31 Aug 2007

Pyrgi Tablets and the burial of the sun

One day, I was scouring the internet, assimilating new perspectives into my personal data collective as usual when I came across a comment by Douglas Kilday posted two years ago on the sci.lang forum. I actually appreciate a lot of his interesting comments and theories on Etruscan. He seems like an overall sensible guy, which is rather odd for this subject since most are loons like me. However, no one's perfect and he provided a translation to the Pyrgi Tablets that I think was sufficiently offtrack to distort what was being expressed in the artifact. The Pyrgi Tablets consist of gold sheets inscribed with both Phoenician and Etruscan texts, a kind of bilingual "Rosetta Stone", if you will. They were created to dedicate the erection of a temple to the goddess Uni-Ashtarte by a leader named Thefarie Veliana. Even though the text is referring to the same event in both languages, and even though Phoenician is fully deciphered, everyone still seems to be having oodles of trouble solving the "riddle" of these tablets. Gee, go figure. An alternative hypothesis for our ineptitude could be that riddles make more money than solutions but surely that can't be it, right?

Kilday mistranslated the vowelless Phoenician phrase b-yrḥ zbḥ šmš as "in (b-) the month (yrḥ) of the Feast (zbḥ) of the Sun (šmš)." Way off, I'm afraid. First of all it's vital that we understand that zbḥ is a pan-Semitic word describing religious sacrifice as in Hebrew זֶבַח zebaḥ (note Ehud Ben-Yehuda & David Weinstein, Ben-Yehuda's Pocket English-Hebrew/Hebrew-English Dictionary, p. 234) and Ugaritic dbḥ (see Stanislav Segert, A Basic Grammar of the Ugaritic Language, p.132) .

Sacrifice of the Sun? Yes, dammit, yes. And if you don't believe me, read here because I swear I did not make this up. The Good Shamash is not having a picnic, here. He's not having a fun outing. Etruscan worshippers seem to have commemorated each year the death and rebirth of the sun. Throughout the early world, this was a prevailing religious motif and a symbolism for the strengthening and weakening of the sun's force throughout the year, embodied as an example in the cyclical worship of the Akkado-Sumerian deity Tammuz-Dumuzi. This phrase in question refers to the cycle of the seasons and this understanding is further reinforced a few lines down when it mentions: b-ym qbr ʔlm = "on (b-) the day (ym) of the burial (qbr) of the divinity (ʔlm)". Again, the verb root qbr is well attested in Semitic languages to denote burial (Hebrew qbr "to bury", Ugaritic qbr "to bury"). So why are we still scratching our heads about it? How daft can we be? Sweet goddess, all the information is readily available if only we would check it out for ourselves.

Only by understanding the Phoenician text properly can we understand the Etruscan text. So when we see that we have a "sacrifice of the sun" and a "burial of the divinity (of the sun)", we can then get a hint as to what the month name Masan signifies. For some reason, Larissa Bonfante places a question mark beside this name of the Etruscan month as if she isn't sure that the name is a bona fide name or something else (Reading the Past - Etruscan (1990), p.60). Obviously she hasn't spent the time looking at the inscriptions available to her. The rest of us can be reassured that it is a true month of the Etruscan calendar because of the date θun-em cialχuś Masn "Masan 29th" written in the very last chapter of the Liber Linteus. The name must derive however from a word used for "burial" or "entombment" built on the verb mas since its participle form masu is found twice in the Cippus Perusinus (CPer A.xiv, A.xvii). One phrase reads: Velθina hinθa cape muni-cle-t masu = "Velthina below (hinθa) was entombed (masu) with the sarcophagus (cape) in this plot (muni-cle-t)."


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