26 Oct 2010

The Etruscan month-name Celi in the Liber Linteus

Eslem zaθrumiś Acale is a direct calendar reference at LL 6.xvii of the Liber Linteus, the infamous "mummy text". We can easily translate it as "on the 18th of Acalva". Likewise at LL 12.x, θunem cialχuś Masn is translated as "on the 29th of Masan". Both month-names are attested in other documents (note the Latin gloss Aclus, equated with June, and the reference to the month of Masan in the Pyrgi Tablets). Both these examples show the same word order mirroring that of Modern French with the date preceding the month-name. The date number is declined in the directive case suffix, -is, referencing an instantaneous point in time.

Now let's look at LL 8.xix, celi huθis zathrumis, which is commonly translated as "on the 26th of (the month of) Celi", as has been done by both Jean Turfa and Larissa Bonfante[1]. Putting aside the fact that huθ means 'four', not 'six', many Etruscanists depend too much on the Latin gloss Celius, said to be equivalent to September (TLE 824). They've become blindly convinced that if celi should be found next to a number, it must be a month reference even though this month-name is attested nowhere else. Even if this were a month-name, why does it precede the date, in contradiction to the other confirmed calendrical phrases in the same text?

Regardless of whether there was a month-name *Celi in Etruscan, there is a reason to reject the view that celi in the Liber Linteus meant anything other than 'before/upon the earth' with locative case marker -i. That major reason is Occam's Razor and the avoidance of unnecessary assumption. We don't need to evaluate celi as a month-name in any of these instances but we do need to evaluate it as a form of 'earth' in at least the majority of instances in this and in all other artifacts.

In the Liber Linteus itself, this alleged month-name is strangely found a lot beside the word suθ 'tomb' (cf. LL 9.xviii). If we can agree that celi is referring to 'earth' here then celi suθ sensibly means 'before/upon the tomb earth'. The form cel-θi-m 'and in the earth' is already found at LL 6.xviii matching cel-ti in TCort B.iii. This is all in perfect alignment with the noun stem present in cels in TLE 368 and 625. It's certain that none of these last examples can sensibly refer to a month *Celi. They strictly point to 'earth' and so there is simply no methodical reason to continue insisting on the opposite value.

So celi suθ is surely 'before/upon the tomb earth', celi pen equals 'on the earth below' in LL 11.ii (pen = 'below' and ce-pen 'here below') and celi huθis zathrumis must instead mean 'upon the earth on the 24th'. The opening phrase is followed by the offering of gifts to Neptune that are to be dedicated on this day. This sounds a lot like the Roman festival of Neptunalia but this event is thought to have been celebrated on July 23rd. The date number is curiously one day off.

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), p.183 & Harvey/Schultz, Religion in republican Italy (2006), p.76 (see link).


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