26 Dec 2007

Zavaroni, his 'comparative method' and TLE 193

I came across a pdf recently by Adolfo Zavaroni entitled Le parole etrusche ame, amce e la revisione di IE. *yem- 'Paaren', translated in English. The title means "The Etruscan words ame, amce and the revision of IE. *yem- 'pair'". We can tell by the title alone that something is amiss since making idle comparisons like this between IE and Etruscan is more of a fetish than a respected science. I'm not a big fan of Zavaroni and his claims. To me, his article is yet another example of how to entirely misunderstand what "comparative method" means. This is not the comparative method in action but rather the mislabeled "whimsical method" (a.k.a. the classic 'eyeballing' method).

You can read it yourself in the link above, but in summary, he spends the entire time in this article, making baseless and disprovable assertions, all the while citing numerous IE roots in an air of erudition without proving a goddamn thing with them other than that he has misunderstood basic linguistics. He rejects the accepted translation of amuce as "has been; was" and amazingly states: "The term am(u)ce indicates ‘to be united, to make a pair with, co-’. " We know that this stupendous assertion is rubbish by examples such as TLE 193:

larθi ceisi ceises velus velisnal ravnθus seχ
avils śas amce uples

Quite obviously a six-year-old girl (avils śas = "of six years") named Larthia Ceise (larθi ceisi) to whom this funerary inscription was dedicated is not "making a pair" with anyone! "Of six years, making a pair with Uple"?! I don't think so. We know quickly then that Zavaroni's claim is ludicrous. Sensible people don't translate obscure languages by thumbing through dictionaries in other languages. They do it by careful examination of context, whether that be of the grammatical context, of the historical context or of the archaeological context.

Word for word on the second line of this inscription, we have avils "of years", śas "of six" and amce "was, has been"[1]. These translations are accepted and not open to Zavaroni's wild reinterpretations. Translating the final word uples is difficult considering that it is found only once in any of the inscriptions as far as I'm aware so far (i.e. a hapax). Grammatically however, I interpret uples to be the genitive of an inanimate noun *upil, which in turn implies a verb root *up-. Considering that the poor child was taken so early by Doctor Death, I can't imagine what else could have been the most likely cause other than sickness. So I think we can find a better translation than what Zavaroni is willing to provide: "Avils śas, amce uples." = "At six years [old], [she] was in sickness."[2]

[1] Giuliano & Larissa Bonfante translate amuce as "was, has been". See The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), rev.ed., p.68 for example.
[2] I'm aware that most assume that this is a male praenomen/gentilicium Uple and thus "she was (wife) of Uple for four/six years" (c.f. Roman Opillus). However, is it not suspect that such detailed information about her marital status would be inscribed at the expense of her age at death? The age of death is so consistently marked elsewhere that for it to be omitted here is out of place. If I understand correctly, this was inscribed on an ash urn (although Rix marks it as a 'sarcophagus' while others call it an urn, egad) and so of course, since the body has quite evidently been burned to ashes, can we be so certain that this individual was an adult based on an assumptive interpretation of so few words?

(Dec 27/07) I just thought up a new possibility for uples here which may be better than 'sickness'. Considering ufleś in TLE 626 (if Rix' transcription is correct), I wonder if it might be possible to give *upil the value "soil". Thus, TLE 193: Avils śas, (turu) amce uples. = "At six years, is (given) to the soil."; and TLE 626: La(rθ) Śar[-]ni tezan tular ufleś pentna ale. = "Larth S. set down a cippus marking the soil below."


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