5 Nov 2007

The kourotrophos Maffei

A marble, life-sized statue stands in the Museo Guarnacci, an image of woman with child and dated to the 4th century BCE. It has an inscription along the right arm. Etruscologists variously index it as CIE 76, CII 349, and ET Vt 3.3 but the general public knows it as the kourotrophos Maffei. The word kourotrophos is a Greek compound word meaning "child nurturer" or simply "nurse".

There are, as usual, wildly different accounts of what this one Etruscan inscription actually says. It's yet another insight into the madness within the field of Etruscology. It's as always unsettling to me how silent and disturbing the process of historical obfuscation is in a supposed age of information. We're drowned and hung by our own intellectual sloth.

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), p.168)

mi : cana : larθiaś : zanl : velχinei : se[θra al]ce
(Agostiniani, Le "iscrizioni parlanti" dell'Italia antica (1982), pp.116 & 189)

mi: cana: larθiaś: zanl: velχinei: śe...ce
(D'Aversa, La lingua degli etruschi (1979), p.219)

mi: cana: larthiaś: zanl: velχinei: śelvanśl: turce
(Rix, Etruskische Texte (1991), p.146 under Vt 3.3):

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)

No one is able to agree on the final words, nor on the translation, nor on whether the first sibilant in the red sections above is a sigma or a san, nor whether this letter is identical to the previous ś in larθiaś. It's anything goes if you're an Etruscologist. Of course, without pictures, the average layman is without hope of knowing which is correct and if one does a search using a quasi-effective tool like Google Images under "kourotrophos Maffei" one turns up empty-handed. The Museo Guarnacci doesn't offer us images either because it would rather hide history from us so that we can pay for airfare and admission. Tourism is big business. For that matter, information is big business too. Perhaps after spending hours and hours in an ill-stocked public library, it's expected of the poor reader to spend much money on one's own library as did the few wealthy patricians who were able to afford such luxuries during the Roman Empire preceding the Dark Ages.

Now here's the big kicker. Not only do experts not agree on what the inscriptions say, but Larissa Bonfante can't even agree with herself. She co-authored The Etruscan Language: An Introduction in 1983 when her father was still alive. She has since republished this book under a "revised" edition in 2002. However, what has she really revised in this book? My answer here would be "Not much at all". When compared with what she says in De Grummond & Simon's The Religion of the Etruscans in 2006, there is no consistency or forthrightness. Rather than being honest with her readers by correcting errata before republishing a book about the Etruscan language and rather than making clear her changed stance on this inscription, she has instead silently aligned herself with the version of the transliteration that Rix had published back in 1991 while at the same time republishing her erroneous book for the consumption of the idiot masses who wouldn't know any better.

What is the point republishing a book that is apparently out-of-date by many decades? All it does is confuse readers with these radical and silent "transcription flipflops". But then again, this is maybe the whole point - no one will ever care to know because no one likes to keep track of historical details like neurotic little me, right?


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