29 Nov 2007

Selvans Canzate: a 'pure guess'

Today, let's compare contradictory statements from two people and see who wins the argument. Think of it as an entertaining cockfight in the streets of Chennai. Place your bets, people! In the quotes below, I highlight important statements in red font. Larissa Bonfante and her father cowrote the following in The Etruscan Language: An Introduction, Revised Editon (2002), p.205:
  • "Selvans (Silvanus) - The Etruscan name of the god, which perhaps comes from the Latin, appears twice on the Piacenza Liver, once next to that of Fufluns, near Letham. He was worshipped: many votive offerings, in particular bronze statuettes, bear inscriptions with dedications to Selvans. He is referred to with a variety of epithets: canzate, enizpeta, sanchuneta. Most interesting is the dedication to Selvansl Tularias, 'Selvans of the Boundaries' (Source 50), since the principal function of Selvans seems to be the protection of boundaries. He does not appear in scenes of Greek mythology."

To say that it "perhaps" comes from Latin is like saying, in my view, that evolution "perhaps" exists. Selvans assuredly comes from Latin Silvanus which is in turn formed from a Latin word silva "forest" and that would help explain why he does not appear in Greek mythological scenes, right? Alas, I sigh, but no matter. Let's continue on and see what Tim Cornell says in The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-265 BC) (1995), p.46:

  • "For example, a bronze votive statuette in the British Museum bears the following dedication to the god Selvans:

    ecn turce larthi lethanei alpnu selvansl canzate

    ('this gave Larthi Lethanei a gift(?) to Selvans Canzate(?)'). Scholars disagree about the meaning of alpnu, some preferring an adverb ('gladly') to a direct object ('gift'), while the meaning of the final word is completely unknown. That it is a divine epithet is a pure guess."
Oh-oh. A pure guess, you say? Does that mean that Etruscan specialists like Bonfante, De Grummond, Pallottino and a cornucopia of other noteworthy names backing up the idea of this Selvans Canzate are just blowing a lot of hot air? That's a delicious idea! I like it! Tim Cornell is a professor and specialist of Roman history, teaching out of the University of Manchester, so you'd think that he can tell a fact from a conjecture better than anyone. I for one believe that he can and has.


  1. Hello Glen.

    I wonder: shouldn't "canzate" be declined in a different way if it were an epithet of Selvans(l)?

  2. It would depend on the nature of the epithet. If it's an epithet of the form "Selvans the X", then we would have expected canzate to agree in case with Selvansl. Since this is not the case, we may reasonably rule out such a pattern of translation.

  3. Somewhat puzzling.
    It would not have occurred to me that "canzate" could be an epithet of Selvansl.
    The Bonfantes believe(d) canzate to be an epithet. As there is no case agreement I do not understand this.
    Do you?

  4. I think it's safe to say that Larissa Bonfante's forté is not linguistics. She has far more knowledge in Greek and Roman artifacts (which still doesn't necessarily help her to fully understand the Etruscan civilization). My general plaint is that it's impossible to truly understand Etruscan civilization without fully understanding the Etruscan language and grammar. (You'll notice too that the Bonfante's misspell enizpetla without the lambda. The added letter makes a real difference in its accurate translation: Selvans Enizpe-tla "Selvans at Enizpa (city)" (see Bisang, Aspects of typology and universals (2001), Studia typologica, 1, page 122). This is apparently the "revised" 2002 edition, mind you!)

    Epithets come in different semantic patterns which then likewise show different grammatical patterns. There is the "[DEITY] the [SUBTANTIVE]" type, which requires case agreement of both the deity's name and the second substantive. An example of this type is the locative-declined epithet, Estrei Alφazei, of the Liber Linteus. However, there can also be the type "[DEITY] at [LOCATION]" with optional demonstrative postposed to the last element of the noun phrase. Since this demonstrative agrees in case with the first element, [DEITY], the grammar can get confusing but it has a comprehensible pattern nonetheless.

    In the case of the term canzate, however, I'm still not certain of anything. It seems to me that canza in itself should mean "small offering" (based on can "to bear" and -za [diminutive]). Perhaps then, -te, is merely the independent demonstrative tei, locative of "the, that", postposed to the end of canza. Thus, maybe the full sentence Ecn turce Larθi Leθanei, alpnu Selvansl canza-te means "This was given Larthi Lethana (a woman), offered for Selvans with the small offering". But then that would mean that this isn't an epithet at all! Egad. >:o)