27 Apr 2009

Disproving a particular translation of TLE 193 once and for all

A recent comment by a reader caused me to revisit the problem of finding an accurate translation for TLE 193 which is inscribed on an urn and in which we can detect two sentences:
Larθi Ceisi, Ceises Velus Velisnal Ravnθus seχ.
Avils śas amce Uples.
The first sentence uncontroversially reads "Larthi Ceisie, the daughter of Vel Ceisie (and) Ravnthu Velisna." The second sentence however is sometimes interpreted to mean either that Larthi was married to a person named Uple for a number of years or that she was a prepubescent child with a declined noun or name uples whose meaning is up to future debate.

Upon returning to this topic after a long pause[1], I realized that any added material archaeological evidence that I might have missed which would substantiate Larthi's purported marriage is underlyingly irrelevant to whether the inscription itself is truly mentioning a marriage. Why? Because there are solid and yet simple grammatical reasons that can conclusively mitigate against the supposed marriage of this girl.

If we use the standard model of Etruscan grammar and specifically accept that A) -ce is indeed a past perfective suffix[2] and that B) genitive-declined temporal phrases convey punctuality[3], then both the time reference avils śas and the verb amce are in complete agreement with each other that the event being expressed here is a punctual (ie. non-continuous) one. Ergo, since the state of being married to someone is clearly continuous, not punctual, we simply CANNOT interpret the resultant name Uple as her husband. Rather, if the last sentence were truly talking about a duration of a marriage, the sentence would have used the imperfect past form ame (nb. TLE 924: Hastia Cainei Clantiś puia ame.), and an accusative temporal phrase avil śa (nb. Pyrgi Tablets: nac ci avil = 'during (the) three years').

The last sentence in the inscription is thus, without a shade of doubt, pointing to the sudden death (nb. a punctual event) of a young girl. It then must be read along the lines of "At six years, she was (given) to Upil." strongly implying that the term Upil, declined in the directive case, is indeed referencing Hades, the land of the dead. (This is not however to deny that there isn't also a similar sounding gentilicium Upaliie of Italic origin (Oscan Upfals) attested in some Etruscan inscriptions.) Locative-declined Ufli as attested in the Liber Linteus could be included as evidence in support of this epithet for Hades, as I suggested before.

[1] Read Paleoglot: Me fighting myself on the Etruscan name Uple and Paleoglot: Revisiting TLE 193 and 'The City of Dirt'.
[2] Pallottino, The Etruscans (1975), p.216: "Others, on the other hand, have suffixes that determine the verbal character of the form and specify its function, as in the case of the 'perfects' in -ce: tur-ce, 'has given', lupu-ce, 'has died' (cf. its equivalent lupu) or muluvani-ce, 'has dedicated'."
[3] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002), p.85: "The word avil, 'year', which occurs very frequently (over a hundred times), in funerary inscriptions, is found with the simple stem (avil) when it is used with the verbs svalce or svalthas, meaning 'to live'. With lupu, 'dead', we have instead avils. This shows that avil indicates a continuous action, 'he lived for so many years ...', while avils expresses a precise action or occurrence, 'he died in such-and-such a year'[...]" This is in effect recognizing that temporal phrases in the accusative case (unmarked in nouns) specify a duration of time while temporal phrases declined in the genitive case point to a single point in time. One form being durative, the other punctual.


  1. Hello Glen.

    I have been staring at:
    "avils sas amce uples"
    for some time.

    "amce" confuses me. As "avils sas" already shows some point in time, it seems the "c" is not needed.
    Also translating "am" with just "to be" doesn't seem to do justice to this word, as often we insert some form of "to be" when there is actually nothing in the Etruscan text (like in the first sentence "Larθi Ceisi, Ceises Velus Velisnal Ravnθus seχ.", which in many languages would best be translated as "This is..."). I wonder what the meaning of
    "avils sas uples"
    would have been.

    The words "upl" and "lup" look like having been influenced by some metathesis.
    Is this possible in Etruscan?
    Can "Uple" be the real (Etruscan) name of (Greek) "Aides"?

    If you are right ("Death and Euphemisms in Etruscan") in your assumption that lup itself means something like latin "obire", i.e. something gradual as opposed to something abrupt, this explains the seemingly superfluous "c" in "amce".

    (I hope this makes sense to you. My English is not that good.)

  2. On the contrary, I think perfective -ce is necessary in amce.

    Let's think about French, a language I myself speak. In French, one makes a distinction between a perfect and an imperfect action. There is an important difference between j'allais and je (me) suis allé that gets lost in English translation where both may be translated as "I went" much of the time.

    So if I were to say in English "I went to school at 3:30" (referring to a single event), I would have to say in French "Je (me) suis allé à l'école à 3h:30". To say "J'allais à l'école à 3h:30" however implies that I had always gone to school every day at the same time, 3:30.

    You can learn more about this in an online forum that talks about the uses of imperfect and perfect past in French.

    Now, if French is a good model of Etruscan verbal aspect and if we were to now imagine an alternative phrase avils śas **ame** uples for the sake of arguement, an Etruscan speaker would probably read it as "she was (habitually) at the sixth year, (gone) to Hades". Obviously nonsensical. Thus, -c- in amce probably has a strong grammatical purpose afterall.

  3. Oh, as for the omission of am in Etruscan, this is no different than the same omission found commonly in Latin (read Allen, A Second Latin Exercise Book (1885), p.3). The omission of "to be" is common in many other languages too, as in colloquial Japanese.

    In this inscription however, the verb is necessary and can't be omitted without nuanced ambiguities that I mentioned in my post just above involving the contrast of ame and amce.

  4. I will chew on all of this. My high school latin (about 1500 hours) and my high school French (about 600 hours) have left some traces, so I understand what you are trying to say. But:
    IF you were to be confronted with the hypothetical:
    avils śas **ame** uples
    your hypothetical translation (using French as a model):
    "she was (habitually) at the sixth year, (gone) to Hades"
    obviously would be nonsensical.
    Not using French as a model, I would translate:
    "At age six she was for Death". The imperfect being normal, as the child probably is still dead.
    To me the perfect looks like "At the sixth year she woke up from coma". Clearly nonsensical. It does, however, make more sense if the meaning of "uples" is something like "the process of passing away".
    Anyway I think your "French model" explanation is more easy to understand than my "Dutch model".

    Latin "est" frequently is omitted. And so is "am". If, in Latin, "est" is used, it usually has a special meaning. Compare:

    Glen Gordon linguisticus.
    Glen Gordon linguisticus est.
    Glen Gordon est linguisticus.
    Est Glen Gordon linguisticus.

    Each of these "est" have their own slightly different meaning. I would like to know more about the Etruscan equivalents. Can Etruscan "am" sometimes be compared with Latin stressing "est"?

    About my second question:
    Do you think "Uple" can be the original (Etruscan) Death?
    Is this metathesis possible in Etruscan?

  5. Aah, I see. You're confusing the state being described ('death') with the manner in which it seems to me to be written ('to be (gone) to Hades'). Careful.

    Yes, the state of death is most naturally described in the imperfect aspect when directly conveyed. However, if I'm correct, this sentence combines the directive case marked by -is "to, towards" with amce "(she) has been" to convey the act of leaving (ie. leaving life to go to Hades).

    An English parallel of this construction is "to be off to" as in "He was off to work" ~ "He went to work".

    The action of "being off to Hades" is strictly perfective because one is describing the singular, initial moment of death, not the state. If it had been written more literally as "she is dead", we should then expect the verb in the imperfect: An lupu (ama), where ama is in the present imperfect (although optional) and lupu is a participle.

    Hans: "Can Etruscan 'am' sometimes be compared with Latin stressing 'est'?".
    The unmarked word order in Etruscan is SOV, as in Latin. Sometimes verbs are found at the beginning of sentences though. I think part of this variation does indeed involve special nuances, but I doubt that it's quite like Latin.

    For one thing, animacy appears to play a part. So, given only an inanimate noun followed by a transitive verb, we know that the noun cannot be the agent of a transitive action (nb. inanimates inherently can't act for themselves!). So despite a lack of clear marking, Vinum trau (ama) can only mean "Wine is poured". Even when an active verb form is used, vinum must still be interpreted as the patient, lending a passive sense, as in Vinum turce "Wine has been given" ~ "(someone) has given wine". If we now said Trau vinum, I wager it may mean something sillier: "It was poured by wine". Sometimes in the Liber Linteus it appears as though verbs are sometimes placed at the beginning of sentences just in order to receive the phrasal conjunctive -m "and", implying that the action in question follows a preceding action.

    Hans: "Do you think 'Uple' can be the original (Etruscan) Death? Is this metathesis possible in Etruscan?".
    So far I can't really prove what the implied root up- would mean but I have hunches. I already have a candidate for 'to die' in mur (attested as a verb and as a base of murś 'sarcophagus').

    While metathesis from religious taboo is always possible, I think it's safer to assume the least: that lup 'to cross over' and up are two different roots. More evidence would be needed to justify such a relationship.

  6. Thanks Glen.

    Much of the Etruscan language is still a mystery (Don't shoot me for using this word!). A lot of work to be done.
    We do not know the exact meaning of
    "amce uples".
    Is it "death" or "Death"?
    Is its meaning euphemistic (possible upl <-> lup metathesis)?
    As a consequence we do not know the exact meaning, or rather, translation of "amce".
    What we do know is that Etruscan was a "cheap" language. Like English, another "cheap" language, it doesn't use up much space. Compare "directions for use" and "mode d'emploi": almost invariably the English text is much shorter.
    Try to translate Etruscan: the English version is the only one that has a real chance to be shorter than the Etruscan. But, due to lack of flection, even English will lose quickly when subtleties must be expressed.
    In Etruscan often just a little change in word order, or a different noun or verb ending will be enough.


    I like your English parallel.

    (I will digress a little; please be patient).
    In Dutch we can say:

    (1) De soep van vandaag is borsjtsj. (The soup served today is borsjtsj.)
    (2) De soep is rood. (The soup is red coloured.)
    (3) De soep is op. (Nothing is left of the soup.)

    In (1) we have a substantivum.
    In (2) we have an adjectivum.
    Normal Dutch.
    (3) too is perfectly normal Dutch. But it was frowned upon only fifty years ago. Due to some strange tabu, "is" had to be accompanied by some nomen. "op" normally is a preposition. The "fear" was that words like "op" would be used as nomina. Little children, not affected by the tabu, say:
    "De oppe soep was rood".
    So here we have flection of a preposition!
    The copulative verb "zijn" (to be), no longer needs a nomen (It never needed it. There just was a tabu.)
    English is a little less flexible than Dutch, but:

    Glen is (a serious linguist).
    Glen is (tired of all this).
    Glen is (about to go to bed).

    Well, a lot of words to express my belief that "am" is somewhat stronger than just a word that can be omitted.
    (Just curious: Do you know of participles in -u actually accompanied by some form of "am"?)

  7. I don't hate the word "mystery" as long as the person using it recognizes that we must and can solve the mystery. Sometimes lazy people use "mystery" to gloss over a subject they don't understand and which they refuse to COMMIT to understand, and you know me... I'm fierce towards the lazy.

    Before we begin, I should let you know that calling a language "cheap" sounds comically derogatory. Hehehe. A better term you could use in English would be "economical", and I agree that English is typically shorter than the same thought expressed in French while Etruscan is typically even shorter than English, partly because it's a pro-drop language.

    Hans: "We do not know the exact meaning of 'uples'.

    True, perhaps. However, the word isn't a hapax. It occurs also in the Liber Linteus (cf. LL XI.10) where we can be confident that ufli cannot be sensibly read as a name at all: ufli . spurta . eisna . hinθu. (The f in this lexeme is merely lenition of p neighbouring tautosyllabic u, particularly when the next syllable contains a front vowel.) The meaning of the phrase spur-ta eisna hinθu is no mystery at all thanks to Pallotino and Bonfante's glossary: "the divine city below" (read Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan Language (2002): eisna, spur and hinθu). Adjectives are placed after the nouns they modify, as is usually the case in French.

    So it piques my curiosity that both this word and that phrase are placed side-by-side, along with the added support of TLE 193.

    Upil ~ Ufil thus is very likely to refer to the Underworld and, as you can see, this interpretation is consistent with a structured grammar (something that many of the translations supplied by Bonfante et al. so sorrily lack). As a matter of fact, Etruscans did indeed conceive of and portray Hades as a city with gates, just like more eastern cultures like the Babylonians.

    Hans: "Is it 'death' or 'Death'?".

    I think Upil is an epithet for the (god of the) Underworld and thus a poetic euphemism for Death. Another epithet used is Aita, taken directly from a Greek dialect.

    Hans: "Is its meaning euphemistic (possible upl <-> lup metathesis)?".

    You keep asking this and I keep answering the same way: Metathesis while possible is unmotivated.

    It's more optimal to believe that up and lup are merely two separate roots that happen to look alike and just happen to be used in the context of death.

    In a similar vein, I'm pretty sure that the festival of Lupercalia acquired the connotation of death by folk associations between Etruscan lup 'to cross over' and Latin lupus 'wolf'. Note that Etruscan Hades is shown wearing a wolfheaded cap. Metathesis is highly doubtful but a cultural association between lup and up isn't impossible.

    However, to justify a connection between lup and up we need facts, not feelings. Without facts, this idea will merely remain an interesting curiosity.

    Hans: "As a consequence we do not know the exact meaning, or rather, translation of 'amce'.".

    Wrong. The verb am is one of the most amply attested verbs in Etruscan and one whose meaning is most securely defined. The only one confused about its meaning is you, my friend. So here are the known attestations of am that you should study so that you don't dismiss the standard translation in ignorance:

    ama [CPer A.v, B.xv; LL 10.ix, 10.xiv], ma [TLE 15, 112, 113, 382, 388, 389, 411, 918] (pres.) // ame [CPer A.ii; LL 7.xiv, 8.vi, 8.viii, 10.iii, 10.v; TLE 924] (pret.) // amuce [TLE 875; PyrT B.vii], amce [LL 7.xix; TLE 87, 98, 103, 131, 193, 326] (perf.pret.).

  8. Thank you Glen!

    It is a pity there is a language barrier between us.
    The "repeated question" was not meant for you. You had already answered it. And, as you implicitly told me these metatheses are NOT common, I totally agree that we should assume two different roots.
    I am sorry I took more of your time than necessary.
    Also I do not doubt the meaning of "am".
    Your "am" list will probably be a great help for further study.

  9. These are reasonable questions. You haven't taken up any of my time that I wouldn't already spend on the subject. :o)

    As for am, while the verb itself is understood, the tenses are not. So I propose that the present tense is ama "am/is/are" (sometimes shortened to 'ma in some inscriptions). The simple past tense (imperfect) is ame "was/were". The perfect past is in Old Etruscan amace "has been/have been" and eventually shortens to amuce /'ɑməke/ and then amce because of a strong stress accent. When am stands on its own without suffix, it should be translated as an infinitive in English: "to be". I theorize that the participle was probably *amaθ "being" since intransitives and statives receive rather than -u as the participial ending. This grammatical sketch is purely my own as far as I know.

    One may then apply this knowledge to all verbs so that one may (hopefully) better understand the tense and aspect being expressed in these inscriptions that gave me trouble until I adopted this view.