10 Oct 2011

To the earth and sky

Back to the Liber Linteus again, the longest Etruscan text so far known that remains untranslated (but not if determined people can help it.) One of the many interesting things about this text are the several binary oppositions, much of which allude to the sanctified space defined during the rituals described in it. Two good examples of this two-way contrast are the phrases, hante-c repine-c "both in front and in back" and θesane uslane-c "at dawn and at dusk" (literally "at dawning and at setting"). However another example, and the one I wish to explore right now, is a less understood one at LL 11.vii: celu-cn aθumi-tn.

First let's remark on the opposition of postposed demonstratives between proximal -cn and distal -tn, both of which are declined in the accusative case (ie. they mark nouns as objects of an action). This in itself demonstrates that this is another binary opposition similar to hante-c repine-c. Etruscanists agree that celu is 'earth' so it stands to follow from this that aθumi may point to the skies above.

So standardizing to Old Etruscan phonotactics, aθami /'ɑtʰəmi/ may be given the value 'sky, clouds'. This would be yet another binary contrast relating to ritual space, this time in the vertical, and it jives well with the scribe's choice of demonstratives since the earth is just below our feet (proximal) while the highest skies are by comparison remote (distal), the earthly world of humanity versus the celestial world of the divine.


  1. Hi,

    can 'athumi' be related to greek 'atmòs' ?

  2. "Back to the Liber Linteus again, the longest Etruscan text so far known that remains translated (but not if determined people can help it.)"

    I think that's a typo for 'untranslated'?

    Also, do I understand it correctly that e means 'and'?

    How come the phrase celu en aθumi tn misses this particle?

  3. Oops. Yes, PhoeniX, thanks for noticing that.

    "Also, do I understand it correctly that e means 'and'?"

    No. It's a locative. The conjunctive particle to join two or more nouns was -c.

    Notice that in hante-c repine-c, the conjunctive is used for both nouns. This is for emphasis in much the same vein as when French speakers repeat ni meaning "neither" in ni l'un ni l'autre "neither one nor the other". So the repetitious pattern X-c Y-c emphasizes "*both* X and Y" rather than just "X and Y".

    You can look up the suffix in my dictionary applet with the query -e.

    "How come the phrase celu en aθumi tn misses this particle?"

    It's **cn** (pronounced /kn/), not en. The omission of the conjunctive occurred also in the neighbouring Indo-European languages, as in Latin which also freely omitted its conjunctive particle -que.

    And in this case, the opposition between -cn with -tn already implies a conjunctive anyway.

  4. Vel: "can 'athumi' be related to greek 'atmòs' ?"

    Better yet, ἀτμός has a variant ἀτμίς (atmís) with the identical meaning of 'vapour, steam'.

    While we're on that, Hesychios also reported yet a third variant ἐθμή with theta rather than tau.

  5. Okay that makes sense. Ugh, I see that I've been mixing up the c and e a couple of times.

    I find the distinction quite difficult to see in the font that your blog posts display in when they are in bold face.

    Not sure if that's a technical issue of the font you selected, or a technical issue of windows/the font it displays on on my side.

    The atmos etymology works remarkably well. I'll add here too, that Beekes has no etymology, but (correctly) points out that it has nothing to do with Skt. ātman- 'soul' and Old High German ātum 'breath' (and by extension Dutch adem, English doesn't have a cognate to that I think).

  6. Exactly right. Douglas and Adams's *h₁eh₁tmen- is just overextended conjecture.

    Yet we're left with a curious bag of roots that match Etruscan aθami both phonetically and semantically and which simultaneously lack conclusive Indo-European etymologies:

    - Greek atmís ~ atmós ~ ethmē 'vapour, steam'
    - Germanic *ēθmaz 'breath'
    - Sanskrit ātman- 'breath, soul'

  7. Ooops, small correction: "Mallory and Adams's", of course.

  8. hant "front" looks like PIE *H2ent-; do you think one of them is a loan or are they cognates?