Archive for January 1, 2012

Another loss in the family

January 1, 2012 1 comment

For me and the Bennett clan, 2011 came to a close with some sad news.  My uncle, Professor Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., passed away on December 15th at the age of 93.  I can’t say I was really close to him; until my father died last year, I’d been rather detached from the rest of my family, following my father’s precedent.  But of all my other relatives, Uncle Emmett was probably the one my father and I saw the most of, since he occasionally came to visit.  I dedicated my Star Trek novel The Buried Age to him, because it involved his field of archaeology and some ideas in the book were inspired by his work.  At the time, his mental clarity was not what it had once been, but he wrote to me to let me know how deeply he appreciated the tribute, and kept in touch for a while thereafter.

Of all the members of our family (which includes several scholars, artists, and the like), Emmett was probably the one who achieved the greatest importance and accomplishments.  He was a legend in his field because of the crucial work he did deciphering the ancient Mycenaean Linear B script, constructing the symbol frequency tables that were the key to Michael Ventris’s breakthrough translation a few years later.  Emmett went on to become the world’s leading authority in the study of Mycenaean inscriptions, a field formally known as pinacology — a term Emmett himself coined.  That’s right — my uncle actually named a whole field of scholarship.  Is that awesome or what?

Emmett’s achievements were so significant that his passing actually warranted an article in this weekend’s The New York Times Science section, which you can read here:

Emmett L. Bennett Jr., Ancient Script Expert, Dies at 93

Uncle Emmett earned his degrees right here at my own alma mater, the University of Cincinnati.  His mentor was the great archaeologist Carl Blegen, in whose namesake library I’ve done a good amount of writing.  (When I took a mythology class way back when, I was able to impress my professor by telling him I was related to Emmett, whom he called “one of the gods of Linear B.”)  It was often academic functions that brought him back to town (he lived and taught in Madison, Wisconsin).  I once attended a talk he gave at UC, though it was many years ago and I have a hard time remembering anything specific about it, except that I did learn a lot about his work with Mycenaean tablets.  Like the irony that the clay tablets were meant to be temporary media for minor things like inventory lists and receipts and personal letters, while all the important writings and records of the culture were preserved on more “permanent” media like papyrus or parchment (I forget which) — but when the cities burned, the “permanent” media were destroyed while the “disposable” clay tablets were baked and preserved for the ages.  Makes you think.

Although at this time, my thoughts go mainly to my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Clarence, who’ve lost both their youngest and oldest brothers just sixteen months apart.  That just doesn’t seem fair.  And my condolences also go to Emmett’s children, Patrick, Kathleen, Cynthia, John, and my namesake cousin Christopher, and their own families as well.  But it’s good to know that Uncle Emmett will be long remembered for his achievements.  He helped reveal history, and now he has gone on to become a part of it.

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