10 Jan 2009

The "Tlusc Mar" Reading Error on the Piacenza Liver

Today, I'm just making a brief note about yet another tiny detail that irks me about the common (mis)analysis of the Piacenza Liver (that is, the Etruscan artefact cast in bronze modelling a sheep's liver for the purposes of rather idiosyncratic divination, for those yet unfamiliar).

I notice that there are far too many books on Etruscan mythology that casually transcribe one of the inscriptions (as depicted above) on the object as "Tlusc Mar" without a modicum of explanation as to how it was reasoned that it should be read this way. Afterall, if this reading is correct, we need to have a damn good excuse as to why the third line is read before the second line, and furthermore, why a perfectly sane reading of "c" which conforms to the overall direction of the inscription is forfeited in favour of a reading of "m" which forces our line of vision to rotate more than 90 degrees. What the...?! The question I put forth to the world is: "Why has a less opaque reading of Tlusc Arc been so avoided?"

So while Larissa Bonfante et alia continue to publish their books with a historically distractive reading of "Tlusc Mar" or "Mar Tlusc" in them[1], I cringe each day wondering whether these assumedly learned people have simply overlooked this academic stain in the rug or whether the apparently glaring error is deliberate obfuscation for reasons well outside the hallowed domain of truth-seeking.

Things that make you go... hmmm...

[1] See Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002), p.174 (see link).


  1. That's really odd. If the m/c had been a bit more towards the right. I can sort of imagine such a reading, but this indeed makes very little sense.

    Is there a word 'mar' that they want to associate it with and is 'arc' less favorable?

    Even if it is, I'd say it's clear it indeed says arc.

  2. I can only surmise that "Mar" was teased out of the inscription due to the repetition of Mar. or Mari. (abbreviation for Maris "Mars") elsewhere on the artifact.

    I know of no other object that shows the word arc attested. However this could just as well be an abbreviation for something longer.

  3. Before you go off things Etruscan, didn't you almost promise last year to review Van der Meer, Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis. The Linen Book of Zagreb: A Comment on the Longest Etruscan Text.

    I have been patiently waiting :-)

  4. Yes, Judith. You caught me. I guess it slipped my overworked mind. However, I have to admit that upon reading the Bryn Mawr Classical Review [pdf] of this book, I now have the feeling that Van de Meer suffers from the same sin that plagues other Etruscanists by appealing to indulgent interpretations of text chunks rather than methodical analysis of the very basics of the language and grammar presented in this artifact.

    For example, the reviewer states: "At 4.13 (89), cntram is said to be a mistake for cletram, which could fit the formula, although the author offers an alternate option of cntnam 'this same.'"


    To even suggest this exposes a deep misunderstanding of basic Etruscan grammar since surely cntnam is spelled correctly, composed of cn "this" in the accusative case, the postposition tra (seen elsewhere in the text marked with the directive case in -iś: -treś) and finally the phrasal conjunctive -(u)m signifying "and, and so, then". The word probably means something to the effect of "and through this, and by this".

    Considering that glaring linguistic faux pas, does this book offer me anything that I couldn't figure out myself? (Ouch, I'm a bitch, hehe.)

  5. Perhaps I'll also quote this in the same review that leaves a bad taste in my mouth: "It is proper, and no doubt deliberate, that van der Meer did not present a complete, line-by-line English translation -- one has to hunt through the commentary (44-159) for individual meanings or suggested interpretations of "strings"--phrases, expressions or combinations of words/formulae. Best not to serve a complete, seamless English document ready for the lazy students or neo-pagan bloggers to cut-and-paste (and misuse). Other mainstream authors have generally eschewed fulsome translations of the LL, and only discuss words or phrases for which secure translation is likely."

    First off, "lazy students or neo-pagan bloggers" will obviously continue to do what they do despite the inputs, no matter how ingenious, Etruscanists offer. That's just the way the world works. It's not a good excuse to be a lazy academic author.

    Secondly, the very fact that a full translation attempt is avoided is automatically suspect because it seems to emphasize Van der Meer's lack of competency in the language. If the language is not the basic prerequisite to cracking the overblown mystery of this artifact, I truly do not know what is. Do you?

    Thirdly, avoiding full translations and offering only piecemeal interpretations with loose substantiation is a continuing parlour trick performed by current Etruscanists; something of which I'm really tired, and something of which I hope others grow weary as well.

  6. I think the "AR" and the "C" have been written deliberately as two entities. So my reading would be:

    or even:

    Are there any words "TLUS" and "AR" that you know of?

  7. Hey Glen!

    Do you think this should be analyzed as tlus-c ar-c? Not sure if that fits grammatically; just a thought.

  8. Hans: "I think the 'AR' and the 'C' have been written deliberately as two entities."

    Not necessarily. Other Etruscan inscriptions show similar word breaking between lines.

    Hans: "Are there any words 'TLUS' and 'AR' that you know of?

    You obviously haven't checked out my online dictionary: click here.

  9. Rob: "Do you think this should be analyzed as tlus-c ar-c?"

    Personally, I think the full phrase is probably Tluscva Arc since Tluscv is found elsewhere on the artifact. The terminating sequence -cv could only be the abbreviation of plural suffix -cva which is a regular allomorph of -xva when following a sibilant.