31 Mar 2007

Etruscan 'cupe': The person that would be cup.

You know, I could probably do an entire blog on the goof-ups of Etruscologists alone. I can't stop finding one hilarious mistake after another. I know they're mistakes because they contradict themselves. As Judge Judy famously said: "If something doesn't make sense, it's because it is usually a lie." Boy, ain't that the truth, kind of a "duh" truth but then we live in "duh" times.

So we need to talk about the Etruscan word cupe that has been translated both as Cupius, a Roman name, and as "cup". If one follows the combinatory method at all, having two values for one word smells immediately of deception. Of course, words in any language can mean multiple things but it hardly helps us when translating an ancient language to simply apply any meaning or multiple meanings we want to a word to fill in the blank. We need to follow rules, maintain an order, otherwise we will never have a hope in emerging from the chaos of an undeciphered language.

First the specs of the word as I've got in my database so far:

cupe [TLE 7] (na.) // cupes [TLE 8, 12, 19] (gen.)

It's important to pay attention to the inflections and to all inscriptions that bear this item. We see that it is declined with the s-genitive which suggests that this is a masculine animate. Well, right there, this conflicts with the idea that this is a "cup" - an inanimate object, afterall.

We can immediately nip this one in the bud. What is most damaging to the views of anyone such as Massimo Pallottino and Larissa Bonfante, who have both published books claiming that it means "cup" is the inscription TLE 12:

Mi χuliχna Cupes Alθrnas. Ei minipi capi. Mini θanu.

It suffices to look at the very first sentence where we find the first person pronoun (mi), a noun in the unmarked nomino-accusative case (χuliχna), and two items both in the genitive case (Cupes Alθrnas). Pallottino ironically already explains that χuliχna or culiχna is "the name of a vase" or "cup". Two words χuliχna and cupe can't both mean cup in the same sentence! Rather the first sentence can only sensibly read "I am the kylix of Cupe Althrna".

What makes this goof-up particularly comical (or sad) is that both Bonfante and Pallottino both had placed these mutually contradictory translations of χuliχna and cupe on the same pages of their books (Bonfante, Reading the Past - Etruscan, 1990. p.59; Pallottino, The Etruscans, 1975. p.227).

Yet still, despite the contradiction leaping off the page, few people notice it proving that most haven't evolved an ability to question what they read. Make yourself an independent scholar, question what you read, or drown in a sea of misinformation.


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