7 Nov 2007

The false image of cana

As previously explained in The kourotrophos Maffei, Larissa Bonfante seems to be flip-flopping about some simple details or even getting them provably wrong despite being in this field for decades with her father, Guiliano Bonfante. She's not the only one with which I have an intellectual quarrel, but today I feel like picking on her for a while. I know, I'm a shameless bastard but there are even more heretic treasures of scholastic red herrings lurking in those aforementioned translations of hers. I just can't stop myself. Let's suss out more interesting tidbits of info.

To recap, she gives us the following translations seperated by a few years and with differing transcriptions of the same text:

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : seθra : turce
"I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina Se(thra) gave me."
(Bonfante, The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (2002), revised edition from 1983, p.168)

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : śe[lv]anśl [: tur]ce
“I (am) the image of Larthia Zan. Velchina [to Selvans?] gave (me).”
(Bonfante in De Grummond/Simon, The Religion of the Etruscans (2006), p.20)

Let's play along with her claim that cana means "image" for the sake of argument. All we have to do is pick another clear enough Etruscan inscription with cana in it to verify whether she's telling us the truth or not. So let's look at this fine inscription listed in Pallottino's Testimonia Linguae Etruscae or TLE which was first printed in 1954, when my own father was but a bratty teenager and I wasn't even a grain of sand in the ocean:

Larθeal Caicnas Θamries cana (TLE 260)

The funny thing about this artifact is that it's in the form of a scarab. Now let's plug in Bonfante's translation for idle kicks and watch her linguistic credibility crumble before our eyes: "Larth Caicna Thamrie's image". We can already see how absurd her translation is. A scarab is hardly any person's "image". In fact, the scarab is an Egyptian-derived sun symbolism connected with a specific incarnation of the god Ra, namely Khepri who symbolised the rising sun. Khepri was depicted in Egyptian murals with a head of a scarab and body of a human but while there's a pile of stuff I could rant on about concerning Etruscan sun symbolism, what it all means in funerary contexts, and why they borrowed Near-Eastern/Egyptian motifs like this all the time, right now let's keep focussed on the linguistic capabilities of the Bonfante family. What this implies is that two people of the same family, despite having all of the details of these artifacts before them for decades and decades, have been hideously wrong all this time. Could Etruscologists actually be that disinterested in their own field?

Based on all the contexts it's found in, cana could only really refer to a general "offering" and in fact this is backed up by etymology. It seems to be a deverbal noun from cen "to bring". Its passive participle cenu "brought" is attested in the Tabula Cortonensis (TCort) and Cippus Perusinus (CPer) in the context of libation offerings (e.g. TCort i-ii: vina-c restm-c cenu, CPer A.x: θii θil ścuna cenu).[1]

The final question to solve is: What made the Bonfantes believe that it means "image" in the first place if it's ignorant of context? It's always hard to tell exactly what motivates people who aren't completely open about their methodology but I would surmise that their beliefs are mostly based, rather weakly mind you, on a particular gloss from the Classical Greek grammarian Hesychios of Alexandria who equated a curious word χάνα (chana) with κόσμησις (kosmēsis) 'adornment'. Of course, the problem of equating Greek aspirated χ- with Etruscan inaspirate c- in cana is phonetically unsurmountable without imagining further impulsive assumptions. As to why exactly χάνα was assumed to be an Etruscan word a priori, well, I'm sure that one day I will learn the sorted answer and rest be assured, I will be blogging about it.

[1] In Etruscan News, vol. 5 (2006), coincidentally co-edited by Larissa Bonfante (lo and behold), Koen Wylin managed to publish that it was "obvious" to him that both the Tabula Cortonensis and the Cippus Perusinus are "judicial documents" and that cenu must mean "obtained" as part of some grandiose transfer of property between families. (Read the article The first chapter of the Cortona inscription by Koen Wylin [pdf].) I read it and cried inside.


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