16 May 2009

Etruscan inscription REE 59,1993

The inscription REE 59,1993 is often transcribed thus:
ecn : turce : laris : θefries : espial : atial : caθas
This is how it's transcribed, for example, on the online Etruscan Texts Project website under ETP 189. Of course, for all the effort they put into giving us the transcriptions of these artifacts, it's a pity that they didn't put in just a little bit more effort supplying the populus photos of the historical artifacts so that careful scholars can immediately ascertain for themselves whether or not they're being hoodwinked by a particular academic's faulty reading. We're simply told that it's a bronze weight dating to the 4th century BCE or later but no means on the site to verify the validity of the transcription nor is there a suggested translation (which would, as you'll find out later, only make the problems in this transcription much clearer).

If you're craving a photo of this artifact online however, you're in for a treat because I've spotted a decent black and white picture obtainable here: Chapin/Immerwahr, Charis: Essays in Honor of Sara A. Immerwahr, Hesperia 33 (2004), p.357 (at the top of the page). We also learn that it's in the grubby hands of a private collector. The picture below is from this book and easily obtained by pressing your "Print Screen" button on the keyboard and pasting the captured screen image into a graphics program like Adobe Photoshop or the common Windows Paint program. (Go on. Don't be shy. Our right to history logically trumps copyright afterall.)

First, let me explain what we know versus the issues involved in the status quo transcription before arriving at another, perhaps better, hypothesis. To begin with, most of the vocabulary presented in this inscription is now beyond debate:
ecn = 'this' [accusative case]
turce = 'has given' [perfect preterite]
Laris = the praenomen Laris (Roman Lars)
Θefries = the gentilicium Thefarie (Roman Tiberius) [genitive case]
Caθas = 'of (the goddess) Catha' [genitive case]
As stated in the above link to Charis, Bonfante pushes the idea of a divine epithet Ati Catha claimed to mean 'Mother Catha', even though this title is found nowhere else, and Cristofani challenges this by explaining that if this claim were true then ati 'mother' should properly follow, not precede, the name of the deity (as in Cel Ati & Turan Ati). I agree that something is fishy with this 'Mother Catha' business and it smells almost like an airy-fairy, gynocentric myth invented by an overzealous New Age camp rather than a tenable hypothesis based on historical reality. While true that Etruscans revered goddesses as much as gods and appear to have been sexually egalitarian (definitely not matriarchal, but egalitarian at least), we must ask what conclusive fact makes the goddess Catha a 'divine mother'? Mother of what exactly? What basis for this in mythology? One arbitrary translation doesn't make it so and there are other competing interpretations. One might understand espial (which is itself a troubling hapax) to refer to the father of Laris Thefarie, which is the traditional way of naming people in Etruscan inscriptions. Thus we might read "This has given Laris Thefarie, (son) of Espi, to Mother Catha". On the other hand, perhaps espial atial refers to a woman named Atia Espi, perhaps deceased, on behalf of which a gift to Catha is given by Laris, thus: "This has given Laris Thefarie, for Ati Espi, to Catha".

Yet, in Charis, another rather alluring option is explored. Based on the above picture, could it be possible that espial is a faulty transcription for what is to be read estial with the letter tau instead of pi? I have motivation to think that this may be the best answer.

Based on my own research, I notice that elsewhere a word eśta exists. It seems to me that the most sensible translation of this word which works in all contexts is 'gens', 'clan' or 'family' as found in the Cippus Perusinus (eśt-la Afuna-s = 'with (the) family of Apuna'; eśta-c Velθina = 'and (the) family Velthina') and TLE 626 (esta-k = '(the) family also'). Pallottino had claimed that it was a demonstrative but obviously this is just an ad hoc idea based on Latin iste 'that', hardly likely given that Etruscan is conclusively unrelated to Latin, that this value is not born from the textual contexts themselves and that the word behaves more like a noun than a demonstrative based on all that we now know about Etruscan grammar.

With this insight, the suggestion in Charis starts to fly off the page because it then yields a far more credible translation, one that addresses the problems mentioned above while avoiding the controversial 'Mother Catha' epithet altogether. If we read estial instead, giving it the value of 'of the family', then by reinterpreting atial not as 'of the mother' (from ati 'mother') but rather a genitive of the gentilicium Atie, already attested in TLE 105[1], then we may consider this alternative:
Ecn turce Laris θefries estial Atial Caθas.
"This has given Laris Thefarie of the gens of Atie for Catha."

[1] Bonfante/Bonfante, The Etruscan language, rev.ed. (2002), p.172 (see link).

(May 17) Corrected typo at the transcription at the very bottom from espial to estial.


  1. Looking at the photograph, I agree that estial seems to be a better transcription than espial. The vertical part of the p/t is rather short; it seems a part of the t is missing.
    If I understand you well, there is a typo in your last etruscan text.

    (no need to publish this comment)

  2. Pretty interesting and seems persuasive. By the way, did you mean to have "espial" in your alternative rendering?

  3. Stephen C. Carlson: "By the way, did you mean to have 'espial' in your alternative rendering?".
    Eeek! Thanks for noticing the typo. I've changed it to estial. Sorry about the confusion I caused, everyone.

    (I'm also having to fight Blogger's commentbox now. I'm having a bastard of a time dealing with spaces being randomly deleted whenever I use HTML to organize the look of my responses. Why can't people fix things anymore in this globalized hell??? Breathing in, breathing out, hehe.)