Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Linguistics: a special numismatic treat

When I was young, I greatly enjoyed studying Latin and Greek under the classical studies regime of the Jesuit fathers. As I matured I found occasions to study other languages: German for its scientific importance, Spanish for its relevance to my Californian lifestyle, French for its importance to my European business interests, Irish for relevance to my ethnic heritage, and Italian for its significance in numismatic and musical literature.

There are also languages which are now considered extinct but nonetheless historically important, which my interest in numismatic inscriptions attracted me toward. One could catalogue many extinct scripts that appear in legends in ancient coins, however most of them are related and for numismatic purposes, the principal ancient languages other than Latin and Greek were:
Italic (other than Latin) dialects
Persian, especially Middle Persian (Pahlavi)
Aramaic (the language of the New Testament)
Punic, the Phoenician dialect of Carthage
Karosthi (the Indo-Greek language of Alexander's successors)

I did not, of course, realize what a vast linguistic adventure I had embarked upon until I was far advanced in the study and recreation of these ancient languages and their scripts. Then it became an intense exploration which proliferated into studying tonal Greek pronunciation, Homeric bardic singing, and perhaps above all else Zoroastrian religious literature in Sanskrit and Pahlavi.

Whilst I am not setting out to win converts to the Zoroastrian religion, where converts are not now welcomed, I must admit to being impressed by their immense sacred literature.

The linguistic aspect of my numismatic studies has offered many important insights into history as well as numismatics. That statement could justifiably be extended to cultural aspects and even to comprehension of the daily lives of ancient peoples.

It is difficult for me to describe the many rewards of these antique linguistic studies. For me they were never onerous nor demanding, instead I always felt that I had gained by the effort expended.

This, I suppose, is the perspective of the compulsive scholar for whom the amount of knowledge still to be acquired is always infinitely greater than what one knows.



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