17 Feb 2011

The nonsense about the Etruscan god Tluschva

Rex Wallace generously posted another picture of an artifact online in Etruscan Inscription from Campo della Fiera and sensibly parsed the continuous script that wraps around the column as follows:
kanuta larecenas lauteniθa aranθia pinies puia turuce
tlusχval marveθul faliaθere
He then provides his overall interpretation.
"The basic structure of the inscription is clear. It is a votive dedication to the Tluskhva divinities on the part of a woman named Kanuta, who was the wife of Aranth Pinie and a freedwoman of the Larecena family."
Since countless inscriptions are structured this same way, it's a cinch to read the first line: "Kanuta, freewoman of the Larecena, Aranth Pinie's wife has given ...". But the modern myth about "Tluskhva divinities" that he and other Etruscanists keep shovelling aches to be ridiculed. Before the second line can be cracked, Tlusχva must finally be confronted, competently and thoroughly.

Wallace analyses the structure of the name Tlusχva as follows:
"Tlusχval is an inanimate genitive plural form (tlus-χva-l) that refers, insofar as we can determine, to a group of divinities whose spheres of activity are not particularly clear. In a talk given last year in New York City at a conference on Etruscan Myth (November 21, 2009), Adriano Maggiani reported that the word tlusχval is attested on an inscription recently recovered from Caere and he speculated that the word may refer to divinities associated with the cult of Dionysius[sic]. Even so it is disturbing that divinities are inanimate in gender given that the word for ‘god’ is an animate and takes r-plural inflection, e.g., aiser."

(Note that Wallace meant to type Dionysus the god, not Dionysius the historian, though it's fun to imagine ancient "historian cults" for idle comedy.)
His paradox should be all too self-evident: If the term contains an inanimate plural, it's scantly possible that it'd be used for a group of gods. So why not accept that and move forward? Why continue to insist on the improbable? And the fact that an entire conference of historians was held on these subjects with nothing resolved makes it sound like its participants were just there for the buffet. The solution is so simple: Tlusχva is a label for a single god referring to a pluralized inanimate concept. This is what its grammar is telling us if we dare to pay attention.

Consulting the Piacenza Liver where this same deity is inscribed, we find the god on the rim at a position directly opposite to that of the highest of the high, Tinia Thufal (equivalent to Roman Jupiter Fidius), representing the zenith of the day and of the year (see Paleoglot: Truth will shine forth (2)). The rim represents two dimensions at once, ie. it represents the flat horizon as well as the sun's daily path which sweeps above and below the earth. It's sensible to reason then that if Tinia Thufal symbolizes the highest point in the sky, Tlusχva contrastively must represent the deepest point of the Etruscan world-view. Hence we have our answer already: Tlusχva = 'Depths'. This is the pluralized concept we're looking for to crack this mostly artificial mystery. That wasn't hard was it? We didn't even need a conference. Sometimes it's better to be self-sufficient.

So Tluschva, being representative of the watery deep, is equatable with Greek Poseidon, god of the seas, or Okeanos, the primordial ocean. As such, Adriano Maggiani would be on the right track by sensing a chthonic function through the image of Dionysus. Now we have a greater hope of cracking the meaning of the second line of the inscription in question.


  1. What about the final words of the inscription?

    Many thanks from an Etrusco-maniac.

  2. I felt I needed to explain the god Tluschva first and why the status quo is wrong before sharing my interpretations of the next two words. I'm trying to deal with one can of worms at a time. It's a complex mess.