9 Apr 2011

Phoenician-Etruscan comparisons of iconography

U of Penn's Professor Holly Pittman offers a long list of artifact images for us to peruse at her website. Under one directory, there are two interesting pictures, one labeled "Neo-Assyrian, Nimrud, NW Palace Harem, Pit AJ, Sacred Tree, 8th Phoenician Style" and the other "Neo-Assyrian, Nimrud, Ft Shalmaneser, SW12 Plaque, Phoenician Style". I show both photos below and they show a persistent Tree of Life pattern.

They're very similar to what's found on an Etruscan mirror suggesting Punic artistic influences via ancient Carthage.

Evidently then, if we want to crack the riddle of Etruscan mythology as a whole, we must learn to look past the "safe" but limited Roman and Greek comparisons. Egyptian, Hittite, Babylonian and Phoenician comparisons are also fair game because the Classical Mediterranean boasted a complex network of interrelated cultures which were very good at distributing ideas across surprisingly large distances.


  1. This mirror has some interesting parallels with the one you posted the other day. Both show the same tripartite division you've discussed previously. The underworld god is winged in both (plus a third that I've seen on your blog). Both have a heaven god, but they are different in the two mirrors. The one in this mirror is older, perhaps a sky god as opposed to the younger sun god.

    I can't make out what this sky god is looking at. Something round?

    In both mirrors there's a row of five gods. The three on the left are looking right while the two on the right are looking left. In this mirror there's also a male sucking the tit of the female looking left. Compare this with the earlier mirror where the woman facing left is looking at the liver(?).

    The god on the left is, I think, the same in both mirrors. Each is nude and holding some kind of vegetation. A god of fertility perhaps.

    The god on the right is also holding something in each mirror. In one it's a spear in the other it looks like some kind of ceremonial staff. The god with this staff is reading something (any idea what it says?). The spear carrier is probably a god of war. The other a god of law perhaps.

    I don't know why but the tit sucking doesn't appear to be sexual to me. Could she be giving milk to the man, making her some kind of mother goddess?

  2. The main content of this particular mirror (ET Vt S.2) isn't much of a mystery thanks to the caption above the central male and female figure: Eca sren tva iχ nac Hercle, Unial clan, θrasce 'This image shows thus when Heracle, Uni's son, suckled the breast.' The rest of it however is prone to a bunch of half-baked theories that get us nowhere as usual.

    Nancy De Grummond reasons on page 83 of Etruscan myth, sacred history, and legend (2006) that the figure behind Uni is Tinia himself (although he appears to be holding a trident) and then proceeds to commit both translation and transcription errors. On the next page, she relates the leftmost figure to Aplu (Apollo), the next being unknown, and presumes the next figure is parallel to Hebe, Greek goddess of youth. The character above is a satyr eating from a patera and a winged angel below is simply said to be holding an egg.

    I might then add that the egg symbolizes eternity of the soul which is natural when displayed on a mirror used as a tomb gift or śuθina. Perhaps the winged child is a wind spirit. I'm confused about the satyr but De Grummond gives us no answers either. I'm not sure what her basis is for "patera divination".