Monday, 21 November 2011

Multiple interpretations?

The Art of Writing.

Are multiple interpretations of writing what make the best pieces? Or do the meanings of writing have to be perfectly clear and unambiguous? My answer would be that depends on who might be reading and what you want to convey. If you are writing a piece of fiction for adults it may be you want to make your reader think about the possible layers of meanings that you set up. On the other hand, if you are writing for young children (early individual readers) you might want your meaning to be precise so that they do understand your piece of writing.

But back to the layers of meanings.

First writing systems varied throughout the known world and scholars have different interpretations of which came first. If you wish to debate this there are many sources available, and they give room for thought. Mesopotamia, Egypt, Sumer, the Indus Valley, Central America, China….the list goes on. Cuneiform (wedge symbols), Hieroglyphs, Linear scripts, Alphabetic forms…again we perceive each system in a different way.

In my part of the world there is a plethora of symbol carvings on standing stones that is attributed to the Picts in Scotland. There are common symbols to be viewed on the stones, some of which are more elaborate forms of a basic design. Experts have catalogued these and have made a basic set.

When you look at the Pictish writing on the stones shown here you may wonder what the creators were trying to convey. What do you actually see when you look at the symbols?

In photo A I see a beast at the bottom. Some others interpret it as a dolphin-like creature. The location of the stone in the Kirk yard of Kintore, in Aberdeenshire, is nowhere near the open sea and it seems less likely, to me, to be a dolphin-like water creature. But what if the carver was trying to portray something a bit more imaginative? The Kelpie in the poem of my 13th Nov. blog is a mythical creature-a horse, that can shape-shift. Could this figure be the same?

What if the symbol on the ‘Kintore Stane’ resembles a mythical creature rather than a cow with large horns? Or something other than an elephant like creature that is also a perceived interpretation? Experts reckon the stone was maybe carved around, or before, the 7th century AD. Were there creatures inhabiting this area who resembled elephants? Or is it meant to portray something more like a bison? Or an earlier species of highland cow? What do you think it might mean?

The Crescent and V rod with discs is sometimes interpreted as a broken arrow. When I look in certain lights I see a face set into the V with eyes and mouth…what the forehead ‘eye’ is I leave for you to interpret though! A whole piece of writing could develop from this one carving alone!

Photo B has a very clear fish at the top. Since the River Don is very close by I sometimes wonder if it was a marker (like a road sign of today) to let people know plentiful fish was to be found in the area? Others might prefer to interpret it as having something to do with the Christian ‘fish’ symbol… and that as early as the 7th century the Christian message meant something to local people? What do you think?

The triple disc and cross bar below the fish also poses many interpretations. The one favoured by archaeologists appears to be that it is a bird’s eye view of a cauldron suspended from a tripod. Do you think it could be anything else?

Let me know your views…I’ll be delighted to read your interpretations.


  1. Nancy, loved the pictures and various interpretations of the "writings." Thanks for sharing.

  2. Really enjoyed this post; thanks for sharing the info!

    hugs, Kari Thomas,

  3. Thank you, Kari. Does it give you any ideas?

  4. Way too many!! Never challenge a mind that has so many ideas running around she begins to wonder about her sanity! LOL!

    hugs, Kari

  5. I do admire you taking this subject on, Nancy. I can't make heads or tails of any of it! I'm having a dense day I guess. lol


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