But with those 200 inscriptions, other scholars went to work. One of them was Michael Ventris, who vowed to decipher the script at 14 after a school group of which he was a part blundered into Evans during a museum tour, and Ventris heard the great archaeologist himself say that the tablets remained a wonderful mystery. But Ventris was not from a wealthy family, so instead of a university he attended architecture school, and as is the way of human life he soon had a family to support and a career to get on with. Still, he worked on Linear B every chance he got.
Another was Alice Kober, a professor of classics at Brooklyn College. Kober was also fascinated by the script, but unlike Ventris she was a methodical, careful researcher who knew something about how unknown scripts are translated. She worked by creating a stack of note cards, eventually more than 200,000, for each character, each word, and each pair of characters, which she could sort by the position of holes punched in the cards. Using these cards she was able to make several important discoveries about the script.
And there, sadly, Kober left the problem; shortly after completing the third of three major articles on Linear B, she fell ill and died in 1950 at the age of 44. Fox is a big fan of Kober and very much talks up her contribution. To Fox, Kober is yet another of the hard-working but largely unknown women who have done the basic work that famous, brilliant men relied on in making their prize-winning discoveries. (Like Rosalind Franklin in the unraveling of DNA's double helix.) Fox believes that Kober was on the verge of translating Linear B in 1948, and would have done so if she had been blessed with a few more years of good health.
I rather doubt it. Kober was successful in what she did partly because she very much resisted any sort of intuitive leap or guess about the script. She hated it when people assumed that the language of the script must be this or that -- Ventris thought for more than a decade that it must be Etruscan, which Kober found ridiculous. Yet it was just such a leap, his realization that the language might be Greek, that allowed Ventris to untie the knot. Some problems can only be solved by two different kinds of people working together.
Ventris could hardly believe that he was actually reading Linear B. In fact after announcing his discovery on BBC radio he went into a panic, thinking that maybe he was imagining things and had gotten it all wrong. Fortunately he hooked up with classicist John Chadwick, a scholar of early Greek who believed Ventris' work immediately because it fit into his own ideas about what the Greek of that period should have been like. Chadwick convinced Ventris that the decipherment was right, and together they wrote a book laying out their findings.
So Ventris had done it, one of the great intellectual feats of the age. And then he moved on to other problems. One of the fascinating things about the story is that neither Ventris nor Kober had any interest in what the tablets said. All they cared about was penetrating the mystery of the script. Fortunately Fox includes a final chapter in her book showing how much has been learned about Minoan and Mycenaean society from the tablets: economics, taxation, social organization, political hierarchy, trade, the names of Gods and the gifts given to them. It is a bit disappointing that the tablets record not even a single scrap of chronicle or verse, but they are what they are, and it is amazing that we can read them.