6 Aug 2012

Narrowing down the meaning and etymology of acil

In my previous post, I've deviated away from the translation given by the Bonfantes of the Etruscan word acil as 'work, thing made' and have used the value of 'abundance' instead. Truth be told, I'm not confident with my own value but on the other hand I know that the value assigned by the Bonfantes doesn't jive with the evidence. Let me explain what I mean.

Assigning acil the value of 'work, thing made' seems at first adequate

The repeated inscription Putina Ceizra acil (ET Vs 6.7, Vs 6.8, Vs 6.9) seems to accommodate the Bonfantes' interpretation of 'work, thing made', although more especially 'thing (made)' seems to fit the best. We have exactly the same analysis for Θanses ca Numnal acil "For Thanse this [is an] acil of [the] Numana [family]" (TLE 215 = ET Vs 6.24) written on a vessel.

Both a verb and a noun

Etruscan morphology takes a messy turn here. While the above examples suggest a noun with a very common formant -il, the phrase vinum acilθ ame in the Liber Linteus (LL 8.xiv) shows that acil may be a verb too. The shape of the term acilθ is of the form of an intransitive participle in . Given the essential meaning of "wine was acil-ed", one might presume a value of "made" or "produced" to complement the meaning of its related noun.

Yet a middle preterite acilune surfaces in the Cippus Perusinus. Given the sequence eśta-c velθina acilune turune ścune, devotion is received in a particular sequence. If we assume acil means "to make", this still produces a nonsensical translation of "The family Velthina also is made(??), is given [things], [and] is blessed." We could of course ignore the valence-changing qualities of the verb through this n-marking just to interpret it in an active sense but this just gives us "[they] make, give, and bless". It seems odd to use "make" in this context without it being clear what is being "made". I see nothing immediately prior to this sentence on the artifact that indicates anything being physically made. The verb just hangs there. Awkward. Something can't be quite right.

Towards a stronger translation (hopefully)

If we can say anything clear about the value of acil as a noun, it must at the very least refer to a 'thing'. But then, perhaps that's all this means in nominal contexts, equivalent then to Latin rēs 'thing, act'. In this particular case, perhaps the Bonfantes were correct afterall. The Latin word however came to mean secondarily a religious act, act of worship or sacrifice.

I notice that if we use this Latin word as a semantic guide, a kind of linguistic precedent, acilune could likewise mean 'was given rites' just as the noun might secondarily mean 'rite' rather than just a 'thing' or 'act'. In this way we have a coherent translation of eśta-c velθina acilune turune ścune as 'The family Velthina too was given rites, was given [offerings], [and] was blessed." Then vinum acilθ ame means "the wine was given rites" or in other words that a prescribed holy ritual was performed upon the wine in order to bless it before the gods and make it holy by ceχa sal, ie. by "proper rite".

Summary of the larger word family

Given all this, I think we could define the English translations of the whole word family much better as part of a grander morphological design:

*aχ (v.) = 'to do, to make, to cause'
> acas (v.) = 'to craft, to make'
> acil (n.) = 'thing, act; rite, holy service' (> acil (v.) = 'to do rites, to worship')

The implied underlying verb here, *aχ, reminds me very much of the Indo-European *h₂eǵ-, as if borrowed from Latin agere 'to drive, lead, conduct, impel'.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I've long used "Acilius" (as in Gaius Acilius, floruit 155 BC) as my screenname; I wonder if the gens Acilia may have taken its name from this Etruscan word. Be that as it may, thanks, very much for this post.