21 Feb 2008

Revisiting TLE 193 and 'The City of Dirt'

I don't want to fill up my blog with too much nonsense about other unmentionable blogs with poor commentbox moderation. This is strictly about linguistics :)

My mind has been on the Etruscan inscription TLE 193 again. There's something so fishy about it and I can't let it go. Readers may remember that I previously flipflopped on whether to interpret uples in TLE 193 as a name or a word. This artifact is an inscribed urn which contained crematory remains of an individual female discovered in Tuscania during the middle of the 19th-century. (I still haven't uncovered a picture of it. Was it stolen from a museum somewhere along the way?) To refresh our memories, let's look at the inscription again:

larθi . ceisi . ceises . velus . velisnal . ravnθus . seχ
avils . śas . amce . uples

I'm looking at that perplexing last word, uples, and not knowing whether to interpret it as Upaliie, a gentilicium or as a reflex of a seperate word ufli which is found in the Liber Linteus mummy text and which cannot possibly be a name because of its context (LL 11.ix-xi) :

θui . useti . catneti . slapiχun . slapinaś . favin . ufli . spurta . eisna . hinθu . cla . θesns

As usual, the Etruscan specialists are even more indecisive about what ufli means than I am. It appears that there is no well-argued reason for interpreting uples as a last name in TLE 193 other than the existence of the Italic-derived name Upaliie (from Oscan Upfals) elsewhere.

However as I scrub for data even harder, I'm noticing that there is an interesting pattern in the way that this inscription has been translated over the past couple of centuries. Right after it was discovered, we see that throughout the 19th century, the phrase śas amce is simply considered the age of the deceased. Due to competing theories at the time, people argued back and forth whether this numeral was '4', '5' or '6'. We now know that it signifies '6'[1]. Regardless of the debate at the time, it seemed to be agreed that this was the tragic remains of a young prepubescent girl.

This is odd, because after Pallottino's academic career came into full swing in the 20th century, I notice that some scholars were swayed to the idea that this artifact speaks of a grown woman married to a man named Uple for 'four' or 'six' years. When I assimilated evidence for the name Upaliie from other inscriptions, it gave me a pang of fear that I may be wrong about my initial reading and needed to be honest to my readers. So I promply wrote an apology even though it was technically in keeping with earlier views. However, this more modern interpretation is full of even larger holes than the original reading when I think about it more.

It seems insurmountably odd, amid all the known inscriptions available where age of the deceased is consistently recorded in funerary inscriptions, for this one mysterious artifact to go astray and replace the expected number of years lived with the duration of her marriage. Women's ages were just as important as the men's to Etruscans. And yet, how do we deal with uples? So I'm revisiting my original idea that uples is indeed the same word as the locative noun ufli (for earlier *upil-i). If the value is 'dirt' then avils śas amce uples would read "At six years, (she) was (given) to the dirt", a circumlocutive euphemism for the burial of her urn. Here, I think we could interpret uples not as a genitive form (which should be *upil-s, by the way), but the directive case in -iś (uples < *upil(a)-iś). The directive case is observed in the Liber Linteus indicating 'to' or 'toward'. But you may wonder why I insist on the value of 'dirt'.

Aside from 'dirt' fitting well with TLE 193, I noticed that it may completely unlock the phrase in the Liber Linteus ufli spurta eisna hinθu. We are told that spur means 'city', eisna means 'divine' and hinθu means 'below'. Upon reading something about Ugaritic mythos a while back, I noticed that it kind of sounds a lot like the Ugaritic city of the underworld which they called Qrt Hmry[2] 'City of Mire', doesn't it? Thus "ufli (in dirt) spur-ta (the city) eisna (divine) hinθu (below)" = "the divine city in the dirt below".

Since we know that Etruscans did indeed believe in a city in the underworld[3] because of carved reliefs that depict it, we have yet another tempting association with the Near East that critics can't seem to absorb yet. Nifty idea, no? Yes, I know. You can thank me later, hehe.

[1] We know that śa means 'six' because of TLE 181 where the age recorded (avils : XX : tivrs : śas) can only sensibly read "20 years (and) six months old" (i.e. "20 and a half years old"). I'm sure you'll all agree that "20 years and four months old" is by contrast quite unusual to find in any funerary inscription worldwide, past or present. In fact, such a thing would almost seem sacrilegious. The Bonfantes et alia remain completely unaware of this simple deduction. Note Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002), rev.ed., p.94 (see link) as a typical example.
[2] Watson/Wyatt, Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (1999), p.187 (see link): "Mot's domain is described as being a town (qrt) called 'Miry' (hmry), in a land called 'Filth or Mud' [...]"
[3] Bonnefoy, Roman and European Mythologies (1992), p.35 concerning the Etruscans: "The realm of the hereafter was represented as a city lined with towers, whose door is guarded by demons." (see link)


  1. It's great to pop into your blog occasionally and realise that I have no clue whatsoever what you are talking about. The world is full of mysteries.

  2. Lol, no problem. You're forgiven. Different strokes for different folks, I always say. Not every blog is designed with everyone's tastes in mind and that's okay. Yay for diversity!

    There's another blog that I personally think is awesome called Abnormal Interests and it sometimes talks about "Ugaritic veterinarian texts"... and again, even I don't know what he's talking about, but it's good to learn something new. It's nice to be versatile. ;)

  3. Related to footnote 1, what do you know about funerary inscriptions "worldwide"? Let's take a look at Latin inscriptions, if you please. Check http://books.google.com/books?id=EFAGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PR160, how do you explain "menses VIII" or http://www.archive.org/download/
    christianepitaph00mccauoft_bw.pdf and look for "mens(es) VIIII" (p. 6), "m(enses) V" (p. 14) etc. even "mens(es) IIII" (p. 30).

  4. Sorry Ardagastus.

    In my last message, which I've quickly retracted, I was far too hasty to address the issue that I thought you were pointing to (ie. the use of numbers of months when reporting the age of the deceased, which is quite rare for Etruscans to do), only to realize that you're speaking about something subtly different (ie. whether it's bizarre for Etruscans to speak of the number of years a wife is married to someone rather than her age at death). Gadzooks! How embarrassing, but I think I'm on track now. Mental note: carefully take time to reread my own entries before engaging in debate! :-)

    For clarity, you're responding to my blogentry statement: "It seems insurmountably odd, amid all the known inscriptions available where age of the deceased is consistently recorded in funerary inscriptions, for this one mysterious artifact to go astray and replace the expected number of years lived with the duration of her marriage."

    Thanks for supplying these links which I can help linkify for you for the benefit of others:
    oneand two [pdf].

    Now, you've got a point. Yet, doesn't frequency account for something? It still remains an unusual pattern in Etruscan inscriptions from what I see since it's well known that Etruscan women were said to practically enjoy equal rights of men (or at least in regards to owning property of their own). So it seems to me to be un-Etruscan by nature and more Roman.

  5. I also hope I did not misunderstand your point - I replied to footnote 1 about "the age of the deceased": TLE 181 where the age recorded (avils : XX : tivrs : śas) can only sensibly read "20 years (and) six months old" (i.e. "20 and a half years old"). I'm sure you'll all agree that "20 years and four months old" is by contrast quite unusual to find in any funerary inscription worldwide, past or present. In fact, such a thing would almost seem sacrilegious. .

    My objection is that in several funerary inscriptions (I chose Latin ones for exemplification due to geographical and cultural proximity) we encounter ages of x years and y months, where y seemingly may be any number of months (within a year), a number not restrained to 6. The last example from my previous comment points to a man who lived 67 years, 4 months and 25 days and this age is mentioned in the epitaph. Therfore I find theoretically possible an Etruscan funerary inscription having the age of 20 years and 4 months recorded on it.

    I guess the debate on 4 and 6 in Etruscan is not clinging only on this argument, it is only that I don't agree with it.

  6. Aaah, now you've thoroughly confused me. Excellent. So it seems now that you're discussing two issues at once perhaps? That is:

    1) Is it likely that a *lone* Etruscan inscription, TLE 181, with both years and months specified is likely to express anything more complex than an age in half-years (ie. 6 months)?

    2) Is it likely that uples in TLE 193 signifies a husband's name and thus avils śas the years married when, yet again, such patterns are so rare that they only seem to occur with the name uples? (Uple sure got around, didn't he? Lol.)

    The translation you would endorse in effect reads, "She was (the age) of four years of Uple," and is still semantically awkward. it deserves closer examination on a grammatical level.

    For example, how exactly is the genitive case (-s attached to the age as well as to the supposed name of the husband) used to convey a husband relationship? Where else is such a thing attested? (My answer: nowhere!)

    When pondering on the likelihood of this status quo view of the inscription, one has to properly give more weight to internal Etruscan evidence over external facts from outside cultures, and confront all issues, including linguistic considerations.

  7. I apologize for confusion, but in both my previous comments I referred to footnote 1 which is about TLE 181 and the age of the deceased. However here's my response on both your points:

    1. I don't find the number 4 (or any other number for that matter) more "complex" than 6. Mathematically they are natural numbers. Unless there's positive evidence that Etruscans avoided writing time spans (or ages) like "x years and 4 months" (for some cultural or religious reason; at some point you asserted "such a thing would almost seem sacrilegious" but I'm not sure on what evidence - maybe you can clarify), as far as TLE 181 is showing, I guess that number can be any number conceivable for a month. The ancient epitaphs in Latin or Greek, but also modern epitaphs can testify for various practices in recording the age of the deceased.

    2. The term "avil(s)" occurs in tens of inscriptions and frankly I don't see a mandatory connection with the word "uples". As a genitive "uples" can be as well the name of a person ("of Uple"), but also some other word, for instance an adjective ("avils sas amce uples" could be read "was of 4/6 full years")

    Here's an intersting note about "avil(s)":

  8. To Ardagastus,

    I already clearly explained why 'six months' (ie. '1/2 of a year') is "less complex" **as a solution** than 'four months' (ie. '1/3 of a year') particularly when we know that Etruscans typically avoided year-fractions of all kinds in the attested inscriptions whether it be "and four months", "and six months" or even "and half of a year". It would thus be in this respect much like our English-speaking culture that likewise avoids these year-fractions in ages, save for the occasional "and a half."

    "Here's an inter[e]sting note about 'avil(s)':
    Yes, but to put it more exactly: We may observe that Etruscan temporal phrases marked in the genitive specify a specific point in time (ie. [+punctual]), whereas the nomino-accusative is used to define a duration of time (ie. [-punctual]). Hence for example, we know that in the Pyrgi Tablets nac ci avil refers to the duration of three years, not a specific point of time, because of its lack of marking which is indicative of the nomino-accusative case.

    So you can see yet another reason why avils śas amce uples simply CANNOT mean "She was with Uple for X years" since it would have then been written *avil śa ame Uplei (nb. the lack of marking of the first two words; the different *imperfect past* form of the verb, not the *perfect* past tense; *and* the proper *locative* case marking of the alleged name *with* whom Larthia is supposedly married).