18 Jun 2007

Etruscan 'lucairce': How good is your eyesight?

I'm finding that each word touched by Etruscologists is a fascinating tale of intrigue, goof-ups, outright lies and shameful contrivances. Here's another interesting universe to explore, the word lucairce.

Without fail, in any book, on any website, throughout the world in every land, this word will be explained as meaning "to rule". So I would sympathize if some of you were to think me insane for questioning dogma. However, I'm of the old school that believes that ideas should be based on facts, not popularity. I will present the facts so that you can see how I arrived at my skepticism. My blog's growing Etruscan folder of suspect items will hopefully help everyone understand why Etruscology is in heavy need of new cross-displicinary contribution from the field of linguistics.

First let's start with a picture of the inscription (TLE 131 - Laris Pulena's sarcophagus), the only inscription in which this supposed word is found. It's almost brilliant how obscenely difficult it is to find a clear picture of this inscription, by the way. How good is your eyesight?

Please, my friends. No need to squint. I'm a wizard with Adobe Photoshop. I'll spare you the grief and zoom onto the area where the word itself is found, located specifically on line 4:

What?! You say that you still can't read it? How about if I highlight the word with a helpful red box?

Personally, I defy anyone to pick out the characters in this jumble. Both to the right and left of this inscription (which is read from right to left) everything is clear, but this word has been unfortunately massacred by the sands of time. This is what I believe Pallottino and others were seeing from this enigma:

Now you see how the word lucairce was first invented. It doesn't seem to honestly account for all of the indentations of the area but added to that is a linguistic consideration, of which no archaeologist would concern themselves, that very few words in Etruscan show a diphthong between two consonants in a medial syllable of a word stem aside from eleivana (TLE 762) which is in fact not even a native word but a borrowing from Greek. Aside from that, the medial sequence of the form CVVC (like -cair- in this example) seems to be either astonishingly rare or a signal that the reading is wrong altogether... and this latter possibility is most likely since we can all see the damage of the text in the pics above.

Dare I say, lucairce seems to have been a convenient word on a conveniently marred piece of stone. Being a hapax (ie. a word found only once in all known Etruscan inscriptions) and being vaguely similar enough to lauχum which itself was already claimed to probably but not certainly mean "king" (Pallottino, The Etruscans, 1975, p.229), it served as an excellent avenue to paint a glorious scene of an early Etruscan political organization replete with noble kings based on the worst kind of linguistic methodology this side of Zacharie Mayani and drawing upon some vague references by Roman authors which were coincidentally fertile for artistic interpretation (e.g. using Virgil's unclear writings in Aeneid).

So excuse me, in a world of yesmen, if I should seem like a non-teamplayer when I question the above house of cards. The translation of lucairce was fundamentally translated on a purported association with the equally uncertain word lauχum, making the whole thing too contrived to not question. For example, if the two words are related and -ce is the perfective ending, what on earth is the element *-air- that is implied from this ad hoc conjecture supposed to signify? Nothing, because it's all fabricated nonsense. In my mind, someone who is to be considered knowledgeable in linguistics will not simply confuse an aspirated consonant (χ) with an inaspirate one (c) or invent imaginary inflection to justify a word connection. Rather, real linguists will offer structured, carefully reasoned and linguistically valid justifications to intelligent readers of their hypotheses.

Despite the iffiness, it hasn't stopped the masses from misreading possibility for certainty. This word has now been made into an unquestionable meme that is already spread across the internet. Thanks, Wikipedia! Nowdays, any modern book treats it as a plain fact but nowhere is there a clear account as to why. Beware.


Post a Comment