 bytes free) or sometimes use a S'More Cartridge
(61,183 bytes free) just to sort the file alphabetically again after
adding newly found words. These painfully tiny amounts of memory would
be a laugh now in our world of Gigabytes (one Gigabyte = 1,024,000,000
to say, my output really picked-up steam with this Computer aid(e) - I
was able to translate a fresh inscription "on-the-wing" so to speak (it
was usually encountered without an accompanying translation by an
Expert) and then I could compare it to the Expert's "Solution" later
(wherever and whenever I found it a library). The best part was the
accuracy - on most inscriptions the accuracy was better than I am now
getting on a couple of modern German-English/ English-German PC
Computer translation programs!
file was now so big that it became unhandy to update with a small
computer so I decided to cull it down to basic Phoenician word "stems"
by dropping out many of the variations that caused extra words; i.e.,
words with a prefix such as "L" (to) and a suffix such as "Y"
(possessive), etc. By this "streamlining", and also by using the "one
best word" technique in selecting the English meaning, the file shrank
to 42,869 bytes (circa 29% smaller in memory space) and 3,014
Phoenician records/words (about 17% less words). Regretfully, the
retrieval time did not become any faster with the smaller file - I was
already using a machine language "search" program.
later changed to a Notebook PC that used a Windows operating system.
The 3,014 word Phoenician Dictionary program from my old C-64 was not
portable to the newer Notebook PC because of timing differences. Also,
Microsoft's MS-DOS follow-on language and Commodore's Basic language
did not understand one another. But, the Dictionary still worked until
the C-64 blew a chip. Then the “Floppy Disk” became useless and,
curses, I had not made a printout ! This was because the Phoenician
language program on the C-64 was so easy to boot-up and use. Even if I
had made a printout, home “Scanning” came years later with my third and
fourth Computers and their allied Printers.
You may ask: "Well, why didn't you publish something?" First off, it was only a hobby for me - I got my "kicks" just handling the material - like a person "hooked" on doing cross-word puzzles - or an explorer who just has to know what is around the next bend of the river or over the next hill.
Germans have a saying that fits: "Der Weg ist das Ziel" meaning: “the
goal is to travel -- the destination is not important.” Besides,
"Publish or Perish" went with my regular teaching job and not with my
hobby. Also, I was just a little bit intimidated because there were
plenty of main-stream University Epigraphic Experts (all Ph.D.s) out
there doing a fine job already for scores of years on the
well-researched Phoenician language.
You ask, "Well, what was that first inscription that got you so interested in Phoenician?" It was a Phoenician Gold Plate found 18 years earlier in Pyrgi, Italy (see at the end of this story). When I first encountered it, it was printed in text form, and I had two translations to cope with; one in English and one in German. And imagine my great joy when I actually saw the plate in a full-page Photograph for the first time a couple of years later. I copied every letter by hand and it was like "coming back to the old home town" after several years' absence. As I eagerly translated "My" inscription once more, this time using my trusty C-64 "Brotkasten" (breadbox) Computer, I said to myself: “That’s about ‘as good as it gets’ for a dilettante. Before, I couldn’t even spell dilettante, now I are one.
was nearly in tears when I had to trash my burnt-out Brotkasten
(Breadbox) C-64. This was because my 3,014 Word Phoenician Dictionary
went into the trash can with it. Along with it to the Dump went a 1764
RAM Expansion Unit (262,144 Bytes free) and a S’More Cartridge (61,183
Bytes free), two 1541 Disk Drives and a Monitor.
may recall that I had laboriously collected Phoenician words for it
from 57 Inscriptions that already had been translated by “Experts”. I
could not retain this information without printing it out and
laboriously retyping the entire file (two-fingered style) in MS-DOS
characters. This had taken weeks the first time around. Home “Scanning”
came years later with my third and fourth Computers and their allied
Printers. And, already in my late “Seventies”, I no longer had The
Awesome Dedication Required from 20 years earlier.
The Pyrgi Gold Plate in Phoenician (5th Century B.C.)
Found 8 July 1964 by Massimo Pallotino,
Professor, University of Rome, at Santa Severa, Italy
The letters are in Right to Left (Semitic) sequence
The purpose of this gold laminae is now fairly clear. A King of Etruria made a gift to a “holy city” and paid for the construction of a sacred chamber dedicated to the Goddess Astarte within the City’s temple. The gold plate commemorates this dedication which took place around 500 or 480 B.C.
The Letters are now rectified into Left to Right sequence
Finished Translation. English text by Richard Franklin Bishop.
Note: It was customary, in ancient times, to make foundation deposits of valuable objects in the base of venerated statues and under temples and thus the reference in the inscription to the “burial” of an image.
Richard Bishop's Biography and Story List
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