17 Apr 2008

More comedy with the purported Etruscan name Ruifri

In a previous post entitled Religion in Ancient Etruria: A comedy of errors that keeps on giving, I was mopping up the floor with Jean-René Jannot and the numerous errors and self-contradictions in his recent book. I must say I skewered him well but it's time to start stabbing again. It seems that one of his errors is even bigger than I thought. This error (or perhaps just a teensy transcription anomaly?) involves the name, or supposed name, Ruifri which is extracted from an inscription written along one leg of a bronze votive statue of a nude male. The bronze statue in question is the artifact indexed as TLE 737 by Massimo Pallottino.

Jannot spelled the name three different ways on pages 140 and 144, either as Rufri, Ruifri or Riufri, in Religion in Ancient Etruria (2005). This leads me to believe that both French editors and the English translator were sleeping on the job. Zacharie Mayani on page 261 of The Etruscans Begin to Speak (1962) spelled it Ruifri but he's not known for academic precision and can't be relied upon for much without additional verification (which usually proves him wildly off-mark). The Bonfantes on the other hand have also spelled the name as Ruifri in The Etruscan Language: An Introduction (1983). This spelling seems to be quite old, going back as far as Deecke/Pauli, Etruskische Forschungen und Studien (1881) and when I look for myself at the tiny picture of the statuette provided in Jannot's book, I must admit that I'm pretty sure that I see a iota between the upsilon and the ef too.

However, from what I reckon, the only root rationally possible for this name must be Latin in origin, from rūfus 'red' inherited from Indo-European *h₁reudʰ-[1]. There are related names in Latin such as Rufus and Rufius, and further, even Rufrius exists (CIL III 1129, VI 25579), confirming that this name must be originally Latinic. To add icing to the cake however there is also another instance of the name in Etruscan itself, Ruvries (TLE 32), and no iota is present after the upsilon either.

So then, does this mean that Ruifri of TLE 737 is a scribal error for Rufri? Should I then place all of this under the heading Rufrie and declare it an Indo-European borrowing? That's my understanding so far.

[1] I wrote too hastily here and it should be added that while Latin contains the word rūfus, the word appears to be ultimately from Oscan rufus. The native word for 'red' in Latin is ruber. See Sihler/Buck, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (1995), p.140.

(April 21 2008) I added clarification of the word rufus in note #1.


  1. Some comments:

    1. Latin had ruber/rubra/rubrum for "red". This is cognate to Greek eruthrós, also meaning "red".
    2. The name Ru:fus could not have been a native Latin word. Earlier /f/ went to /b/ between vowels and (at least) before /r/, probably becoming */v/ first. This parallels the development of /s/ in those positions.
    3. If it's not a scribal error, the first "i" in Ruifri could have been from anticipatory palatalization. Something similar happened in Proto-Greek, e.g. baino: < *bainyo: < *gWanyo:.

  2. Rob: "The name Ru:fus could not have been a native Latin word."

    This is true. It's apparently from Oscan rufus. (Read Sihler/Buck, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin (1995), p.140.)

    Rob: "If it's not a scribal error, the first "i" in Ruifri could have been from anticipatory palatalization."

    Palatalization across -fr-? I doubt that. What you're suggesting isn't so much anticipatory palatalization as it is a game of leapfrog. Greek βαίνω (baínō) is possible because palatalization spread leftward across n which we must presume also acquired the palatal quality. We can't expect the same phonetic process for -fr-.

    Can you think of real-world examples where palatalization has lept across segments as you propose here?