7 Jun 2008

Is the falcon or hawk a symbol of Vanth?

Today I find myself sitting in Bar Italia, one of several cafés on a strip of road called Corydon Ave. It's the place to be here in Winnipeg during the summertime and so I sit here, caught between people-watching and pensive typing on my laptop which I've nicknamed Electrohyperion or E.H. for short. Yes, I'm a geek and proud of it.

Anyways, there are many ideas that I continue to pursue concerning the Etruscan language. Many times, the proper translation of words is intertwined with all other aspects of this subject of history. One of the phrases that's peaking my curiosity lately is the epithet Sal Aracuneta. which was written next to an image of a winged female. She's reclined with wings extended on the lowest tier of the scene. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the three tiers in this scene represent the three layers of the cosmos: the heavens, the earth and the underworld. So the seated female sitting in the tier of the underworld can only sensibly represent Vanth.

The literal meaning of the phrase Sal Aracuneta seems to me self-evident now but something which nonetheless appeared nebulous up until I researched further. Word for word, it appears to mean "The (-eta) Great One (sal) of the Falcons/Hawks (Aracuna)". To add to the validity of this translation, there is a classical Greek gloss of the Etruscan word for "hawk" or "falcon": arakos (no doubt for actual *araχ as similarly believed by Larissa Bonfante and her father). What does this mean? What does Vanth have to do with these birds? At least it would explain her wings, if nothing else.

Fortunately for us, it turns out that there happens to be a Greek mythical character mentioned in Homer's Odyssey named Circe. Her name, lo and behold, means "falcon" in Greek[1]! She is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and there's a good historical case for ultimately associating her with death and the underworld[2]. Her cult is connected with the Etruscans and Italy[3]. There's even a potential Anatolian origin to her cult in the deity Kubaba who pops up as early as 950 BCE[4]. So now I'm thoroughly intrigued because De Grummond, Jannot, Bonfante and all the other more notable scholars appear to be largely uninformative on this interesting goddess. Are they even aware of this yet or the full linguistic and mythological implications? I'll just let you good readers chew on that for a while.

[1] Yarnall, Transformations of Circe: The History of an Enchantress (1994), p.28 (see link).
[2] Yarnall, Transformations of Circe: The History of an Enchantress (1994), p.29 (see link): "This tradition is particularly relevant to Circe. According to Gimbutas, birds of prey, when they appear in prehistoric art, 'are omens of death and epiphanies of the Death Wielder.'"
[3] Wiseman, Remus: A Roman Myth (1995), p.47 (see link).
[4] Mary Jane Rein, "Phrygian Matar" in Cybele, Attis and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren, ed. by Eugene Lane (1996), p.226 (see link): "In Luwian hieroglyphic, the writing used in the late Hittite period at Karkemish, Kubaba is spelled with the phonetic element KU - followed by a logogram of a hawk.".


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