27 Aug 2007

Death and euphemisms in Etruria

I know my obsession with death lately is a little avant-garde considering that there are still a few months before Halloween but I never liked following trends. Hardly hours had passed since I successfully uploaded the first draft of my Etruscan glossary on Lulu before my mind started pondering the subtle nature of the verb lup, normally translated as "to die", and I realized that I already have something new to put in Draft 002. Excellent! Intellectual evolution is exhilarating! Let me explain.

My database helps me powersearch and recognize patterns I might not have noticed without it. One grammatical quirk I just uncovered was something involving the participle. It is already generally accepted that -u is a passive participle marker. We see it in a variety of verbs like tur "to give" (turu "given") and mal "to bless" [1] (mulu "blessed"), so there is no denying that this is its function. The fact that no one seems to have noticed however is that there is a second marker of the passive participle, namely (pronounced as an aspirated "t").

Bonfante has mistakingly called this ending an "imperative" which has helped to completely confuse her more astute readers. Imperative forms of verbs are used to form commands like "Study, study, study!" or "Be wary of unsubstantiated claims!" Despite what Bonfante and others have been publishing up to now, no shred of concrete proof has ever shown that this is really an imperative marker and, in fact, if we actually were to apply it to the inscriptions, it gives the texts a sophomoric sound that would make even Zacharie Mayani laugh.

After one goes to the trouble of examining the distribution and usage of this ending (found especially often in the Liber Linteus), one will notice that verbs that take the u-participle don't use the ending in and likewise, those verbs found terminating in don't take the u-participle. So we have turu "given" and mulu "blessed" amply attested, but the misnamed "imperative" counterparts, *turθ and *mulθ are nowhere to be seen. And we find nunθenθ and acilθ, but we just never find *nunθenu and *acilu. I don't think we will ever find them. This grammatical correlation here is so strong that I am really convinced that we have two passive participles here. The use of one or the other ending is determined by the transitivity of the verb: Intransitive verbs get the θ-participle and transitive verbs get the u-participle.

However, if this is true, why does an intransitive verb like lup "to die" have a transitive passive participle? Obviously you don't need an object in a sentence if the verb is "to die". You just die and that's all she wrote, right? One might even joke that dying is one of the most intransitive acts you can ever make in your lifetime. Logically, if the verb is hinting at transitivity then it is probably because lup doesn't actually mean "to die" per se. My answer is that the verb is merely acting as a euphemism for death and that its true primary meaning is something a teensy bit different. But then what is its meaning?

Let's read Richard Oliver & Allen Marcus, Words and the Poet, p.108. Behold the zany, interlinguistic mortuary parallels that follow:
  • Latin obitus <=> Etruscan lupu
    participle, "passed on, met (death)"

  • Latin obiit <=> Etruscan an lupuce
    perfective, "he/she has passed on, he/she has met (death)".
The Latin verb obīre, coincidently is also the source of the word "obituary". Another, perhaps stronger interpretation in light of some Etruscan inscriptions is "to depart to/into" (compare with English the departed and Latin abīre). Now we might finally make sense of the inscriptions:
  • Avils LX, lupuce munisvleθ. (TLE 172)
    At age 60, he departed within the tomb.
  • Lupuce munisuleθ calu. (TLE 173)
    He departed within the tomb into the earth.
  • Calusi-m lupu meiani munisleθ. (TLE 99) [2]
    And then into the earth he is departed in youth within the tomb.
With the above examples, we can now analyse lup as a transitive verb that takes an accusative object. Its meaning is not specifically "to die" but rather "to depart to". Since the verb already contains a built-in directive nuance [3], the accusative object should be translated into English as "to/into X" (thus an calu lupuce = "he has departed into the earth"). In the context of funerary inscriptions, the object can be left out since "the earth below" is the implied destination of the deceased. As a passive participle, we see that the object "earth" is overtly declined in the dative (thus an lupu calusi "he is departed into the earth")

In the pdf I uploaded, I still have lup listed as most Etruscologists like Bonfante and Pallottino have translated it: "to die". So it looks like we already need to tweak one of these translations for the next draft. Stay tuned.

[1] I haven't yet talked about mal but I don't translate mulu as "given" as Bonfante would. My reasoning is that the verb is related to forms in mal (e.g. male) and to mlaχ (which I list under maláχ) normally translated as "beautiful".
[2] Note that the last word may also be muni-cleθ as per the similar word found clearly on the Cippus Perusinus muni-clet "in the plot" with the verb mas "to entomb".
[3] I anticipate that some readers might feel critical of a verb with a "built-in directive nuance" but there are similar things in Latin. Its verb īre, which ob-īre and ab-īre above are built on, can also use the accusative and when it does it has a distinctly directive meaning indicating "towards": Romam eō = "I go towards/in the direction of Rome" (see here).


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