18 Sep 2007

Suri, the saga part 3

(Continued from Suri, the saga part 2.)

Hopefully, given what I've presented in the previous two parts of this "miniseries blog" about the supposed Etruscan deity named Suri, you should now be frightened of academic groupThink and the bibliographical game of telephone. You should be so gripped with fear that you've either soiled your pants or you have vowed to always read multiple sources of information, never stopping to ask yourself questions until you uncover the truth. I've already explained that:
  1. Etruscologists fail to define the function, gender and worship of Suri.
  2. The basis for a cult of Suri is almost solely dependent on very opaque quotes from Roman authors about Vergil's brief mention of Apollo Soractis in the Aeneid.
  3. The rest is based on the word śuri in Etruscan texts whose instances in themselves prove nothing about worship if one doesn't even understand the language.
My philosophy is that any polytheistic culture has a basic pantheon structure that they follow. There may be regional variations but there is a core pantheon somewhere in it all. Egyptians had one, Hittites had one, Babylonians had one, and even Romans had one. I don't see why Etruscans should have been so special but mysterymongers have taken hold of this subject and we need to force them to let go. When historians can't provide a coherent religious model for Etruscan, all this superfluous talk about obscure deities like Suri smells ripe. Then when historians cling to Vergil and his mythical saga of all things, for historical information about Etruscans, I get an extra pang of suspicion in my gut. The most suspect of all, however, is how reknowned Etruscologists have completely failed to note that the Greek language is already known to have a specific wordplay revolving around the cult of Apollo (read Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, line 145) that explains entirely the true origin of Vergil's Apollo-wolf digression without the need to fantasize about Etruscans: You see, Apollo is an Anatolian god, hence he is also called "Lycian" which is also a play on the word "light" since he is a sun god afterall. And finally, he is later the "wolf", yet another purely Greek pun. Obviously, Vergil who lived in the 1st century BCE had no profound need to infuse Etruscan factoids into the Aeneid when most Etruscans were acculturated, Latin-speaking Romans by his time anyway. The motive behind his work set in the Trojan War doesn't really concern Etruscans so much as it concerns Romans and Greeks within the new Augustinian Empire. Furthermore, the importation of a Greek god on Italian soil is fully explained by Greek colonization (note Magna Gracia) without the need to ascribe every "foreign" influence to Etruscans. Mystery solved. Hopefully Etruscologists won't talk about this silly rhetoric again for fear of destroying their careers.

Now, what Etruscologists and all of us should have done from the beginning was to look at the Etruscan language itself to ascertain a true meaning for śuri. However, this takes more effort and brainpower than thumbing through Vergil's entertaining legends or staring at pretty pictures of Michelangelo's paintings looking for any random quality that appears Etruscan in origin[1]. Here are some relevant inscriptions with the word. Take a gander:

CIE 10498: savcnes śuris
CIE 11033: muras arnθ θufl śu{u}ris
TLE 290: śtasinu herma tins ceχe / sure / lusχnei

This isn't much to go on, obviously, but it's a start. The first inscription is found on a bronze plate where the last word is in the genitive. It would seem like an epithet of a god or a name of person to which this is devoted but it all hinges on what savcnes means. In CIE 11033, we have a person's name, Arnth Mura, on a votive inscription. His last name is declined in the genitive case, as is appropriate for male Etruscan names. Following this, it gets fuzzy. The next word is often taken to be an abbreviation for the goddess Thupaltha (θuplθas [TLE 654], θuflθi-cla [TLE 740]; often referred to in books with the later form Thufltha). Then, based on that assumption, and based on the assumption that the second 'u' is a scribal booboo, śuuris is then assumed to be either an epithet of this goddess or a second god Suri to which this votive inscription is supposedly also dedicated. The latter idea is far too assumptive since śuuris appears to be in the genitive case and lacks the conjunctive -c. However, if we assume that the third word is an abbreviation, then there is no guarantee that śuuris is a name so much as a descriptive, garden-variety noun or adjective. In TLE 290, lusχnei is assumed by some to be related to Italic *louksna, despite the assumption of metathesis (Brent Vine, Studies in Archaic Latin Inscriptions, p.131). Again, almost too coincidentally, it's thought by some like Pallottino that the inscription is devoted to multiple gods at once: Tins, Suri and Luna.

With everything demolished and all assumptions exposed, it's reasonable to take this whole Suri thing with a grain of salt and dare to explore other alternatives. Lately, however, I've been scanning the Tabula Capuana where I've found both savcnes and śuri, words found together in CIE 10498, but here in seperate contexts. An epithet it is not, my e-friends. The word savcnes is found in the phrase savcnes sa tirias of line 2 while in line 3 we find vacil śipir śuri Leθamsul. (Lethams is a god found inscribed on the Piacenza Liver. Don't worry, unlike Suri, this deity is kosher.) There's no sense to this last phrase if suri were an epithet or even a name because Lethams, a bona fide name of a deity, is declined in the genitive. This is surely the genitive of possession in which case we uncover a scary possibility: śuri might be a plain ol' inanimate noun after all.

The phrases still present difficulty however. The words in line 3 (vacil, śipir, śuri) all appear to be nouns in the nomino-accusative. We know that vacil means "votive", but what's the rest? I wonder if maybe in some contexts śuri acts as an adjective. The plot thickens.

[1] An example of fruitless Etruscan daydreaming is Steven Bule on page 322 of Etruscan Italy, Etruscan Influences on the Civilizations of Italy from Antiquity to the Modern Era (1996), edited by John Franklin Hall. The irony that I perceive here is that teasing out Etruscan influences in later Italian artwork is only possible if we understand who the Etruscans themselves were, however sadly, this idle speculation is so much more common than a more direct investigation that academics have made a career solely out of discussing supposed Etruscan influences in artpieces made a full millenium after the Etruscans entirely disappeared!

1 comment:

  1. Hello Glen. I am currently in Nursing School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For an assignment in my Art History class, I am researching the art of the Etruscans. During my research, I have reviewed several books, articles and websites. Yours, by far, is the most interesting and thorough. You have done great work.

    Michele Snyder