29 Jan 2011

Illegal baby names

The following amusing article is so àpropos to the topic of society, culture and mass insanity. It's also just plain funny.
10 illegal baby names
Personally I'm stunned that the Swedish name Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced 'Albin') would be banned. I think we should name more kids such things to screw telemarketers up. I can envision hilarious scenarios in the future:
"Is there a Mr. or Mrs... um... erh... Oops, nevermind!" {Phone hangs up suddenly.}
Truth be told, despite all the well-intentioned legislation, there exist quite a share of Nancy Gaylords and Hung Dongs in the world. As far as I know, lawyers haven't objected to their parents' flagrant brutality. The entire character list of the Matrix trilogy must really dismay a lot of lawmakers, come to think of it - Mouse, Trinity, Merovingian, Morpheus, etc.

It's also fascinating how certain arbitrarily selected baby names touch such a raw nerve for lawmakers and yet eliminating child poverty is relatively low on society's list of things to do. Oh well. I guess it's true what they say: A dead malnourished baby is better than a healthy teased baby. And I leave you all to ruminate on that sad note.

26 Jan 2011

How do you say 'earthquake' in Latin?

Wikianswers gives a delightful answer to this question:
"Unfortunately the romans weren't very knowledgable and for example had no word for Volcano. They probably gave it a generic term such as Tragedy."
Hilarious! (It would be nice if this anonymous contributor was shot against a wall by a firing squad.) A more mature answer is easy to find on the Perseus website simply by looking up 'earthquake' in their Latin dictionary.

To the contrary, we see that the Romans had several terms at their disposal describing in much detail the accompanying features of their seismic tragedies. Aside from generic concussio, other terms are borrowed from Greek:
epiclintae= an earthquake with horizontal motion
mycetias = a rumbling earthquake
ostes = an earthquake with one violent shock
palmatias = a slight earthquake
rhēctae = an earthquake that breaks the earth into fissures
After being curious myself about what Romans called an earthquake, I find my curiosity only increasing. I wonder how much of these precise terms for 'earthquake' were encouraged by the obsessive study of divination and prophecy maintained by the Etruscans who had, afterall, founded Rome and who made thorough books about their oracular findings much like their Babylonian precedents.

23 Jan 2011

Eighteen-hundred-and-eighty times as great

I often consult Perseus Online because it's such a useful resource but one day I randomly ran into what must be the craziest classical Greek word I've ever set eyes on yet:

'eighteen-hundred-and-eighty times as great'

(Try saying that three times fast.) And when might the context even arise to say such a thing?! I still have much to learn about these ancients.

20 Jan 2011

Charun Number Six

Charun Number Six is not a perfume nor a sci-fi novel. It's coming straight from pages 214 and 215 of Nancy De Grummond and Erika Simon's book Etruscan Myth, Sacred History and Legend (2006):
"Thus we have Charun Chunchules and Charun Huths [...] as well as, perhaps, Charun Lufe [...]; little is understood about their names, though Charun Huths may mean Charun Number Six (reinforcing the interpretation of the deity as a plurality), and it is also evident that the name Charun or Charu here has a generic quality, rather like the name Lasa."
This paragraph has irritated me for years. How can Etruscanists take four names that they're unable to translate word for word and, from this, casually assume that the god Charun "has a generic quality" or that it's "reinforcing the interpretation of the deity as a plurality"? If one can't translate these simple phrases, one cannot assume much from them until one can. It turns out that the title Charun Number Six is a complete fabrication and indeed may as well be a sci-fi or cologne. De Grummond and her circle fail to offer their readers any useful historical parallel for this concocted epithet.

When grammar is properly heeded, Charun Huths can't mean Charun Number Six. It literally means Charun of the Four since the trailing genitive marker -s means 'of' and huθ means '4', not '6'. Judging by Greek Charōn (Χάρων), Charun is an imported name for the Etruscan god of death and so The Four likely pertain to this role.

Likely, "the four" references the four winds or directions that had to be evoked in Etruscan funeral rites by the priest but it's also interesting to note that, according to Homer at least (Odyssey 10.513), there were four underworld rivers: Akhérōn, Stux, Puriphlegéthōn and Kōkutós. We know that the Etruscans were aware of at least one of them (TLE 334: Aχrum) but certainly some educated Etruscans must have read Homer's famed works too. Then again, the legend of the four rivers may simply be built on these four cardinal directions. To the Greeks, the winds were known as Nótos (south), Eurús (east), Zéphuros (west) and Boréas (north). The Romans referred to them collectively as the Venti 'The Winds'.

17 Jan 2011

Hurrian Hymn played on a lyre

Michael Levy gives an interpretative rendition of the oldest known recorded hymn, a Hurrian melody.

14 Jan 2011

Back to 'back'

Concerning the etymological 'back' problem I've been having since December, I might have found a decent cure. I had elaborated before that it's long been known that there appears to be a common word for 'back' or 'hip' across ancient Greece and Turkey: Classical Greek ischíon 'hip-joint' and Hittite iskis- 'back'. This pair just can't be a coincidence and an underlying Proto-Aegean term *iskʰis(a) seemed like a plausible fit to me.

However, I kept on feeling that unlike the previous words I've suspected to be Proto-Aegean, this one comes across as a little extra odd. Firstly I can't find a way of analysing the expected Aegean root into smaller meaningful morphemes and secondly the structure of the root seems unexpected for Proto-Aegean (eg. *s in syllable codae). Yet I know that this is at least better than the horrid attempts by Indo-Europeanists to reconstruct *h₁isgʰís- based only on two items from a very restricted geographical area. Surely this can't be correct either.

It was a tough problem so I did some yoga, smoked a spliff, watched some TV and then once my mind was distanced from the problem, I experienced a profound synaptic event. I realized that my subconscious mind had been wrestling with that initial i- for some reason. I was slow to heed my inner eye telling me of a common Hittite pattern. There's a long list of Hittite words which are the products of prothetic i- breaking up original clusters of the *sC(C)- sort. For example, ispant- 'to libate' < *spend-. So why then wouldn't iskis- be approached by IEists this way too? I suspect the answer is disturbingly circular since if one is hell-bent to deny the probability of a Greek loan from Hittite and is equally determined to make this a common IE root at all costs, then one must reconstruct this silly onset, *h₁i-.

Brainstorm time! Let's start from scratch and try this again. We have a common Greek and Hittite term for 'back' or 'hip'. Let's now just assume that the Greek word is a loan from Hittite, leaving only a single term to play with. Let's also assume that the initial i- in Hittite is prothetic like these other words. This gives us a Pre-Hittite term *skis-. Let's analyse this term as a native s-stem like some other body part terms implying that it's built on a verb stem *skei-. It just so happens that there is an identical IE root *skei- 'to cut, split'. Now, if this term originally referred to the 'spine' then it indeed 'splits' the back into two halves. Thus Pre-Hittite *skei-s- > iskis- would be 'that which divides' or 'that which is divided'. I suppose then that an Aegean or Minoan intermediary is unnecessary if the loan happened towards the closing of the 2nd millennium BCE.

11 Jan 2011

The death taboo as a form of protection

An interesting observation is made in The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day (2008)[1]:
"The idea behind such euphemisms involved more than not speaking ill of the dead: an effort was made not to even speak of a person's death at all. People who are called simply 'dead' in Egyptian religious contexts often seem to be the damned or unhappy dead. To mention death would be confirm death's power over the departed, so we today euphemistically speak of 'the departed' or say that someone has 'passed away.'"
I suppose this is also true for expressions for death in Etruscan which likewise speak of 'crossing over' (lup) rather than overt death. Are any of the words that we assign to death in these inscriptions true words for death and dying or are they all circumlocutions? How might we tell if we've found the *genuine* word for 'death' in Etruscan amidst all these superstitions and euphemistic circumlocutions?

[1] Faulkner/Andrews/Wasserman, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day (2008), p.150 (see link).

7 Jan 2011

On Rex Wallace's interpretation of a new Lemnian inscription

In early December at Rasenna Blog, Rex Wallace, a published professor of the Classics Department faculty at the University of Massachusetts, contributed a clear photo of the new Lemnian artifact whose inscription I had mused on earlier. Wallace then insists that soromσ and aslaσ "are not s-gentives[sic] because they end in palatal fricatives". I feel this begs criticism.

Why assume this? The Etruscan san (ie. an M-like letter) represented *either* /s/ *or* /ʃ/ due to differing regional writing traditions in Italy as noted in Helmut Rix's must-have inscription catalogue Etruskische Texte. In early Greek too, san was pronounced /s/ since a separate esh-like phoneme was unavailable in the language. The 4-stroke sigma is nothing more than the san turned sideways[1] and the Lemnians were surrounded by Greeks. In light of this, what does the mere co-existence of san and sigma suggest phonologically? Absolutely nothing. We don't know a priori which writing tradition the Lemnian san is based on. At face value, both /s/ and /ʃ/ could be possible values here. Yet it appears that Wallace's entire argument against analysing these lexemes as genitive forms rests entirely on his one narrow interpretation.

Worse still, it's a falsifiable interpretation. The Lemnos Stele consistently placed the 3-stroke sigma, not 4-stroke san, before /i/ in the dative ending -si. Surely we'd expect this -s- to be palatalized before a notoriously palatalizing vowel of all places! The two sigmas present in siasi only taunt Wallace's opinions further.

So this orthography must be backwards: the Lemnian 3-stroke sigma is /ʃ/ and the 4-stroke san is /s/. To the complete contrary, soromσ and aslaσ are indeed probable genitives, to be read more accurately as śurums and aślas.

[1] Speaking on Etruscan and its letter san, the late Giuliano Bonfante and his daughter Larissa note the self-evident graphic relationship between it and the modern Greek sigma in Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), 2nd edition, p.62 (see link).

4 Jan 2011

Translating the Liber linteus religious formula

After Boxing Day, I came across the Wikipedia entry for Liber Linteus. Casey Goranson had in zeal attempted to translate this artifact's repeated religious formula with the use of my dictionary applet last month. Flattered though I am, his translation needed to be revised. "For this soul to endure/remain in the town of night and amidst the people" would be something quite different in Etruscan than what we find attested, perhaps something like *Ca śacni eneri śpureθi cilθl meθlumeθic.

The confusion is expected however since I don't believe I officially gave a clear translation after grappling with its interesting declensional variations back in 2007 in Liber Linteus and religious formulae (read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). Published Etruscanists like the Bonfantes have only ever given piecemeal and vague translations.[1] So it's high time I spilled the beans on this by 2011!

Introduction to case marking variants in the formula

As I previously reckoned, variations in case must have revolved around a same basic jist. In the following the prevailing case markings are respectively locative -e (signifying 'at, with') plus postposition -ri 'for (the benefit/purpose of)', directive -is (signifying 'to, towards') plus postposition -tra 'through' and finally genitive (marking possessor and recipient) without an accompanying postposition:

Śacni-cle-ri cilθl, śpure-ri, meθlume-ri-c enaś.
"For the spirit of night, for (the) city and for (its) people everlasting."

Śacni-cś-treś cilθś, spureś-treś enaś.
"To the night-spirit (and) to (the) city everlasting."

Śacni-cla cilθl, śpural, meθlumeś-c enaś.
"For the spirit of night, for (the) city, and to (its) people everlasting."

Breaking down the grammar

A test of any translation is the theorist's ability to break the whole into its parts as lucidly and thoroughly as possible.

We can see that śacni 'soul, spirit' (literally 'sacred one') is declined only indirectly through the use of postposed deictics with their own case markings (-cle, -cś, -cla) which are to be treated as weakened demonstratives meaning 'the' rather than the more emphatic 'this'. In the variant with directive case, the underlying noun phrase without case marking would be *śacni-ca cilθ, equivalent to an English compound 'the night-spirit', as opposed to the other variants building on *śacni-ca cilθl 'the spirit of (the) night'. These creative variants don't change the meaning but have an impact on grammar. When expressing a compound 'night-spirit' instead of 'spirit of the night', the two consecutive nouns were both declined with the same directive case deliberately, via Suffixaufnahme, since the two nouns in succession were referring to a single idea. This is why first and last names in Etruscan also occasionally display Suffixaufnahme because, again, the two names point to a single person.

The postposition -tra is a transparent, early borrowing from Umbrian tra comparable to other inherited Italic words for 'through', 'over' and 'across' (cf. Latin trans). In this case, this particle in partnership with the directive marking can only be alluding to the transfer of gifts to the recipient and thereby has a terminative nuance indicating that which the action affects. In this case, the action is giving and the listed recipients provide the point where the action ends, so to speak.

The final word enaś seems to be an infinitive verb related to the present-future perfective eniaca of the Pyrgi Tablets, implying a basic root *en-. In both contexts, and through the help of the accompanying Punic translation of those tablets, the word must involve endurance (ie. 'may it outlast the stars'). The termination in -aś seems to mark a state. So a value of 'everlasting' is contextually and grammatically reasonable here. It follows the noun phrase it modifies just like an Etruscan adjective should.

Breaking down the larger religious meaning

Another test of a translation is the greater meaning and context it can provide.

One might debate whether this "night-spirit" is to be understood in this context to refer to a plurality of night spirits in the collective sense (ie. Roman manes) or whether it's best to treat the singular form as it is, a singular deceased person who had recently passed on. Is the reference generic or specific? Either way, the choice of the word śacni establishes a subject of death and resurrection since 'human soul' or 'human spirit' is its strict semantic usage in other documents from what I've seen.

Building on this theme of an immortal soul, and since the "city" here is never overtly specified in the mantra, it probably refers to the City of the Underworld. The "people" then are its non-living citizens held captive by the grip of death for eternity. In fact, LL 11 seems to confirm this interpretation by a pretty clear reference to just such a city of the dead: spur-ta eisna hinθu 'the holy city below'[2].

The document is already agreed to pertain to the adherence of important rites on specific calendar dates, and so my above translation fits well with the facts. There's a focus in this text on funerary rite, it appears.

[1] According to Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language: An introduction (2002), 2nd ed., p.93 (see link), sacni means 'priest', a contextual impossibility persisting no doubt by an outdated connection to Latin sacerdos 'priest'. Priests themselves are certainly not to whom offerings are being devoted in these passages. As per Jannot, Religion in Etruria (2005), p.128 (see link), sacnicstra is "a collective term designating men devoted to a god". This mistake together with his other mistake confusing caθesan as a single name and variant of goddess name Caθa (see p.158) shows that Jannot, despite publishing on Etruscology since the 1970s remains persistently naive about basic Etruscan demonstratives. Meanwhile in Pittau, La lingua etrusca (1997), pp.106, 212 & 217 (see link), the author repeats several times that sacni means 'rite'. All of these translations are random and have only blockaded more conscientious attempts at coherently translating full sentences in the Liber Linteus.
[2] Van der Meer, Liber linteus zagrabiensis (2007), p.149 (see link) lists out verses 11.ix-x as: slapiχun slapinaś. favin. ufli. spurta. eisna. hinθu cla. θesns.

1 Jan 2011

Different kinds of triads

A variety of triads in Etruscan and Roman mythology are available to the imagination of the mythologist. Among Romanists, one speaks of a Capitoline triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva), an Archaic Triad (Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus) and an Avertine Triad (Ceres, Liber and Libera). Even the festival of Suovetaurilia is split in three - a sacrifice is made of a pig, a ram and a bull to Mars in order to sanctify the land. Amongst Etruscans, we can identify the Trinity of Tinia (Tinia Cilensal, Tinia Thufal, Tinia Thneth), the Trinity of Maris (Maris Husiurnana, Maris Halna, Maris Isminthians) and the Chimeric Triad (snake, lion, goat). The list seems to go on indefinitely. Our modern understanding is no doubt blurred by the mists of time and hampered by organizational laziness. There must have been a greater structure and meaning in all of this. Something clearer, more verstaile and not so complex. But what?

In my search, I find it handy to reclassify these triads into flexible categories, recognizing that these religions were so prone to creative symbolism and lateral-thinking analogy. So I'd like to suggest some helpful groupings as follows:
Solar triad:
The sun is divided into three parts: three seasons (winter, spring-summer, autumn) and three daytime periods (morning, noon, evening). Think "Father Time". This stems from the heliocentricity of Etruscan religion.
Etruscan: Tinia Cilensal, Tinia Thufal, Tinia Thneth (Trinity of Tinia); Snake, lion, goat (Chimeric Triad).

Roman: Jupiter Summanus, Jupiter Fidius, Jupiter Tonans.
Seasonal triad:
The year is divided into three seasons (winter, spring-summer, autumn) with focus on agriculture and cyclical climate changes. Think "Mother Nature".
Etruscan: Maris Husiurnana, Maris Halna, Maris Isminthians (Trinity of Maris).

Roman: Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus (Archaic Triad); Ceres, Liber and Libera (Avertine Triad).
Astral triad:
The three brightest bodies in the sky happen to be the sun, moon and Venus (in that order). Thus: Tinia the sun, Menarva the moon and Uni the planet Venus. This is a twist on the pre-existing Babylonian triad.
Etruscan: Tinia, Uni, and Menarva (Capitoline Triad).
Roman: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva (Capitoline Triad).