30 Nov 2007

A ramble about the Nostratic pronominal system

I'm sure I must have hinted before that I hate when some treat long-range theories (like Nostratic, North Caucasian, Dene-Caucasian, or whatever far-away proto-language) as if they're written in stone. A person with a level head recognizes these ideas for what they are, idle conjectures requiring many ammendments before something more substantial can be made of them. However, I'm not against conjecture as long as it's fully differentiated from facts or well-substantiated theories. I also think there is an important difference between sharing conjectures for discussion on a blog or in a forum versus wasting trees to write a manifesto of your pseudolinguistic doctrine for you to enforce on disbelievers.

As much as I sound like a conservative fart for downplaying long-range comparison, I'm actually quite interested in it. It's just that I haven't read anything serious enough for me to go "wow!" yet and as I learn more, the errors in books start to become more apparent. Overall, I'm the most impressed (in a very moderate sense) by the Nostratic hypothesis as presented by Allan Bomhard who proposes that Indo-European, Uralic-Yukaghir, Altaic, Eskimo-Aleut, Elamite, Dravidian, Sumerian, Kartvelian and Afro-Asiatic language families come from a parent language dated to about 15 000 BCE in a period following the last ice age. He wasn't the first to come up with this century-old theory but he had a few different takes on it. For now, Nostratic is not an established theory because it doesn't present enough evidence to prove its claims, but it doesn't hurt to suggest further improvements that may help to inspire discussion and, just maybe, progress.

When looking through Allan Bomhard's Indo-European and the Nostratic Hypothesis (1996) or The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship (1994) co-authored by Allan Bomhard and John Kerns, one thing that I noticed was how many pronouns are being reconstructed without a clear structure. This is but one of a number of serious gaps in this theory just waiting to be resolved. The reconstructions presented by Bomhard and Kerns are always cited ad nauseum in ablaut pairs (e.g. *ma-/mə-) which of course serves no other purpose than to make the book twice as long. Since the ablaut patterns are said to be regular, there is no need to cite the second pair of each reconstruction any more than it is necessary to cite the Indo-European root *bʰer- as *bʰer-/*bʰor-/*bʰēr/*bʰr̥- each and every time. So I will dispense with irrelevancies and cite only the first pair of each of their reconstructions below.

First off, Bomhard and Kerns, on page 3 of The Nostratic Macrofamily: A Study in Distant Linguistic Relationship, show us this list of pronouns in the 1st and 2nd persons: *mi "I" [1ps], *tʰi "you" [2ps], *ma "we" [1pp.inclusive], *wa "we" [1pp] and *na "we" [1pp]. Immediately after are "notes" which are hampered either by irrelevancies or false information. For example, it suffices to say that Indo-European (IE) has a 1ps enclitic pronoun *me, 1ps genitive *mene, verbal 1ps thematic secondary ending *-m and verbal 1pp ending *-mes, the last being nothing more than a 1ps element with the plural ending *-es. So indeed there is ample evidence of an underlying 1ps pronominal root *me- in the deepest recesses of IE's prehistory. It's development in IE's Celtic branch however is wasteful rambling since it's obviously immaterial to Nostratic reconstruction and *me is well established in all other branches of IE even without the consideration of Celtic. Basing an Afro-Asiatic reconstruction solely on Chadic is bad practice known as "reaching". The so-called Etruscan imperative endings cited (-ti, , -θi) are without substantiation, if not provably false altogether, despite ad hoc claims made by some prominent Etruscologists such as Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante. The belief that these endings are imperatives are based on ad hoc comparisons with Indo-European imperatives in *-dʰí (e.g. *h₁sdʰí /ʔəsdí/ "be!").

These aren't all the first and second person pronouns that are suggested by Bomhard and Kerns (see here). False comparisons are made between an underlying Uralic and Eskimo-Aleut 1ps ending in a velar stop on the one hand and Indo-European *h₁eǵoh₂ (cited as *ʔekʼ-) on the other[1]. Some fun pronoun splicing of random data from the Afro-Asiatic family and presto changeo, yet another 1ps pronoun, *ʔa-. Then don't forget Bomhard's 1st person pronoun *ʔiya, supposedly proved by evidence from Chadic.

So in the 1st person alone, we now have five claims: *ʔa-, *ʔiya-, *ma-, *na- and *wa-. I'll discuss this more later.

(Continue reading the sequel: A ramble about the Nostratic pronominal system, part 2.)

[1] Read my views on the etymology of PIE's nominative 1ps pronoun in The origin of Indo-European ego.

29 Nov 2007

Selvans Canzate: a 'pure guess'

Today, let's compare contradictory statements from two people and see who wins the argument. Think of it as an entertaining cockfight in the streets of Chennai. Place your bets, people! In the quotes below, I highlight important statements in red font. Larissa Bonfante and her father cowrote the following in The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, Revised Editon (2002), p.205:
  • "Selvans (Silvanus) - The Etruscan name of the god, which perhaps comes from the Latin, appears twice on the Piacenza Liver, once next to that of Fufluns, near Letham. He was worshipped: many votive offerings, in particular bronze statuettes, bear inscriptions with dedications to Selvans. He is referred to with a variety of epithets: canzate, enizpeta, sanchuneta. Most interesting is the dedication to Selvansl Tularias, 'Selvans of the Boundaries' (Source 50), since the principal function of Selvans seems to be the protection of boundaries. He does not appear in scenes of Greek mythology."

To say that it "perhaps" comes from Latin is like saying, in my view, that evolution "perhaps" exists. Selvans assuredly comes from Latin Silvanus which is in turn formed from a Latin word silva "forest" and that would help explain why he does not appear in Greek mythological scenes, right? Alas, I sigh, but no matter. Let's continue on and see what Tim Cornell says in The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-265 BC) (1995), p.46:

  • "For example, a bronze votive statuette in the British Museum bears the following dedication to the god Selvans:

    ecn turce larthi lethanei alpnu selvansl canzate

    ('this gave Larthi Lethanei a gift(?) to Selvans Canzate(?)'). Scholars disagree about the meaning of alpnu, some preferring an adverb ('gladly') to a direct object ('gift'), while the meaning of the final word is completely unknown. That it is a divine epithet is a pure guess."
Oh-oh. A pure guess, you say? Does that mean that Etruscan specialists like Bonfante, De Grummond, Pallottino and a cornucopia of other noteworthy names backing up the idea of this Selvans Canzate are just blowing a lot of hot air? That's a delicious idea! I like it! Tim Cornell is a professor and specialist of Roman history, teaching out of the University of Manchester, so you'd think that he can tell a fact from a conjecture better than anyone. I for one believe that he can and has.

28 Nov 2007

TLE 900: Sancus, yet another Etruscan "mystery god"

It's never hard to sniff out the "brown sugar" (a.k.a. "b.s.") in the field of Etruscology. All we have to do is randomly pick an inscription from a hat and do a little digging into its history. We will easily find a truckload of competing hypotheses, all just as absurd as the next, all just as weakly defended as the next. This is why I could go on for 20 years to come, writing this blog on Etruscans alone, perhaps to the ennui of my readers. I finally nabbed a relatively clear picture online of TLE 900, from the ancient city of Volsinii, and this is another can of worms that we should open up and examine. The inscription is usually claimed to read as follows (for example, as shown in Morandi, Epigrafia di Bolsena etrusca (1990), p.64):

selvans // sanχuneta // cvera

And here's a picture:

For now, try not to look too closely at the last word which doesn't quite seem to match the transcription that most experts claim. Let's pretend for the moment that such details aren't important and if it helps, drink some whiskey to dumb your mind down. What many academics usually do to work around this pesky detail is to just pretend that the word isn't there. Oh look, poof! It's gone: Bisang, Aspects of Typology and Universals (2001), p.122; Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, Revised Editon (2003), p.205; De Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend (2006), p.149. As you can see, the last word is easily forgotten in the shadow of a mighty god named Selvans Sanchuneta.

But who is Selvans Sanchuneta? Nobody can say. In a nutshell, it's another "mystery god" invented by an unchecked department of academia who use pseudolinguistics to invent a long story that will fill up a book with their name on it. Colonna sought out to prove that an otherwise unknown hapax sanχuneta refers to an obscure Roman god Sancus. No particular reason, really, other than the fact that they begin with similar sounds. Of course, academics can't just admit to coining new folk etymologies because then they'd look foolish, but in the end it really is just another modern game of word association. While many claim that Sancus is of Etruscan origin, the claim isn't founded on anything substantial and could just as easily be etymologically related to Latin sanctus "holy" and thus of Italic origin. However, all of this misses an opportunity to intelligently analyze the grammar of the inscription. The word or name sanχuneta is in fact in all likelihood two items: sanχune-ta "the [sanχune]" (with trailing enclitic demonstrative -ta functioning as a definite article). It appears then that the status quo is yet again way off-base. There is no question that the first word is the god Selvans, but the second word claimed to be part of the epithet of this god is too problematic to be considered secure. What do we make of the unanalysable -ne or -neta ending if we are asked to entertain the notion that Latin Sancus begat Etruscan sanχuneta?[1]

Now after you've drunk your whiskey to kill the pain, what about the last word? Well, that's another kit-and-kaboodle, isn't it? When you look at the picture above, we see clearly a zeta (which looks like a modern "i" in serif font) following the epsilon and the trailing rho and alpha are upside-down. Ignoring the change in direction of the text, we would have cvezra, not cvera. Nonetheless, all the Etruscologists continue to state that the word here says cvera, a reflex of cver assumed to mean "image" by some.

I wish I had answers, yet all I have is one question after another. Nevertheless, a good question is always better than a shakey answer.

[1] Dorcey, for one, openly questions the validity of similar claims by Pfiffig linking it to a title Sanctus, albeit it in a cowardly footnote. (see, The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion (1992), p.11, fn.17)

(Nov 28 2007) We could perhaps in theory salvage the idea of Silvans Sancus but only if one analyses the phrase Silvans Sanχune-ta as underlying *Silvans Sanχuna-ita "(The) Silvans of Sancus" (with the deictic form -ita rather than -ta to explain e < *ai). One would then presume that Sanχuna is an adjective formed on a hypothetical Etruscan name *Sanχu "Sancus" using the suffix -na which is used in other adjectives and nominal derivatives. Even if this is so, I'd love to see the final word explained properly to finally tie this all together.

26 Nov 2007

Etruscan Dictionary Project Updates

This will now be the one and only Etruscan Dictionary "Ammendments page" in order to tidy things up on my blogsite. This page will always be easily clickable through the dictionary download icon towards the top, lefthand side of this blog. (It's about time you reordered things, Glen, you lazy bum! Hehehe.)


Here below are the ongoing drafts and ammendments to my Etruscan Dictionary project.

Latest PDF Update of the Etruscan Dictionary Project

Draft 010 (15 Jul 2008)Draft 010 (15 Jul 2008)
Draft 010 (15 Jul 2008)Ammendments for Draft 010

Archived Drafts and Ammendments
EtrDicAmm_02 Drafts: 01 : 02 : 03 : 04 : 05 : 06 : 07 : 08 : 09

EtrDicAmm_02 Ammendments: 01 : 02 : 03 : 04 : 05 : 06 : 07 : 08 : 09


As of Saturday, June 24, 2008:
  • The latest pdf published online on July 15 2008 contains 1092 items.


I believe that there is no excuse to overlook sound methodology when translating an ancient language. Authors often take advantage of their readers in obscure subjects like these and rest on their laurels rather than on rational defense of their claims. The Etruscan language is the continued victim of charletans without a competent understanding of linguistics using word look-alikes and folk etymologies as a means of arriving at their contrived translations. In my view, this is outrageous in this informed day and age. Methodology to me involves a thorough examination of *all* instances of a word and the consistent application of a single translation throughout. Only in a rare number of cases should homophony and obscure secondary meanings be a serious issue in disrupting this strategy. There is simply no other method worth considering than a structured and consistent one.

Beyond the regular application of a translation, there must also be a consistent application of grammar. Therefore, a detailed grammar must be devised with strong attention to how words are attested to have related to each other in a sentence. Far too often, details are overlooked by the untrained eye such as the reasons behind the use of a genitive case ending *-s or *-l for the recipient of the verb turuce versus the use of a dative ending *-si or *-le for the same recipient with other verbs like muluvanice. I believe that some of these grammatical nuances can be hints at the more subtle semantics of a given word. To date, there is no detailed grammatical outline of Etruscan and much contradiction. So I wish to remedy that through my own independent research into the matter.

25 Nov 2007

How NOT to reconstruct a protolanguage

I wrote an article last month, The Tower of Babel, which was an unexhaustive critical assessment of the late Sergei Starostin's grandiose online language project that limps on today through the efforts of surviving project members. A recent troll on that page under an unconvincing disguise of "G.Starostin" sent me two messages, one visible because it was civil if not misguided, while the second was abusive and thrown in the trash after I took note of his IP address. In case anyone was confused, my blog isn't a mouthpiece for proto-world rhetoric and I'm an ardent defender of mainstream linguistics despite my moderate interest in long-range linguistics. It suffices to reject the Tower of Babel project based simply on the consistent use of outdated and even disprovable information. Things such as its Indo-European database, infected with Julius Pokorny's 1950s reconstructions which notoriously neglected to reconstruct laryngeals to properly account for reflexes in Anatolian languages like Hittite, Luwian and Lycian. When a word halχ is assumed to mean “10” a priori in Etruscan purely by eyeballing texts and ripping words out of context in order to reject what is already established to be śar (c.f. Bonfante, Reading the Past - Etruscan (1990), p.61), Starostin's supplied pdf entitled Etruscan numerals: Problems and Results of Research by S. A. Iatsemirsky[1] is not credible enough to identify neither the problems nor the results of serious Etruscan research. Its Dravidian database is full of largely unaccepted reconstructions using voiced stops that are not proven to be necessary in that proto-language[2]. Then the addition of a Nostratic database and "Long Range Etymologies" is sure to add to the air of mediocrity of the website, putting the cart before the horse in light of the numerous mistakes regarding the more accepted languages and language families I just mentioned. This is all on top of the decidedly negative assessments of North Caucasian pushed by Sergei Starostin during his lifetime (Johanna Nichols, Current Trends in Caucasian, East European, and Inner Asian Linguistics (2003), p.208). I personally believe in an efficient use of time. So if it's proven that this website is consistently at odds with the mainstream, one would be wise to obtain a higher quality of information elsewhere.

On that note, it's important to discuss how NOT to reconstruct a protolanguage so that we're all on the same page and can more easily distinguish between real linguists and narrow-minded loons, whether online or in print. Considering that even Merritt Ruhlen of "Proto-World" infamy[3] has obtained his PhD from Stanford University, it's important to not be deceived by academic status. Theories can be ill-conceived no matter who one is or claims to be. So let's go through my cheeky list of important strategies that we can follow (using examples from the Tower of Babel project) if we want to isolate ourselves and be rejected by all universities around the world.

1. Use "phonemic wildcards" obsessively!
Cast the net wider and you might catch something!

The abuse of mathematical symbols like C, V, [a-z], (a/é/ö), etc. are an excellent way to make your idle conjecture look like a valid theory. It might be called "reconstruction by parentheses" since parentheses are either explicitly shown or hidden by a single variable. An example of this is *k`egVnV (claimed to be the Proto-Altaic word for "nine" in the Tower of Babel database). Obviously, if V represents all possible vowels in this proto-language and there are, say, ten of them possible in either position, then the fact that there are two wildcards in the same word means that the word represents a humungous, two-dimensional matrix of ONE HUNDRED possible permutations (10*10=100):

*k`egana, *k`egena, *k`egina, *k`egüna, *k`egïna, etc.
*k`egane, *k`egene, *k`egine, *k`egüne, *k`egïne, etc.
*k`egani, *k`egeni, *k`egini, *k`egüni, *k`egïni, etc.
*k`eganü, *k`egenü, *k`eginü, *k`egünü, *k`egïnü, etc.

Since no single form is actually being posited when wildcards are present, any claim of regular correspondence by such a theorist can be easily identified as fraud. If such linguists can't take themselves seriously enough to hypothesize a structured and testable theory, why then should we take them seriously in turn?

Other hilarious examples of wildcard fairy tales on the Tower of Babel site include Nostratic *cUKV ( ˜ č`-) "bundle" (in other words, all four are wildcards... jackpot!), Dravidian *kaṬ- "to cut into pieces" (universal onomatopoeia, anyone?), Semitic *ʔVrib- "tie (a knot)" (based on a single language, Arabic) and North Caucasian *ƛ̣_VẋwV ( ˜ Ł_-)̆ "rake" (wow, the number of possible permutations in this wildcard buffet is positively mindboggling! 200 perhaps?).

2. Ignore Occam's Razor and never seek logical justification for your ideas!
If an exotic phoneme gives you an orgasm, reconstruct it!

Most longrangers ignore Occam's Razor or fail to apply it in all aspects of their budding theory. It's easy to understand why it's not valid to reconstruct a sound in a proto-language which shows no regular correspondence in its daughter languages. However, even when one has justified a phoneme with evidence, one still has to justify the plausibility of the larger sound system that it's a part of. So if you have greater evidence for a palatal *ź than you do for its plain counterpart *z, you still have a problem to solve (c.f. phonemic markedness). If pronouns and common affixes use the more complicated sounds of the inventory of your proto-language, you still have a problem since this goes against the trend in languages we observe throughout the world, a reason that Allen Bomhard used to reject Illich-Svitych's reconstruction of Nostratic (e.g. Illich-Svitych and Dolgopolsky reconstructed the 2ps pronoun starting with the symbol *ṭ-, an ejective rather than its plain counterpart). This is how Occam's Razor works. In all aspects of our theory, we must abide by the simplest answer possible. Whenever you hear an argument like "Yeah, but, there's this language in some remote part of Africa with 30 speakers that uses a really rare sound or does something else that's really rare just like in my theory!" then you know that you're not dealing with someone in their right mind. Occam's Razor avoids unnecessarily exotic solutions at all times and teaches us to not confuse "minute possibility" for "convincing probability". For example, Klallam is certainly an existing spoken language, but there's also no doubt that its sound system and consonant clusters are very rare. So Klallam is something that your proto-language should not look like until you have solid proof (i.e. numerous regular sound correspondences) to back it all up.

By searching in the Tower of Babel's North Caucasian database for words beginning with sibilants, we get the following screwy search results. As of today, only one word with plain *z- in initial position is to be found, namely the first person pronoun claimed to be *zō, despite the fact that there are two instances of *ź- and *ž-. This means that plain *z- is outnumbered 3 to 1 by the comparatively more exotic counterparts with palatalization, labialization, clusters, etc. Even worse, there are only two instances of plain *s- among twelve roots starting with unvoiced sibilants. So plain phonemes are in the minority, as we would find if we were reconstructing a science-fiction language. Consistently, Starostin's North Caucasian defies any rational structure or common sense and a perfect example of diacritic overkill.

3. Make pages and pages of "correspondence tables"
They're sure to impress your family members!

"Correspondence tables" are lists of sounds in the daughter languages of a hypothetical proto-language proposed to prove regular correspondence and thus genuine relationship. So we can say that Germanic often corresponds to Latin t as Jacob Grimm remarked upon in 1822 showing that Germanic and Latin are part of the Indo-European family of languages. However, language isn't that simple and far more often than not, there are numerous exceptions to such simplistic equations. For example, the word 'eight' is octo in Latin and yet *ahtōu with a *t in Germanic. This is because the stop fails to be weakened to a fricative after another stop. What good then are correspondence tables when we can save time and space by actually describing sound changes and their processes? For some reason, Nostraticists and other longrangers like to use these at every turn, as does Sergei Starostin. These childishly repetitive tables simply waste pages and pages of paper and bandwidth without being terribly informative, but it's certainly an excellent way to make your book look thicker and impress your family.

4. Remember: All critics are conspiring against you!
Beat dead horses to death and if you can't win, punch them!

You may find that your theory isn't gaining the kind of press that you had hoped and quite a few may be noticing several flaws in your theory. You may not have a single factoid in your favour to form a coherent rebuttal. This is when you bring out the big guns: ignorance combined with non sequitur. This tactic must be handled delicately however. You could try attacking your critics on the personal level, whether that be through the direct use of swearwords or through subtle mockery of your opponent. However this is a desperate last resort, more common on Yahoo! Forums or Youtube. It looks more professional however to simply ignore critics altogether while overpraising the capabilities of yourself and your associates. Using a plethora of unnecessarily sesquipedalian, multipolysyllabic megaterminology, such as "lexicostatistical", is a great tactic to conceal the weaknesses of your theories, as is treating your conjectures as proven facts in any of your publications so as to not bog down your important work with silly things like justification or common sense. Remember, all critics don't know what they're talking about. Their valid criticisms are just a devilish trick of theirs to throw you off-track and pull you off of your hobby horse.

[1] Note that this pdf incorrectly cites TLE 295 in reference to a word zar when in fact it's properly TLE 275. Furthermore, automatically assuming that zar and śar are the same word purposely ignores phonemic distinctions in order to stroke one's pet theory. The instance of huθ-zars declined in the genitive case (TLE 191) has absolutely nothing to do with zar and everything to do with the fact that a dental stop plus the initial sibilant of attested śar (TCort ii) yield z // in this one particular instance. It's all quite understandable once one puts in the time and effort learning the basics of Etruscan phonetics.
[2] See Krishnamurti, Comparative Dravidian Linguistics: Current Perspectives (2001), p.250 [click here]
[3] Visit Mark Rosenfeld's humorous but rational article on the Proto-World language and its associated failures in reasoning: Deriving Proto-World with tools you probably have at home. One of the most poignant criticisms towards the proposals of Merrit Ruhlen and Joseph Greenberg (R&G) that I appreciate here is: "R&G really gain the benefit of obscurity here: how many of us can determine whether they are (unconsciously) playing the same kind of tricks with Tfaltik and Guamo as I am playing with Chinese and Quechua here?" This criticism is equally applicable to Starostin's theory of North Caucasian and his Tower of Babel project where a similar "benefit of obscurity" is being used against his readers.

(Feb 14 2008)
My entry The hidden binary behind the Japanese numeral system exposes another flaw in Starostin's reconstructions concerning the origin of Japanese numerals.

23 Nov 2007

World Historical Maps Online

Thomas Lessman is my latest hero. Using Adobe Photoshop and after hours and hours and hours of pouring through several historical references, this man is single-handedly piecing together the world, one century at a time. Amazing! And about time, too. Click for yourself:

I think this is an inspiration to us all to band together and share what we know.

22 Nov 2007

Sovana, the town of Historical Fluff, apparently

I just had to blog about this one. As I was scouring through the internet, trying to find any leads or references I could get my grubby, little, obsessive hands on to crack open this annoying Sovanian mystery lately, I found this horrible monstrosity of what I'd like to call a "misinfosite".

Click here for a laugh at the page "Sovana, the town of Tuff" of the website called I Borghi più belli d'Italia (The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy). Don't ask me where they got this urban legend from but they confidently proclaim that the city name Sovana (from Latin Suana) derives from an Etruscan word suf meaning "green earth". Um... no. There is no such word.

Perhaps they are too greedy for tourism dollars to care about getting the facts of their own history right, and that would be a pity because history doesn't need to be doctored up to be beautiful.

21 Nov 2007

Four Stone Hearth - Volume 28

Get your latest fix of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival! The latest issue will be provided to you by the Hot Cup of Joe blogsite maintained by a hardworking 4th year anthropology student from Texas who discusses the field of archaeology. To access this volume directly, please click on the link below:

Four Stone Hearth: Volume 28

Have fun!

20 Nov 2007

Those Mysterious Sovanians

I decided to title this entry in mocking tribute of those formulaic book titles such as Those Mysterious Etruscans by Agnes Carr Vaughn, The Mystery of the Tuscan Hills: A Travel Guide in Search of the Ancient Etruscans by Morris Weiss, Zacharie Mayani's La fin du mystère etrusque and all the numerous other books out there that quite purposely use the keyword "mystery" to earn a cheap buck or ratings. Even the New York Times is in on this subtle marketing scheme: Exploring the Etruscan Mystery. And of course I'm joining along by using "mystery" in this article to earn cheap blog ratings, hahahaha. We are all slaves to irony, aren't we?

Anyways, when drowning in the large ocean of passive entertainment and mystery, a lot of us are forgetting how refreshing it can be to seek out knowledgeable answers and to actively engage in learning and questioning. So as always, I want to bring up some questions I think are important that no one seems to be asking online yet.

I have an issue with this "mystery" of Sovana and its Etruscan origins. I'm still trying to track down any possible information on this, but there isn't much to go on from what I read. You see, if we take a cold, hard look at the city name *Sveama that is hypothesized to be the Etruscan version of Latin Suana (which in Italian is now known as Sovana), this name is in fact based on the attested personal name Pesna Arcmsnas Sveamaχ in the mural inscription TLE 298 of the Tomb of François (Vulci). Since Rumaχ and Velznaχ which are also mentioned in this tomb's inscriptions seem to mean "Roman" and "Volsinian" respectively, it seems reasonably secure that Sveamaχ is also based on an urbonym *Sveama.

But this is the thing. I'm trying to figure out exactly why Sovana is assumed as well as other problems. Is this the only possibility available? Or was it something that was assumed to be true in ad hoc fashion way back in the 19th century when linguistics was still a budding science? And how on earth do we explain the phonetics here? The pronunciation of a name like *Sveama should be something like /'swejəma/ (/j/ is regularly introduced within vowel sequences like ea because of what can be observed in spelling variations in other similar words). So how do we go from /'swejəma/ to Suana and how does an /m/ just interchange with /n/ like that? Do we really know who Pesna even was and what his significance is[1]?

So far it's suspect and vague, although I'm not completely disbelieving of the claim... yet. However, there is little information on early Suana because, lo and behold, it's yet another convenient "mystery" according to experts in the field. I thought I would let you all in on that and maybe one of you might have an idea to share that I haven't considered.

When experts place question marks next to the name and its connection to Sovana, I personally get uneasy about believing the claim blindly. (e.g. Halloway, The Archaeology of Early Rome and Latium (1994), p.6)

(Nov 22 2007) See Sovana, the town of Historical Fluff, apparently.

18 Nov 2007

More thoughts on the Etruscan Tree of Life motif

There weren't many takers in A little rant on the Etruscan Tree of Life motif when I asked where a mystery image that was the direct antecedent of the Etruscan Tree of Life motif came from. Disappointing that I get silence but you're all probably starting to shop for Christmas presents right now.

Maybe it would hit home to people if they could relate to what meaning this has in their own personal lives with the image above of the standard Christmas tree. The above picture is specifically the more hazardous Scandinavian variant with traditional candles and good ol' neolithic fire to brighten a long winter's night. Many a Swedish home has burned down because of this daredevil tradition, which is why most people have switched to the slightly less hazardous lightbulbs.

You may think there is no connection with Etruscans, but strangely, we share a very ancient symbolism with them, the Tree of Life, or in our modern world, the "Christmas Tree". To understand the connection, it's important to ask why we place a dead tree in our home, decorate it with festive colours and then light it up for Christmas. If it weren't for this being a time-honoured tradition, anyone doing this would probably need to be locked up in the psych ward. However, the beauty of tradition is that rituals pass from generation to generation, starting off having clear meaning, but over time, future generations come to merely mimick whatever their ancestors did without really knowing the reasons behind it. So most people haven't a clue as to why they drag a dead tree into their home, decorate it, and light it up like a Las Vegas casino in the dead of winter.

The answer is the sun. We do this, unbeknownst to us for the God of the Sun, to bring him back from his slumber in the coldest and darkest period of winter (at least as it is experienced in northern climes). Some naive Christians may think it's for Jesus but one will note that there is simply no mention of Jews making Christmas trees in the Bible. Perish the thought. For those of us informed about history and ancient world cultures, this is without a doubt a pre-Christian European ritual with pre-Christian symbolisms. The tree is the Great Tree, the omphalos or center of the cosmos that connects our physical world with the spiritual, the ground with the sky above. The Norse believed in a great central tree called Yggdrasil. The Norse beliefs too are connected, in a general sense at least, to our Christmas tradition and the symbolisms found in Etruscan art.

Back to the Etruscans and that mystery artifact I gave you to ponder on with the symbolism flanked with two sphinxes on either side, I'm somewhat disappointed that no one wanted to have a guess as to its origin. No matter, it's no secret if you're willing to dig through tonnes of books to find it. The Etruscan Tree of Life motif is directly taken from the same motifs found centuries before in Phoenician art which in turn derived their symbolisms from even more ancient Egyptian motifs. This is why I remarked that one of the patterns I line-traced previously from an Etruscan mirror looks much like an Egyptian lotus. This is because there is a historical relationship between the two icons. Yet again, the lotus is an Egyptian symbolism that points to the birth of the sun god, namely Ra (said to be pronounced in Middle Egyptian as *Rīʕ).

However, I'm merely dancing around the issue whose secrets run much deeper than all of this. Hopefully, I've whetted your appetites and you will start digging for truth for yourselves. Who knows, maybe Etruscan studies will one day see a new surge in interest. All of this common sense that I mentioned above though would suggest then that the sun is more intrinsically connected to Etruscan religion than typically mentioned by academia. Yet the prevailing status quo continues to make it seem as though the Etruscan god Tinia is mostly or entirely the Indo-European sky god found in Roman Iupiter and Greek Zeus. Again, I emphasize that in order to properly understand Etruscan religion, we need to shed this lingering 19th-century Greco-Roman bias that has its roots in an antiquated belief that the Etruscan language and culture was somehow Indo-European[1]. In my view, we need to start boning up more on Near-East belief systems if we're going to get serious about shedding the largely artificial mystery of the true Etruscan cosmos.

[1] It's not hard to find unscholarly comparisons between Etruscan and Latin in various past literature, as an example of this bias. Take for example, George Hempl in Mediterranean Studies (1930), p.39 (link here) who randomly equated the Etruscan word enesci in the Cippus Perusinus with Latin inēscātī. (The word enesci in fact may not even be a valid word because the text in question is written in continuous script and doesn't show word boundaries.) Where is the peer review? And of course, neither Hempl nor any of his camp have successfully translated the Cippus Perusinus to this day. I've also elaborated on another false Etruscan-Latin comparison in my previous article.

False Etruscan-Latin bilingual equations

I found something new to irritate me today. As usual, I trek across the edges of the internet looking for informative leads on the Etruscan language and as you may have suspected, I'm loving Google Books. Bad for copyright but stupendously wonderful for nefarious data-miners like myself. I seldom find anything sensible or certain on the Etruscan language, but I'm learning more and more how this field has been hijacked for a full century by such a large pile of false doodoo by a number of university-educated authors that one almost gets the depressing feeling that people just don't want the Etruscans to be solved at all. Maybe people prefer mystery and fantasy over something less ideal. Maybe it makes more money. Maybe my linguistic nincompoopery (is that a word?) bores the hell out of everyone. Neah, snap yourself out of it, Glen! There's gotta be somebody out there that cares about dead mystery languages as neurotically as you, right?

Anyways, today I learned that someone published the idea that the Etruscan phrase helu tesne Raśne which has been ripped from the Cippus Perusinus with utter disregard for context is equivalent to the Latin phrase terrae iuris Etruriae as mentioned in Aeneid (Aen.I.2). The conviction of the author threw me off for a brief bit. You can read the claims here (in Italian):

Mazzarino, Antico, tardoantico ed èra costantiniana (1980), p.275

Shame! What I would like to know is why educated people are just not putting their thinking caps on. For one thing, it's obvious that in an artifact like an exclusively Etruscan text like the Cippus Perusinus, where not a shred of Latin is to be found, it's child's play to equate any random words from the undeciphered text and force it to look like some existing Latin phrase that one found while skimming through reknowned Roman authors. Mayani has used this same tactic to fill up his wasteful books on Etruscan-Albanian look-alikes. One can dream up whatever one's little heart desires but the only snag is that it's all self-delusion. There's no talent in such a desperate ploy. However, even if we are momentarily duped by the seeming certitude of the above equation, these empty assertions quickly fall to ruin whenever we apply a healthy dose of structured thinking to them.

The claim that there is an Etruscan "oblique case" in -u to explain away this silly equation is provably wrong. It's already been published by the 70s by the Bonfantes (if not sooner if my memory serves me well) that there is no such case ending in -u and that the nominative and accusative cases are without marking in nouns. The ending -u is in fact a verb ending, marking the passive participle. Further, the word tesne is in the locative case, as is Rasne, which means that this text fragment already doesn't equate with the Latin phrase as claimed! There's also a naivety in merely assuming that vowels just change at whim without feeling any pang of responsibility to explain the supposed phonetic changes intelligently (i.e. helu versus the compared word hil as attested in TLE 675). Then finally, to close the coffin, there's no guarantee that these three Etruscan words really form a coherent phrase at all because this author, as many authors before him and since, has never bothered to translate the artifact in question in its glorious entirety.

Horrible, horrible stuff. So let that be an example to you budding paleoglots out there of how not to translate an obscure, dead language.

15 Nov 2007

Etruscan Dictionary Draft 004 now available

The deadline is upon me, November 15, and you know what that means! Yes! That crazy Glen has another update for you on my Etruscan Dictionary project (now with 942 items)! So here it is for everyone free to download. Just follow the eSnips icon below:

Hosted by eSnips

Organizing data is like a twisted sort of hobby for me, in addition to comparative linguistics and dead languages. I find that this is a learning process for me too because the more organized I get, the more I realize what I still need to know. Organization makes gaps in knowledge more obvious. There are so many things to think of, like how to organize a language into a coherent structure. Making a dictionary like this is not that simple but I brought this on myself willingly.

A big issue still is what is an appropriate grammatical model for Etruscan. I have to be honest, I'm still trying to wade through all of the published contradictions. None of the gurus in Etruscan studies seem to have a firm grasp of it either. Simple things are known, such as, the subject and direct object are given zero marking while genitive nouns which describe ownership or attribution are given -s or -l depending on their "gender" which I've marked as Type I or Type II respectively in my pdf. We know for sure that the past perfect gets -ce added to the verb stem. And that's about it. However, when Etruscologists are confronted with something more complex like spureś-treś as found in the Liber Linteus (from spur 'city'), then you'll find that there's a big blank where an answer should be.

This is all complex business but I'll continue to be ranting about this subject for some time to come. I haven't run out of things to discuss, believe me. But anyways, As always, enjoy!

(Nov 15, 2007) I caught a duplicate of cvil in my pdf, that dirty rotten whippersnapper. How did that slippery little fellah get in there? Blargh! Maybe I need to program a special function to stop that. Oh well. It's purged from my database and we'll see how things fare in Draft 005.

14 Nov 2007

A little rant on the Etruscan Tree of Life motif

Let's start talking about details. There's nothing that drives me round the bend than yet another wishy-washy book about Etruscans that doesn't really reveal much and only skims the surface, often by cleverly burying itself in circumstantial pedantics. Usually however, these books give you a hint right on the cover as to how bad they'll be. When you've brought a book home from the store whose author has slipped the word "mystery" in the title such as "Those Mysterious Etruscans", "The Mystery that is Etruria" or "How Mysterious those Etruscans are", then sufficed to say, you've probably been ripped off.

I'm a hopelessly detail-oriented guy and perhaps I get a little bent out of shape when others don't enjoy details like I do but there's an entire world out there just waiting to be explored! How can that not be exciting? So let's talk about Etruscan Tree of Life symbolisms. Apparently it doesn't spring up much in books and I can't believe that people don't ask questions about these important artistic motifs. They aren't just decorative. They say something important about the structure of the Etruscan belief system.

There's a mirror indexed as TLE 399 or ET Vt S.2 whose image is shown below. It's an artifact from Volterra dated to around 325 to 300 BCE. It contains the inscription "Eca sren tva iχ nac Hercle, Unial clan, θra sce." or rather "This image shows thus when Heracle, Uni's son, suckled the breast." Perhaps it's a bizarre-looking scene but its mythological context is mostly taken from Greek mythos and this makes sense considering that Etruscans were always in contact with Magna Graecia, a large Greek colony to the south of Italy. Here, Etruscan Heracle is suckling his mother Uni's breast and it quickly tells us that Etruscan Uni and Greek Hera were considered more-or-less equivalent deities, although it's a common mistake to assume that they were perfectly identical in function.

Now let's depart from the surface and work our way deeper into visual metaphors. There's that teensy weensy little pattern on the legs of Uni's throne, much like temple columns, which I've blown up for you to see more clearly, in blue line traces. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to suspect that her throne was purposely fashioned with these columns by the artist in such a way as to illustrate a simple but powerful equation between the goddess' real-life temples in her honour and her divine and less tangible throne in the sky. But there's more because this pattern isn't just meant to be pretty. It has a message and the same visual theme shows up in many other places on Etruscan relics:

Here we have a different expression of the pattern, more similar to the Egyptian lotus symbolism, but nonetheless it's yet again a plant motif placed in center stage of a scene. This time, Tinia is sitting on the throne and is now holding the sacred plant. So, we have to start asking ourselves what is going on here and what this all means.

This is where I'm starting to realize that being a good specialist is potentially a detriment to being a good historian since it's not enough to know a single field of study to fully understand an ancient culture. We have to look outside the box and think laterally in various disciplines to get a handle on it all. Knowledge is a network that has always defied academic specialization that universities artificially impose.

Before I let the cat out of the bag, there are still authors publishing books about Etruscan with outlandish misrepresentation or even ignorance of the full facts. Check out this doozie from Barker/Rasmussen, The Etruscans (2000), page 44: "Virtually all archaeologists now agree that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the 'indigenous' theory of Etruscan origins: the development of Etruscan culture has to be understood within an evolutionary sequence of social elaboration in Etruria. Explaining this process, however, is still far more difficult than describing it. For example, contact with the outside world, particularly with the Greeks and Phoenicians, was certainly an important factor within the final stages of this process, but scholars disagree about the extent to which such contact was a cause of increasing cultural complexity in Etruria, or a result, or both." (I've bolded some of the text to highlight my contentions.)

This statement is an all-out lie using exaggerations like "virtually all archaeologists agree that..." to give the air of academic authority without the responsibility of facts or deeper insight. It gives readers the incorrect perception that there is no need to look beyond the boundaries of Italy to find the sources of Etruscan culture and that the impact of foreign influences on Etruscan culture was only a late process or relatively minimal. Yet, everything that we can ascribe to the label "Etruscan" is undeniably of foreign (i.e. non-Italian) origin, such as their alphabet, their manner of dress, their mythology, their hepatoscopic traditions, their symbolisms, everything. On a fundamental basis, Etruscans are almost purely of non-Italian origin in every respect. Genetically even, although there is certainly a native base, there is also a significant external contribution from Sardinia, Magna Graecia, Carthage and beyond. In a nutshell, many authors are carelessly confusing archaeological culture (i.e. Villanovans and similar digs) with ethnic culture (i.e. that of the Etruscans as we know them as an identifiable people, whose origins are a mixture of things but mostly from the East).

So from an archaeologist's narrowly specialized perception of history, Etruscans are "native" in the sense that there indeed was a slow and steady increase in oriental influence after 800 BCE, the so-called Orientalizing Period. As a whole, there appears to be continuity between the pre-Etruscan era and the establishment of the Etruscans. However, from a generalized, multi-disciplinary point of view, we see that Near-Eastern peoples were increasingly making their mark on Italian soil, including the people who would later be known as Etruscans. This would explain both the archaeology and the overall cultural and ethnic reality of the region. Standing outside of any one field, we start to see how sensationalist it is to pit Herodotus' Out-of-Lydia hypothesis against Dionysius' Autochthonous hypothesis concerning the Etruscan Origins debate. They are both essentially correct although in most aspects it is Herodotus who seems more informed about Etruscan ethnic origins while Dionysius almost speaks in the sense of genetics.

As for the patterns above, they are called the Tree of Life motif and while it seems to be fundamental to Etruscan belief, the symbolism is hardly unique to Etruscans at all. The following picture shows the Tree of Life figured in Akkadian works of art (from the Temptation Seal, dated to 2200 BCE):

And the following mystery image below shows a direct ancestor to the Etruscan motifs shown above. Can you guess where this is from?

I'll give you a hint. They weren't Etruscans and they weren't Italian. Good luck!

12 Nov 2007

Questions we should be asking about Etruscan art

I was talking to someone recently in an email and "art" came up. I know this seems crazy but I find myself hating the word "art", not because I hate the concept of art but because it almost strikes me as a word that's been hijacked since the 20th century to mean the very opposite of what it used to mean. As a child, I was enrolled in piano lessons and forced to spend many horrible hours on a hard, wooden bench learning classical music. My parents meant well but their focus was in hindsight superficial, always concentrating on what level of exams I could reach rather than encouraging me to appreciate the musical arts for its expressive beauty and meaning. If I had done it again, I would have told all the adults off and played what I like from the Romantic Era. However, to pass exams, students are forced to play music from a standard selection of eras no matter how uninspiring. So I would have to play a lot of music from time periods that I just didn't like all that much. One era that I found myself disliking the most seemed to be the modern era, anything after 1940. It seems to me that after the 1940s, everyone went stark-raving mad and decided to surgically seperate art from its purpose (i.e. meaningful self-expression), making art into a goal or product in and of itself. No longer was art "enslaved" by higher purpose or structure and this glorious emancipation was seen as an abstract victory of liberal thought. Yet whenever I came across a "modern" composition to play, I would cringe and even have a tortured tear in my eye, knowing that I would have to endure, for some time as I practiced it, the random set of completely meaningless notes that even its own artist had no passion for. And I see this same theme of depressed meaninglessness in Andy Warhol's art and the art of many famed people. The modern era to me is and will always be the Era of Nihilism, a systematic destruction of all meaning, in culture, in art, in history, in science, in religion, in society, in law, in respect, and in the beauty of individual self-sufficiency and expression. In an era where everything and everyone can be mass produced, art becomes soulless.

As such, in this modern era of disenlightenment, I find that people forget that art had meaning once. That art could have meaning and purpose lovingly bestowed on the artwork by the very artist of the piece, rather than the artist shirking his responsibility to provide meaningful art and offering the resultant static noise to the beholder to subjectively interpret in complete vain. In regards to ancient "art", unlike modern "art", it is up to the beholder to research and understand the true intent of the artist. Without going to this trouble, these artifacts are not appreciated in their fullest sense and we forfeit our right to our own history.

So this entry is going to be devoted to questions. Lots of them. Questions that we should be asking ourselves when looking at these relics to shake ourselves free from the modern intellectual vacuum. If the books you find on Etruscan art and mythology aren't even trying to answer these questions or the one's that you the reader can think of, it's a hint that the books are just more pablum for the masses.

Here's a sample mirror showing the unusual scene of Heracles (here represented fully grown although he is supposed to be a child at the time) suckling the breast of his mother, Hera:

I'm not terribly boggled by the overall scene here, which is more-or-less understandable if we do a quick search for the Greek tales of Heracles. The scene and its overall significance is covered already in many books. What I want to know are the questions on details, the tiny motifs that people are easily glossing over. The kinds of things that either make or break people's narrow pet theories on Etruscan religion.

I'll be discussing this mirror's details and others later but for now, allow yourself to ponder openly on Etruscan mythology. This is not just a vacuous mystery to fantasize about but rather it is an overripe riddle deserving and capable of being solved if we stand up to the challenge.

11 Nov 2007

The Jesus Myth

Having grown up in a Christian environment and then steadily marching towards agnosticism as I grew older, many simple but numerous paradoxes in the Bible were enough for me to smell something fishy. So, I felt little further need to scour scriptures that I knew were more than just three times removed from the original biblical texts (which are lost anyway). What could possibly remain of the original ancient texts when it has been translated and retranslated so many times? If we recognize how translation in the real world works, with the conundrum of translating puns and subtle word associations that work in one language but not necessarily in another (without a lengthy footnote), we have to contend that much of the scriptures that we find, whether it be in our bookcase or in a motel nightstand, have been sanitized in the average version of the printed Bible. Since most people can't read Classical Greek or Aramaic fluently, it's not unreasonable to say that the great majority of Christians are pale imitations of the real thing, though in fairness they are not deliberately so.

As of now, I've always left the possibility open that a man could have existed at this time to form the basis of "Jesus" as most Christians know him today, but I'm very conscious of the fact that pre-Christian legends were undoubtedly overlaid on top of whatever historical events might have taken place, such as the virgin birth (compare with Babylonian religion) and the resurrection (compare with the stories of Egyptian Osiris, Bablyonian Tammuz and Norse Odin).

So to continue on with this blasphemy, I present to you a very thorough and lengthy article called Jesus Myth - The Case Against Historical Christ to ponder on. I can't vouch for the many details on this page but I have to say that the author went through much trouble and for those interested in the historical details of that time period, it might be something intriguing to look into further.

7 Nov 2007

The false image of cana

As previously explained in The kourotrophos Maffei, Larissa Bonfante seems to be flip-flopping about some simple details or even getting them provably wrong despite being in this field for decades with her father, Guiliano Bonfante. She's not the only one with which I have an intellectual quarrel, but today I feel like picking on her for a while. I know, I'm a shameless bastard but there are even more heretic treasures of scholastic red herrings lurking in those aforementioned translations of hers. I just can't stop myself. Let's suss out more interesting tidbits of info.

To recap, she gives us the following translations seperated by a few years and with differing transcriptions of the same text:

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : seθra : turce
"I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina Se(thra) gave me."
(Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), revised edition from 1983, p.168)

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : śe[lv]anśl [: tur]ce
“I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina [to Selvans?] gave (me).”
(Bonfante in De Grummond/Simon, The Religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.20)

Let's play along with her claim that cana means "image" for the sake of argument. All we have to do is pick another clear enough Etruscan inscription with cana in it to verify whether she's telling us the truth or not. So let's look at this fine inscription listed in Pallottino's Testimonia Linguae Etruscae or TLE which was first printed in 1954, when my own father was but a bratty teenager and I wasn't even a grain of sand in the ocean:

Larθeal Caicnas Θamries cana (TLE 260)

The funny thing about this artifact is that it's in the form of a scarab. Now let's plug in Bonfante's translation for idle kicks and watch her linguistic credibility crumble before our eyes: "Larth Caicna Thamrie's image". We can already see how absurd her translation is. A scarab is hardly any person's "image". In fact, the scarab is an Egyptian-derived sun symbolism connected with a specific incarnation of the god Ra, namely Khepri who symbolised the rising sun. Khepri was depicted in Egyptian murals with a head of a scarab and body of a human but while there's a pile of stuff I could rant on about concerning Etruscan sun symbolism, what it all means in funerary contexts, and why they borrowed Near-Eastern/Egyptian motifs like this all the time, right now let's keep focussed on the linguistic capabilities of the Bonfante family. What this implies is that two people of the same family, despite having all of the details of these artifacts before them for decades and decades, have been hideously wrong all this time. Could Etruscologists actually be that disinterested in their own field?

Based on all the contexts it's found in, cana could only really refer to a general "offering" and in fact this is backed up by etymology. It seems to be a deverbal noun from cen "to bring". Its passive participle cenu "brought" is attested in the Tabula Cortonensis (TCort) and Cippus Perusinus (CPer) in the context of libation offerings (e.g. TCort i-ii: vina-c restm-c cenu, CPer A.x: θii θil ścuna cenu).[1]

The final question to solve is: What made the Bonfantes believe that it means "image" in the first place if it's ignorant of context? It's always hard to tell exactly what motivates people who aren't completely open about their methodology but I would surmise that their beliefs are mostly based, rather weakly mind you, on a particular gloss from the Classical Greek grammarian Hesychios of Alexandria who equated a curious word χάνα (chana) with κόσμησις (kosmēsis) 'adornment'. Of course, the problem of equating Greek aspirated χ- with Etruscan inaspirate c- in cana is phonetically unsurmountable without imagining further impulsive assumptions. As to why exactly χάνα was assumed to be an Etruscan word a priori, well, I'm sure that one day I will learn the sorted answer and rest be assured, I will be blogging about it.

[1] In Etruscan News, vol. 5 (2006), coincidentally co-edited by Larissa Bonfante (lo and behold), Koen Wylin managed to publish that it was "obvious" to him that both the Tabula Cortonensis and the Cippus Perusinus are "judicial documents" and that cenu must mean "obtained" as part of some grandiose transfer of property between families. (Read the article The first chapter of the Cortona inscription by Koen Wylin [pdf].) I read it and cried inside.

5 Nov 2007

The kourotrophos Maffei

A marble, life-sized statue stands in the Museo Guarnacci, an image of woman with child and dated to the 4th century BCE. It has an inscription along the right arm. Etruscologists variously index it as CIE 76, CII 349, and ET Vt 3.3 but the general public knows it as the kourotrophos Maffei. The word kourotrophos is a Greek compound word meaning "child nurturer" or simply "nurse".

There are, as usual, wildly different accounts of what this one Etruscan inscription actually says. It's yet another insight into the madness within the field of Etruscology. It's as always unsettling to me how silent and disturbing the process of historical obfuscation is in a supposed age of information. We're drowned and hung by our own intellectual sloth.

mi: cana: larθiaś: zanl: velχinei: seθra: turce
"I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina Se(thra) gave me."
(Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), p.168)

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : se[θra al]ce
(Agostiniani, Le "iscrizioni parlanti" dell'Italia antica (1982), pp.116 & 189)

mi: cana: larθiaś: zanl: velχinei: śe...ce
(D'Aversa, La lingua degli etruschi (1979), p.219)

mi: cana: larthiaś: zanl: velχinei: śelvanśl: turce
(Rix, Etruskische Texte (1991), p.146 under Vt 3.3):

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : śe[lv]anśl [: tur]ce
“I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina [to Selvans?] gave (me).”
(Bonfante in De Grummond/Simon, The Religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.20)

No one is able to agree on the final words, nor on the translation, nor on whether the first sibilant in the red sections above is a sigma or a san, nor whether this letter is identical to the previous ś in larθiaś. It's anything goes if you're an Etruscologist. Of course, without pictures, the average layman is without hope of knowing which is correct and if one does a search using a quasi-effective tool like Google Images under "kourotrophos Maffei" one turns up empty-handed. The Museo Guarnacci doesn't offer us images either because it would rather hide history from us so that we can pay for airfare and admission. Tourism is big business. For that matter, information is big business too. Perhaps after spending hours and hours in an ill-stocked public library, it's expected of the poor reader to spend much money on one's own library as did the few wealthy patricians who were able to afford such luxuries during the Roman Empire preceding the Dark Ages.

Now here's the big kicker. Not only do experts not agree on what the inscriptions say, but Larissa Bonfante can't even agree with herself. She co-authored The Etruscan Language: An Introduction in 1983 when her father was still alive. She has since republished this book under a "revised" edition in 2002. However, what has she really revised in this book? My answer here would be "Not much at all". When compared with what she says in De Grummond & Simon's The Religion of the Etruscans in 2006, there is no consistency or forthrightness. Rather than being honest with her readers by correcting errata before republishing a book about the Etruscan language and rather than making clear her changed stance on this inscription, she has instead silently aligned herself with the version of the transliteration that Rix had published back in 1991 while at the same time republishing her erroneous book for the consumption of the idiot masses who wouldn't know any better.

What is the point republishing a book that is apparently out-of-date by many decades? All it does is confuse readers with these radical and silent "transcription flipflops". But then again, this is maybe the whole point - no one will ever care to know because no one likes to keep track of historical details like neurotic little me, right?

3 Nov 2007

The Iguvine Tablets and Etruscan

The Iguvine Tablets are texts written in Umbrian detailing rituals that have some bearing on Etruscan rituals. Etruscans lived side by side with Italic peoples like Umbrians and so it's not a stretch to think that they shared similar religious rituals despite the difference in language. So I'm teaching myself some Umbrian and staring at these texts. One passage in the Iguvine Tablets is interesting in relation to the Etruscan Liber Linteus and it goes like this:

Este persklum aves anzeriates enetu, pernaies pusnaes. Preveres Treplanes Iuve Krapuvi tre buf fetu. Arvia ustentu, vatuva ferine feitu, heris vinu heri puni. Ukri-per Fisiu, tuta-per Ikuvina feitu.

"Begin this ceremony by observing birds, those in front and those behind. Before the Trebulam Gates sacrifice three oxens. Offer grains, put ribs on a tray, either with wine or with mead. Sacrifice for Mount Fisian, for the nation of Iguvium."
I highlight the part that interests me in red. The reason why it's interesting is that it shows the importance to Umbrian priests of cardinal directions and of the observation of birds for omens. There is precisely the same emphasis in Etruscan religion. Additionally, it appears that hante-c repine-c (and its other attested forms: hate-c repine-c, haθe-c repine-c, haθrθi repinθi-c) is the equivalent of the Umbrian phrase pernaies pusnaes and is found throughout the text of the Liber Linteus.

I'm not sure if others translate Etruscan hante-c repine-c as "both ahead and behind" but Larissa Bonfante gives the value of "in front" to hante and so the translation of repine as "in behind" seems like a reasonable next step. If so, I wonder then if it could be a borrowing from Latin repōnere "to put away" (the prefix re- meaning "backward, behind") followed by reduction of the secondary vowels due to Etruscan's initial-syllable stress accent. This phrase however is in a slightly different context:

Cis-um pute tul θans haθe-c repine-c, śacni-cle-ri cilθl, śpure-ri, meθlume-ri-c enaś.
The word tul seems to refer to a boundary stone and θans may be the same word as the unsyncopated animate plural form tanasar (found in TLE 82 & 83) which seems to refer to mourners in a funeral procession. I presume that -um in the first word is the phrasal conjunctive seen elsewhere, meaning "and so" or "then". If so however, this means that cis is the genitive of ci "three". Then what is pute? It appears to be a verb in the preterite and we find the form puts [1] in TLE 131 (Laris Pulena's sarcophagus) and puθce in CIE 5730.

Anyways, the whole point of scouring the Iguvine Tablets is to look beyond just the grammar of Etruscan, and determine the greater religious context of these texts. Fun, fun, fun!

[1] Pfiffig equates Etruscan puts with Latin ponit '(he, she) places' and the German verb aufstellen 'to set up'. See Die etruskische Sprache: Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung (1969), p.138.