3 Nov 2007

The Iguvine Tablets and Etruscan

The Iguvine Tablets are texts written in Umbrian detailing rituals that have some bearing on Etruscan rituals. Etruscans lived side by side with Italic peoples like Umbrians and so it's not a stretch to think that they shared similar religious rituals despite the difference in language. So I'm teaching myself some Umbrian and staring at these texts. One passage in the Iguvine Tablets is interesting in relation to the Etruscan Liber Linteus and it goes like this:

Este persklum aves anzeriates enetu, pernaies pusnaes. Preveres Treplanes Iuve Krapuvi tre buf fetu. Arvia ustentu, vatuva ferine feitu, heris vinu heri puni. Ukri-per Fisiu, tuta-per Ikuvina feitu.

"Begin this ceremony by observing birds, those in front and those behind. Before the Trebulam Gates sacrifice three oxens. Offer grains, put ribs on a tray, either with wine or with mead. Sacrifice for Mount Fisian, for the nation of Iguvium."
I highlight the part that interests me in red. The reason why it's interesting is that it shows the importance to Umbrian priests of cardinal directions and of the observation of birds for omens. There is precisely the same emphasis in Etruscan religion. Additionally, it appears that hante-c repine-c (and its other attested forms: hate-c repine-c, haθe-c repine-c, haθrθi repinθi-c) is the equivalent of the Umbrian phrase pernaies pusnaes and is found throughout the text of the Liber Linteus.

I'm not sure if others translate Etruscan hante-c repine-c as "both ahead and behind" but Larissa Bonfante gives the value of "in front" to hante and so the translation of repine as "in behind" seems like a reasonable next step. If so, I wonder then if it could be a borrowing from Latin repōnere "to put away" (the prefix re- meaning "backward, behind") followed by reduction of the secondary vowels due to Etruscan's initial-syllable stress accent. This phrase however is in a slightly different context:

Cis-um pute tul θans haθe-c repine-c, śacni-cle-ri cilθl, śpure-ri, meθlume-ri-c enaś.
The word tul seems to refer to a boundary stone and θans may be the same word as the unsyncopated animate plural form tanasar (found in TLE 82 & 83) which seems to refer to mourners in a funeral procession. I presume that -um in the first word is the phrasal conjunctive seen elsewhere, meaning "and so" or "then". If so however, this means that cis is the genitive of ci "three". Then what is pute? It appears to be a verb in the preterite and we find the form puts [1] in TLE 131 (Laris Pulena's sarcophagus) and puθce in CIE 5730.

Anyways, the whole point of scouring the Iguvine Tablets is to look beyond just the grammar of Etruscan, and determine the greater religious context of these texts. Fun, fun, fun!

[1] Pfiffig equates Etruscan puts with Latin ponit '(he, she) places' and the German verb aufstellen 'to set up'. See Die etruskische Sprache: Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung (1969), p.138.


  1. Nice to see some Umbrian once. It looks weird. :D

    The whole 'observation of birds' is a bit iffy though. I mean, to religiously connect those two because of it.

    If you've read the Iliad you might be aware of the extensive use of Bird Omens, while they weren't really in the Italian Peninsula, especially not in the time of the Iliad's composition right?

    So it's difficult to say that this is a 'typical' Italic religious thing.

    But right now it's 5:20 am here, so I might be rambling, if that's so, just ignore anything I've said ;)

  2. Rereading what I wrote, I admit that I wasn't clear enough, mea culpa. What I'm intrigued by is primarily the significance of cardinal directions in rituals throughout Italy at this time and only secondarily the use of bird omens. The latter doesn't seem to have much bearing on the contents of the Liber Linteus as far as I can see. However, I would like to know exactly how directions are invoked in ritual and why.

    I don't think there's a doubt that Umbrian, Faliscan and Roman practices were all related to Etruscan practices, despite differences of language. Bird-omen priests were apparently also known in Greece and were called oionopolos but these traditions appear to ultimately derive from Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent (See West, The East Face of Helicon: West Asiatic Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth (1999), pp.46-7). Etruscans must have brought these practices to the Italian peoples at an early date.

    Also when you look at the Etruscan Piacenza Liver, notice the band around the edge that is divided into 16 parts. This is the horizon because the liver represents the cosmos and the 16 parts are the 16 cardinal directions. Augurs used this cosmological model for prophecy, whether it be lightning omens or bird omens. It all relates back to cardinal directions. Bird omens, liver omens, lightning omens, etc. are all part of the same religious package.

    So I'm interested in what exactly the directions signified to Italian peoples of that time, what exactly the rites involved, what offerings were given and I would like to know why (See also Bonnefoy, Roman and European Mythologies (1992), pp.115-6)

  3. Oh, and one more thing that I would like to figure out one day is how all of these Etruscan traditions derive from Anatolian traditions. So then again, we must ask ourselves what Hittite priests, for example, were doing as rites for soothsaying and how they differed from or related to Etruscan practices.

  4. You've renewed my interest in looking at some Hittite ritual text. Per definition, Hittite ritualistic descriptions are incredibly boring, but put like this, it might just be very interesting. I'll actually look into it, see if I can find some texts.