28 Mar 2010

Is Etruscan muifu even a word?

Looking at TLE 228 (aka ET Vs 7.10), I'm seriously questioning the validity of the transliteration commonly given. The word muifu is a hapax and, in my view, doesn't even look like a properly shaped word. I suppose it's a form like CuiCV that throws me off since I see it nowhere else in my database. However, there's another reason and this is why it's handy to have a notepad to doodle in if you like geeking out like me on ancient languages.

When I write out muifu in Etruscan letters I can't help but think that there's a subtle misspelling going on. There's often room for interpretation in poorly preserved inscriptions, especially when authors don't endeavor to show pictures of the inscriptions they're talking about because an artifact was stolen or due to obstructive copyright issues (which is, as always, very frustrating to me). What look like upsilons to some may be lambdas to others. The comparison below is between the actual transcription (as per Helmut Rix, for example) with the implied letter forms in Etruscan and an alternative suggestion that I'm contemplating.

By changing two letters, we can see how things could have been misinterpreted: an original lambda may look like an upsilon, an original theta may look like an Etruscan ef. Furthermore, the benefit of presuming mliθu instead of muifu lies in another Tomb of Golini inscription, TLE 221, where we already find mliθuns. In that case, mliθu and mliθuns would merely be two declensional forms of the same word and we'd no longer have an irritating hapax of mystery hampering our translation efforts.


  1. I always feel copyrights were never meant for things like this.

    Copyrights should never hamper science. That's ridiculous. And also, sadly, the real world.

    I find the idea convincing, but of course, without photo's nothing can be made certain.

  2. In this particular case, the paintings of Tomb of Golini I were taken away and imprisoned in the Museo Archaeologico in Florence.

  3. Glen Gordon said:
    ...and, in my view, doesn't even look like a properly shaped word...

    Why is this your view, Glen?

    I thought the same when I saw
    but I have seen this word in the
    Liber linteus.

    Let's hope that someday we will find a picture of this *mlithu.

  4. I don't think of "ui" as a genuine diphthong in Etruscan. It seems to be historically two syllables. When taking into account Syncope and P-Lenition, a form like muifu would imply earlier *muiapu. Completely unanalyzable and thus, if not bogus, certainly foreign just like its most direct comparison, Φuipa 'Phoibe', loaned from Doric Φοίβα. At least with snuiuφ, I can analyse it as snuia (nb. snua [LL 6.vi]) plus comparative ending .

    However, as I said, mliθuns is already found elsewhere in the same tomb and the difference in strokes between muifu and mliθu, as I've already displayed above, is too minimal to not consider the possibility at least.