9 Feb 2008

Finding structure in the Piacenza Liver despite academic claptrap - Part 4

(Continued from Finding structure in the Piacenza Liver despite academic claptrap - Part 3.)

I know it's been a few days between Part 3 and this latest sequel but I haven't forgetten the next topic that I want to cover. It's a large one. In fact, I feel it's my duty to write about this because it's a topic that everyone else seems to conveniently forget. I want to get serious and start exploring how Etruscan religion relates to Near-Eastern traditions and I'm perturbed that I don't find this topic covered by so-called experts in the field.

Etruscologists still clueless about the big-picture of Mediterranean history

Doing a quick search for “Babylonian haruspicy” in Google Books shows me that academics knew about this curious ancient science to the east involving the gruesome inspection of sheep's livers to divine the future as far back as 1897. We can see Kroeber's published quotes on Babylonians inspecting omens from animal livers in 1923 who claims that it was Babylonians who invented the practice[1]. To put that in chronological context, Kroeber's words were put to print years before either of my grandfathers even hit puberty yet. It's safe to say then that the knowledge of Near-Eastern haruspicy is a centuries-old fact and that since the Piacenza Liver was discovered in 1877[2], there was more than a full century for even the most pitiful academic to realize that the entire basis of Etruscan religion was imported into Italy from the Near East. Indeed, it was discovered long ago - the Near-Eastern origin of haruspicy is readily available in general reference books such as Encyclopedia Britannica.

Yet, as of 2006, De Grummond in Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend[3] (much like Pallottino in The Etruscans (1975) before her) has the gull to waste her readers time attempting unsuccessfully to illucidate Etruscan haruspicy not through our well-established knowledge of the identical practice in Babylon and Western Anatolia, but by devoting several pages to a most obscure allegory created by our poetic friend, Martianus Capella. This, despite it being quite clear that the main focus of his work De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii was to paint an allegory about eloquence and the love of learning, purposely personified by the two subjects of the wedding scene: Mercury and Philology[4]. It's hardly a trustworthy, first-hand account of Etruscan haruspicy when compared to the Babylonian artifact from Sippar whose picture I've shown in Part 1. I wonder if De Grummond knows how ironic she appears when she effectively bastardizes Capella's emphasis on learning and uses it for its exact opposite, ignorance and obscurity. This 'mystery-mongering' is no different from the food industry that markets 'flavour' at the expense of nutritive substance. Whatever the shallow reason behind it, the continued avoidance of Near-Eastern religion to better explain the Piacenza Liver combined with emphases on the most obscure references around is fishy.

Even though Capella was most probably influenced by Etruscan mythology because of his references to a 16-part sky and deities “living” in these sectioned celestial spaces, we can hardly be certain what parts of his account were based on Etruscan religious tradition and what originated purely from his own imagination. While some Etruscologists persist on making Catha (as found on the Piacenza Liver) equivalent to Capella's Solis Filia 'daughter of the Sun', we should take this idle theorizing with a grain of salt. There's no proof that Capella's account must correlate 100% with what we find on the Piacenza Liver at all. Why should it? I hardly think that Capella's purpose behind De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii was to make an accurate historical account of Etruscan religion so why should we read it without reserved skepticism?

The key to Etruscan haruspicy is in Western Anatolian religion

Let's cut to the chase. The extraction of livers specifically from sheep to divine the future is so bizarre and yet so specific that it's clear that the practice that many would describe as so typically Etruscan can only be an import from the Near East. Yet if we accept that such important things like the Etruscan alphabet and haruspicy are both exogenous, what then is left which can be said to be autochthonous to Italy and which is still identifiably Etruscan? To be even more blunt: If the entire haruspical tradition is from the Near East and related closely with Babylonian or Hittite religion which share the same practices, then why aren't Etruscologists doing the sensible thing and putting away their childish toys (namely Capella's fictitious poetry) and picking up a book on Babylonian or Hittite divination practices in order to understand Etruscan religion more competently?

Adding two and two isn't hard here: Etruscan religion is effectively Western Anatolian religion because Etruscan ancestry lied largely in the former lands of Arzawa. So how then do the practices of Etruscan tradition relate to Babylonian practices? How do the gods of Etruria and the structure of the Etruscan pantheon relate to Babylonian and Hittite views?

[1] Kroeber, Anthropology (1923), p.209 (see link).
[2] Haarmaan, Early Civilization and Literacy in Europe: An Inquiry Into Cultural Continuity in the Mediterranean World (1996), p.162 (see link).
[3] De Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend (2006), p.49 (see link).
[4] McKeon/McKeon/Swenson, Selected Writings of Richard McKeon (1998), p.220 (see link).


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