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The Tenth Muse 5

“Is this some kind of joke? Who put you up to this?” Sam slammed the cup of water to the floor. Wide-eyed, Tuwatis hid behind Taras.

“Newsflash, people: nobody has spoken Hittite in about three thousand years, so obviously someone has gone to an awful lot of trouble to play some kind of joke on Dr. Barbour. Somebody knew I’d be in Greece this summer and arranged for a colleague in the archeology department to give some extra credit to his students, teach them enough Hittite to let them fake it in front of me, find some old house in some out-of-the-way village….” The more Sam pondered the time and money that would be involved in such a hoax, the idea struck him as increasingly unlikely, yet what other explanation could there be?

“Okay, scholars, let me break this down for you.” Sam was always most comfortable in the classroom. He felt himself slipping into “teacher mode” as he struggled to make sense of what he was experiencing. “The Hittite empire fell at the end of the Bronze Age. Then there were some smaller Neo-Hittite states, mainly in Syria, for a few more centuries. Then nothing. People weren’t even sure the Hittites had even existed, but they had all these inscriptions in Anatolia, and eventually they uncovered Hattusas, the old Hittite capital.

“Finally a guy named-Oh, who was it? Anyway, he was able to figure it. There was this sentence on an inscription: “Now you eat bread; then you drink water.” The word for bread was a Babylonian loan word, so he guessed that you’d be eating bread and got the first part. Hrozny, that was his name. So Hrozny realizes that the Hittite word for “eat” is cognate with lots of Indo-European equivalents. ‘Eat’ in English, ‘essen‘ in German, and so on. So he looks at the first word in the second clause and what does he find? ‘Watar.” It’s practically English, for God’s sake. That’s the word I said and then you asked me something about Nesili, the Hittite word for ‘Hittite.'”

The three young people were looking at him as if he were a madman.

Let them think what they want; I’ve got to figure this out.

“So…. ‘Tuwatis’ or whatever your real name is brings me a cup of water. ‘Warsa‘ she calls it. Okay, so we’re not speaking Hittite then but maybe some related language. Luwian, I guess. I answer, ‘Water’ and then ‘Taras’ jumps in. ‘Hey, that sounds like the Hittite word for water. Maybe Dr. Pihas’s mark speaks Hittite.’ ‘Hittite?’ the young lady says, ‘Are you nuts? Stick with the script; I didn’t even bring my Hittite dictionary for this gig.’ ‘C’mon,’ he says, ‘I’m going for it. Let’s really yank this guy’s chain!'”

Tuwatis began to cry at Sam’s outburst. Sam stopped. He realized he was shaking.

No way a twelve- or thirteen-year-old kid speaks Luwian, even with someone coaching her offstage.

“Alright, maybe this isn’t a hoax. That’s good to know. No messy lawsuits for anybody to worry about when I finally get to a phone. But Taras here still seems to speak Hittite. So maybe he’s a college student. Archeology major? Man, I should have taken that elective in Anatolian languages!

“The rest of you… Let’s see. Luwian dialects lasted longer than Hittite. There was Lydian and Lycian being spoken nearly up to the time of Christ if I recall. Could this be some kind enclave for a tiny linguistic minority? No, that doesn’t make any sense. You’d all speak Turkish at least as a second language if that were the case, and you don’t-or you won’t.

“Something is going on here, people, and I want to know what it is.”

He leaned back and put a hand to the side of his head. His headache was coming back, but this time it had nothing to do with his injuries.

“Okay. You’re not playing some kind of joke-or if you are you’re doing a helluva job. But I don’t see how anybody could pull of anything this elaborate. I don’t think Strauss would do it. Nash might but he doesn’t have the connections in Turkey-assuming that’s where I am. So let’s rule out practical joke for the time being.

“You’re not some kind of language minority group. You’d understand my Turkish, right? I know it’s not great, but it’s passable. Sen söyle Türk? Ben gerek telefon.” The three young people stared at him. “See? Nothing. But you don’t speak Greek, either. Pou einai to plesiestero telephono? Still nothing. So that leaves me… I don’t know. Delusional, I guess.” He caught his breath. “Bump on the noggin must have been worse than it feels. I’m probably comatose in some hospital somewhere and all of you are figments of my imagination. It’s the only thing that makes sense. Either that or I’ve gone just plain nuts. Wonderful.”

Somewhere a door creaked.

Tati!” Ashtinamas cried, then bolted from the room with a flurry of incomprehensible syllables.

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