7 Sept 2007

Suri, the saga part 1

T.G.I.F, thank god it's Friday. And I'm pulling my hair out again. This Etruscan history obsession of mine will be the death of me yet. There's definitely something fishy about Suri. No, I'm not talking about Tom Cruise's proud baby girl, although her eyes are such a vibrant blue I'm sure she must be an extra-terrestrial. What I'm talking about is the purported Etruscan deity of the same name. Let's see what the experts have said that would make a thinking reader feel just a teensy bit skeptical:
  • Suri was the god of the sun, equivalent to Greek Apollo.[1]
  • Suri was the god of the underworld.[2]
  • Suri was female, a chthonic goddess[3].
So what I've learned from Etruscologists is that Suri is a male god, a female god, the sun and the underworld all at once. He, she, he-she or it is everything and nothing, Apollo and Hades, both high and low, dead and undead. Experts also teach me that there is no need to search for structure in the Etruscan pantheon. Afterall, Nancy De Grummond informs us that Etruscan deities can be whatever gender we want them to be[4] and that's good enough for me. Deductive reasoning based on the binary pair of true and false is only going to get in the way of our collective utopia of historical ignorance.

The descriptions of Suri are pitifully small. In The Religion of the Etruscans, Erika Simon devotes a single paragraph on page 59 to this deity:
  • "According to votive inscriptions, often to father Śuri, the god was well known in Etruria. The Etruscan name of Viterbo, Surrina, comes from him, similarly Mount Soracte, where Soranus (=Śuri, Latin Dis Pater) was venerated (see Vergil, Aen. 11.785). Giovanni Collonna has equated Suri convincingly with Aplu, who in Etruria also had connections with the Underworld. Cherici 1994; Colonna 1992."
However, previously under Aplu/Apulu on page 57, she states:
  • "In cult, as Giovanni Colonna has shown, Aplu could be equated with Śuri (=Latin Soranus), who, like Aita, had the wolf as his attribute."
Okay, let's cut the crap. First of all, we might note from the above that Simon feigns a positive certainty under the main heading of Suri (i.e. "Colonna has equated Śuri convincingly with Aplu") while admitting uncertainty everywhere else (i.e. "Aplu could be equated with Śuri") - a clever deception that one might think is intended to at once appear knowledgeable to casual readers while also never fully denying the true uncertainty concerning Suri's existence. Burying inconvenient truths is bad form as a scholar but very common.

Secondly, we may notice that in all the accounts of Suri, there are numerous, modernday word association games played which are nothing more than an annoying distraction from the real facts. Many authors lead people to believe that there is a wealth of linguistic evidence showing that Suri existed without ever needing to overtly assert any of these false connections born from unscholarly lack of methodology. Here are some of the words associated with this claimed deity whose real explanation of their etymologies I feel I must expose here and now. You will see these words constantly referred to in company with Suri without a clear morphological rundown on how Suri has anything to do with them.
  • Sora: (Latin) A town name whose final vowel makes an Etruscan origin assumptive as is any belief that Sora is actually homonymous with the name of an unproven deity.
  • Soracte: (Latin) A name for a mountain whose implied suffix *-acte cannot be explained if this shakey Etruscan etymology is sought after.
  • Soranus: (Latin) A name derived from the Roman town name Sora, not Etruscan at all.[5]
  • sors, sort-: (Latin) Meaning "lot, fate" and inherited from Indo-European *ser- "to line up", not Etruscan[6].
  • Surrina: (Latin) name of a town assumed to be Etruscan by assuming that it is derived from a deity based on other urbonymic etymologies (Vulci, Tarquinia), assumed in turn to be based on a deity specifically named Suri which in turn is thought to "prove" the Etruscan origin of Surrina. In other words, a multiplication of hypotheses and merry-go-round reasoning.
Eyeballing and mass comparison techniques are the way linguistics might have been done in the 19th-century but why are Etruscan studies so far behind?

(Continue reading Suri, the saga part 2...)

[1] Nancy De Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, And Legend (2006), p.129
[2] Sarah Iles Johnston, Religions of the Ancient World, p.414; Paolo Giannini, Centri etruschi e romani dell'Etruria meridionale (1986), p.64; Arnaldo d'Aversa, La lingua degli etruschi (1979), p.124; Zacharie Mayani, Les Étrusques commencent à parler (1961), p.310
[3] Kathryn Lomas, Roman Italy, 338 BC-AD 200: A Sourcebook (1996), p.181; Marcel Renard, Initiation à l'étruscologie (1943), p.41.
[4] See De Grummond/Simon, The Religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.3: "It expresses vividly the Etruscan tendency to be vague or ambivalent about the gender and other characteristics of a particular deity."
[5] See Temporini/Haase, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung (1972), p.984
[6] Porkorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, ser-4 ; American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, ser-2


  1. For a minute I was scared that they had based the ambivalent gender of the Etruscan deities on the lack of grammatical gender, or a common way to express gender at all. But 'luckily' they just make a vague reference.

    Obviously the notion of a grammatical gender not being there, making real gender not too important to distinguish is ridiculous, even with deities. There's not a single person who's going to tell you that Japan's goddess of the sun Amaterasu Oomikami is actually a man, because she is referred to as any other god, who might be male or female.

    I would like to see the 'vivid description' of the ambivalence of divine gender though.

  2. Yes, I suppose it's 'fortunate' that they didn't stoop so low :P But actually, it's a nasty myth that Etruscan somehow "lacked grammatical gender". It's clear now that it has an animate/inanimate contrast because animate nouns regularly take -ar in the plural and inanimate nouns take -χva (also -va and -ia). Dr. Weiss explains it in his helpful pdf on Etruscan grammar.

    phoenix: "[...] making real gender not too important to distinguish is ridiculous, even with deities."

    Exactly, and personally it infuriates me that academics can be so proposterously dense. As I already alluded, it makes the search for a structure in the pantheon seem futile. It's as if these fools are trying to discourage learning and discourage serious questions. So I have a bone to pick (or rather, more like an entire graveyard to pick).

    Her "vivid description" is pretty much what is mentioned below that quote (follow the link in my article). Nancy de Grummond and others simply rip certain Etruscan myths of Greek origin completely out of context to support their ludicrous case. However, the "bisexuality" in these myths in question have very specific reasons for being there that cannot be generalized in Greek mythology nor in that of Etruscan (e.g. story of Vertumnus & Pomona). De Grummond's cluelessness is so vast here that it almost seems purposeful. Yet I can't find any constructive purpose to it at alll... aside from empty fame and profit, but surely that can't be it, can it?

    I have to respect Larissa Bonfante at least for not following along with many of the views that De Grummond expresses. For example, Bonfante intelligently explains apotropaic device in her 2006 book, while De Grummond and Simon chose to spend that year shovelling more b.s. about "ugly Etruscan monsters", selling out to mass marketing and mystery-based sensationalism.

  3. God, upon rereading, I sound like quite the angry badnewsbear, haha. Man, okay, okay. I need to lighten up. Time for some r&r tonight with friends :)