The Greek Pantheon

When the texts in Linear B were read the so-called Homeric problem did not approach a solution but, contrariwise, grew more urgent, more enigmatic, more perplexing.

Since antiquity it had been believed that “Homer and Hesiod were the first to compose Theogonies, and give the gods their epithets...”1 Therefore reading the names of Greek gods and goddesses on the Linear B tables from Knossos on Crete and Pylos on the mainland was something of a shock to classical scholars.2 Hera, Artemis and Hermes were worshipped in Pylos. Zeus and Poseidon were worshipped in Pylos and Knossos. Athene was deified in Knossos; Dionysus’ name was found on a Pylos tablet.3

With Greek gods and goddesses spelled by their names on the tablets, it was conducive to recognize Apollo in a figure on a vase, singing among the Muses, or Poseidon in a figure depicted driving a chariot over the sea, or Zeus with Europa in the depiction of a bull carrying a woman. The Minotaur and centaurs were recognized as likely Mycenaean images.4

Not less unexpected were the names of Achaean heroes known from the Homeric epics when found on the Pylos and Knossos tablets, and a “wealth of Trojan names,” too. Ajax (called by his patronymic “Telamonian”) and his brother, Telamonian Teucer, have namesakes in Homer; “and between them they killed two Trojans with tablet names Pyrasos and Ophelestas, and a third Simoeisios, whose father’s name, Anthemos, occurs at Knossos.” Hector’s name and Priam’s name, and that of Tros, are found in Pylos. Achilles’ name is found both a Knossos and at Pylos, and Kastor’s at Knossos.5

In Homer Laodokos’s father is Antenor and on a Pylos tablet Laodokos holds land in a village or suburb where Antenor is mayor. In Homer Laodokos is from Pylos, where the tablet with his name was found.

Aigyptos of the Odyssey has a namesake on a Knossos tablet; admittedly, there was no contact with Egypt during the Dark Ages and until the seventh century, and how could a bard of one of those centuries, if the epos was not yet completed in the Mycenaean Age, come upon calling a hero after the river Nile, asked T. B. Webster. The name Neritos in met in both, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and it was thought to be a misnomer for some Greek term, corrupted in the later versions of the epics to look as a private name, but the name was found on a table as that of a sheep owner. “Unfortunately the establishment of Neritos as a good Mycenaean name does not help the difficult geographical problem of Ithaca’s location.”

The campaign of the Seven against Thebes and the sack of the city by the Epigoni are alluded to by Homer. “Mycenaean names int he story are Amphiaros (Knossos), Adrastos, Eteocles, Polyphontes (Pylos).” One of the sons of Eteocles in Pylos was called Alektryon, a name known from the Iliad (XVII.602). In Pylos a man was called Theseus and men at Knossos bore the names Selenos and Iakchos known from the Odyssey. The name Aeneas is read on a tablet from Mycenae. Phegeus’ name, found in the Iliad (V.10f) is found also on a tablet from Mycenae. The Trojan Pedasos (Iliad VI.21) had a namesake at Knossos.

Not less amazing are the attributes and adjectives accompanying the names as used by Homer and found on the tablets. “The evidence of the tablets” is “that such formulae as Telamonian Ajax were Mycenaean titles.”6 Nestor of Homer “has Mycenaean titles”;7 Agamemnon’s title wanax is “certainly Mycenaean”;8 “king of men” is a title most probably “remembered from Mycenaean poetry” half a millennium before Homer.9

“The epithet hippiocharmes (chariot-fighter), which is applied to Troilos in the Iliad and to Amythaon (a name found on the Pylos tablets) in the Odyssey, has been recognized as derived from the Mycenaean word for chariot.”10

If five hundred years separate Homer from the tablets, is it not a cause for wonder that the poet should know these names and titles and use them for his epics?


  1. Herodotus II.53

  2. [M. Ventris and J. Chadwick wondered that the tablets “unexpectedly reveal the worship of gods and goddesses known from classical sources” —Documents in Mycenaean Greek (Cambridge University Press, 1956), p. 275]

  3. [M. Ventris and J. Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek, second ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 279, 286-288. Cf. G. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (Princeton, 1966), pp. 159-160; F. R. Adrados, “Les Institutions religieuses mycéniennes” — III “Les dieux et leur culte” in Minos XI (1972), pp 183-192; A. Heubeck, Aus der Welt der fruehgrieschischen Lineartaflen (Goettingen, 1966, pp. 96-106.]

  4. These and the following examples are from T. B. L. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer (London, 1958)

  5. Ibid., p. ; [D. H. H. Gray, “Mycenaean Names in Homer,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 78 (1958), pp. 43-48; D. Page, History and the Homeric Iliad (University of California Press, 1959), pp. 197-199.]
  6. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer, p. 286

  7. Ibid., p. 218.

  8. Ibid., p. 121; [Page, History and the Homeric Iliad, pp. 188 and 209, n. 48.]

  9. Webster, From Mycenae to Homer, p. 107.

  10. Ibid., p. 103; [Page, History and the Homeric Iliad, pp. 190 and 209, n. 55