How I Became a Dilettante


Richard Franklin Bishop


© Copyright 2016 by Richard Franklin  Bishop      

Photo of part of the Prygi Golden Tablet.

Much of 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.

Dilettante: 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.

The 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).

My 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.

Some of the more important documents consulted were:

Name of Document Search Abbreviation

and many others.

The 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. Segert.

The 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.

In 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.

Eventually, 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 bytes).

Needless 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!

The 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.

I 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.

The 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.


I 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. 

You 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

This gold laminae engraved with letters in the Phoenician language was found rolled up in a small inclosure between two ancient temples in Pyrgi (modern Santa Severa), Italy, a port for the ancient Etruscan city of Caere (modern Cerveteri), and in general proximity to Rome. It had been affixed with gold-headed nails to a temple together with two other gold plates engraved with letters in the Etruscan language.

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.


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