3 Dec 2010

By whom, for whom

According to Bakkum, The Latin dialect of the Ager Faliscus: 150 years of scholarship, vol 2 (2009), p.305 (see link):
"The Etruscan forms in -si and -(a)le can be used to designate both by whom and for whom the object was made (Steinbauer 1999:174-6)."
In case the absurdity isn't noticeable, "by whom" and "for whom" are opposite roles in these inscriptions. How did this nonsensical statement make its way to modernday print? What happened to the concept of structured, coherent grammar? In his solitary example of ET Fa 3.4, a vessel from Vignanello, the solitary name Vultasi doesn't help much to decide the matter. I can't help but appreciate too how, by using an unclear inscription, the author can quickly pass a shaky statement over the reader without being too obvious.

Luckily for us, TLE 651 does decide the matter. As pictured above, this is a statue of a standing nobleman nicknamed The Haranguer. The only names present in the entire inscription at the base of his toga are in the first line and they're declined in this same case: Auleśi Meteliś Ve. Vesial clenśi. Who would think that the image of this mystery man can be anything other than Aule Meteli himself? The inscription must read "For Aule Meteli, for the son of Vel and Vesi." If we interpret this case ending as by whom the statue is made, the inscription fails to explain who this man is while giving us useless information about the statue's creator. This data is hardly as important to an average, literate Etruscan as the man for whom all this metalworking effort was devoted!

Then too, we also find tinśi tiurim avilś χiś repeated several times in the Liber Linteus and since tin, tiur and avil are certain to mean 'day', 'month' and 'year' in these passages, forcing an agentive sense on an inanimate noun like tinśi is absurd. It must therefore mean 'for the day' in the context of the rituals to be performed on specified dates. An Etruscan agentive case has been concocted from nothing.

Bakkum goes on to write something that I'd gauge to be naive wording for a linguist:
"[...] in most other cases, the use of the -si or -(a)le form is due to a verb, usually mulu-."
To observe that this case ending occurs often with the verb mulu- is justified, but to say that the use of this case marker is "due to" a verb, combined with his odd reference to Steinbauer above, seems to disqualify his expertise on structured grammar itself, let alone on Etruscan grammar. Need it be said, the use of this case ending or any case ending isn't incumbent on the verb itself per se but demanded by the overall semantics of what one is expressing. If one doesn't comprehend why -si/-le is used with some verbs like mulu- while not for other verbs, one fails to comprehend the very meaning of these individual grammatical units. The verbs haven't "caused" these endings to occur any more than the Oracle of Delphi.

The correct answer is simple: -si/-le must be consistently translated as 'for', as in 'for the purpose of' or 'on behalf of', never ever 'by' (whether in a locative or agentive sense). This value is evidenced not just in several Etruscan inscriptions but in Lemnian ones too.


  1. You mentioned Delphi here, and I've been curious about its connection to δελφύς "womb" (from PIE *gwelbhos "womb"; observe the Aeolian variant Belphoi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delphi#cite_note-0 ) and to δελφίς "dolphin". According to Wikipedia, the connection of the place-name with the former term may be due to a previous association with Gaia or a similar deity. The association with dolphins is described from lines 400 to 515 in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo ( http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D3 ), where the god takes the form of a dolphin, leaps aboard a Cretan ship bound for Pylos, and redirects the craft to Pytho (Πυθώ a.k.a. Delphi), where he has them erect his oracle.

    In particular, however, I wonder if there's a similar connection between the Ancient Greek word for "seal" (the animal), i.e. φώκη, and Phocis (Φωκίς), the region of Greece that included Delphi and part of the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth.
    I have found no other possible etymological connections to φώκη save later borrowings (including the unfortunate-sounding-to-Anglophones French phoque), and possibly փոկ (pʿok)(http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D6%83%D5%B8%D5%AF#Old_Armenian ), which may just be a borrowing and a homonym ((leather) thong, strap, girth; leather whip).

    (I realize posting questions about topics only tangentially related to the article in question is becoming a bad habit of mine. I'm sorry about that, and am open to suggestions regarding how to improve (aside from stopping completely).)

  2. Tangentially related, perhaps, but relevant to this blog and very fun to talk about. (PS, I recognize that a forum-style commentbox where commenters can add new topics of discussion would be more handy than what Blogger currently offers.)

    "You mentioned Delphi here, and I've been curious about its connection to δελφύς 'womb' (from PIE *gwelbhos 'womb'"

    Then you're in good company. I wonder if this could be a bilingual pun between an Indo-European-derived word δελφύς 'womb' and an unrelated Aegean term *talapi 'dolphin', united by way of two competing cosmological beliefs.

    From what I know, the dolphin is strictly a solar icon and the source of its imagery is understandable to me: The sun is like a golden dolphin leaping into the sky (morning) and plunging back into the western sea (evening). This must be stemming from the Minoan's thalassocentric beliefs.

    Of course, some cultures believed that the sun emerged from the earth (ie. from caves, mountains, etc.). From this second perspective, the morning Sun would be associated with the earthly womb (of a mother goddess) from which He emerges. In other words, a kind of Osiris-Isis thing with solar resurrection themes.

    With two competing traditions, I could imagine the sun being thereby associated with both 'womb' and 'dolphin' by way of this convenient pun.

    If anybody has a better idea, I'm all ears. As for Phocis and seals, I don't think I've investigated this name yet so I couldn't tell you whether this is possible or not. But thanks for a mind-teasing question. I'll have to definitely look into that name and that word φώκη.