23 Dec 2007

Etruscan thapna: Check out those flat jugs

Since it's only two days before the global, commercialist celebration of compassionless greed called "Christmas", I figure I would tell you a wholesome story about people's jugs... or perhaps they are chalices, or cups, or pateras, or vases... It seems that Etruscologists who dabble in the Etruscan language cannot decide what they are looking at, assuming that they are even looking at all.

The Etruscan word I'm going to rant about today is θapna (the first letter is theta and pronounced like a breathy 't' sound). Giuliano and Larissa Bonfante claim that θafna means "cup" while θapna means "vase (for offerings(?))" even though they are evidently the same word. Cristofani recognizes the sound change of p > f and the fact that they are the same word so he gives the value of "cup, chalice" to θapna/θafna. Jannot on the other hand claims that tahvna(sic) refers to a "vase for offerings" (read here). Pallottino in The Etruscans (1975) lists a non-existent form *θapn[1] alongside attested θapna and θapneśtś (from the Liber Linteus), and suggests not only that it is a "vase" but a "sacrificial vase". So we have a whole bunch of contradictory values floating around such as "cup", "chalice", "vase for offerings" and "sacrificial vase", all of which conjure up wildly different mental images to the typical English speaker. We can see this disparity in meaning just by going to Google Images and seeing what a "cup", a "chalice" and a "vase" look like to most people. They are used for different things altogether in modern society: a cup is used for drinking; a vase is what you put flowers in; and a chalice is typically associated with Sir Lancelot and Robin Hood.

However, one can at least say that a "cup", "chalice" and "vase" have a general commonality in vertical shape, right? Sure they do. The only problem is that the objects that this word is written on are not cups, chalices or vases in the normal use of these words, but rather shallow cups or paterae, objects that are low on verticality. A patera (plural paterae) is "a saucerlike vessel of earthenware or metal, used by the Greeks and Romans in libations and sacrifices". Should there be any doubt as to its exact meaning, make note of the etymological source: Latin patere "to lie open". A vase doesn't normally "lie open" like a saucer or pan evidently does. For the visually inclined, this is a picture of what a prototypical patera looks like:

I think we can all agree that anyone who would call such an object a "chalice" or "vase" is missing a few cards from the proverbial deck, right? Yet, we are told that inscription TLE 30 (mi tafina Lazia Vilianas) is on a black-finish patera (read here and here) . TLE 64 (mi Karkanas θahvna) is likewise written on a coppa ad impasto or an impasto-style cup (read here). Then we have TLE 341 (mi Lareces Śupelnas θafna), written on yet another patera (read here). And wouldn't you know it, TLE 488 (ta θafna raθiu clevsinśl // θu) is also described as a patera (read here). The candelabrum of TLE 646 (inscribed with θapna muśni tinścvil aθmicś śalθn) at first seems like an outlier until we realize that yet again, we're dealing with a shallow, liquid-bearing vessel that in this case is used to bear oil to burn in an ancient lamp. (Behold the exquisitely ornate Cortona lamp: here and here). The rest of the instances of this word (such as θapneś-tś and diminutive θapnza-c) are found in the Liber Linteus in reference to libation rituals.

Therefore, given all this, why would authors who write so many books on the Etruscan language continue to translate θapna as "vase" or "chalice"? Perhaps something got lost in the translation. Anyways, up to now, I gave this translation the benefit of the doubt (blind as it was) from the likes of the Bonfantes, Jannot and Pallottino who seem to all agree that this is a "vase" somehow. I can no longer be so foolish after I finally dug through the data to investigate this word personally. I'm glad I did. So I will have to update my pdf to account for the conclusive fact that this word is describing a "shallow bowl or pan", not a vase, not a cup and not a chalice. The word would have been used in reference to shape only without reference to the vessel's usage, and probably overlapped in meaning with the Latin word patera while at the same time being used to describe shallow bowls as well.

[1] From what I can see, Pallottino likely believed this word existed based on a missegmentation of *θapn from θapnzac in LL 10.xxii. The line actually reads: θapna . θapnzac . lena . etera . θec . peisna. Surely θapnza is merely the diminutive of θapna using the well-known diminutive suffix -za. The nominal conjunctive -c meaning "and" is attached to it. Here, lena "(they) pour" is the verb operating on the preceding two nouns because Etruscan is an SOV language, placing the verb at the end of a sentence just like in modern Turkish or Japanese.


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