26 Mar 2008
It seems fitting, considering the recent Easter season, that I should start thinking about Easter eggs and by extension, the interesting origins of the symbolism. Long story short, the original meaning behind these eggs involved rebirth and renewal. In the context of Easter, the symbolism pointed to the renewal of the year (i.e. springtime). The egg is the beginning of a bird's life and so by extension, the abstract notions of birth/rebirth and renewal lend themselves well to that biological form.
Etruscans too used the symbolism of the egg for the same intention and often in funerary contexts such as the above frieze of an Etruscan couple. The male holds up an egg in an exaggerated gesture, which should tip us off that he's not merely holding a literal egg but rather that he is comforting the mourning observer of the painting. The message here is that the deceased in question is in effect 'renewed' in the afterlife. "All is well. There's nothing to be sad about," the artist conveys to us. This art was meant to provide the same reassurance to the religiously devout as, say, Christian, Muslim or Hindu art which also seeks to inspire in its beholders a reassurance of faith in the metaphysical beyond. It's important when looking at ancient art to step into the shoes of the people for which this art was intended.
Moving on to linguistic matters, I believe that I might have identified the word for 'egg' in Etruscan, but it's not without controversy. The word appears to be luθ. I've recently decided that my two entries, lut and luθ, are one and the same word and that the two forms should both be given the value of 'egg'. Phonetically, Etruscan appears to have not distinguished word-final aspiration in stops and this explains alternations in the spelling (e.g. hut/huθ 'four'). The loss of contrasts in word-final position is rather common crosslinguistically as we can observe in German where the word Hand is pronounced /hant/ since voicing contrasts are likewise neutralized word-finally. Grammatically, luθ appears to be inanimate since it's attested in the inanimate plural, luθcva, in TLE 131 (Laris Pulena's sarcophagus). The word is also used as the object of verbs (such as tur 'to give') that normally involve religious offerings (LL 6.xviii: ture acil caticaθ luθ celθim), so it really seems that this object is some kind of possible offering to the gods. I'm delighted to learn that Etruscans in fact buried eggs in tombs, as did Greeks.
While this all makes sense phonetically and grammatically, contextually I'm not in the clear quite yet. It's this damned stele, indexed by Rex Wallace as ETP 286. It looks like this:
This almost seems to put a dent in my eggy hypothesis but I have one last hypothesis to pursue. It seems that this stele is meant to mark a boundary and it's presumed that it marked the boundary of a sanctuary. Let's go with that. The question that comes to my mind is: "To whom is this sanctuary devoted?" The use of the genitive in -l is grammatically interesting to me here because it's often used to attribute something to someone. Thus, on the surface, we can at least claim that luθcval canθisal probably means "To the [luθ]s of [canθis]" or alternatively "To the [canθis] of [luθ]s".
If we apply my value of 'egg', we get "To the eggs of [canθis]" or "To the [canθis] of eggs", depending in which order we are to read this. While it sounds absurd at first, the annoying thing is that without knowing for sure what canθis means, we can't rule out the possibility that this is potentially an epithet of a god or goddess. Afterall, there is this swan deity that keeps popping up on mirrors and referred to as Tusna. For all we know, this could mark a sanctuary of Tusna. Or perhaps the 'eggs' in question could refer to a particular myth of the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, who were said by some to be born from eggs. The Dioscuri were quite important in Etruscan religion and were known in the Etruscan language as Tinas cliniiaras 'Sons of Tinia' (TLE 156).
These appear to be fruitful possibilities but so far I can't crack what canθis might mean if luθ really is 'egg'. The word canθis in turn is probably related to canθce, a verb inflected in the perfective in TLE 99.