6 Apr 2011

What is that Tages looking at?

The explanation of this mirror is always the same among Etruscanists and consistently comprised of the following elements:
  • Pava Tarχies is assumed to mean 'Child of Tages' (cf. Latin puer 'child' and Tages).
  • Veltune is assumed to be Roman Vertumnus, god of seasons and change.
  • Tages is assumed to be teaching Aule of Tarchon (Avl Tarχunus) the art of haruspicial divination.
  • The woman marked by Ucernei is a mystery.
  • Raθlθ is another head-scratcher.
First, I will not accept the value of pava as 'child' based only on these idle look-alikes with an unrelated language like Latin. This is unmethodological. I take pava to mean instead 'prophecy' or 'divination' and thus 'The Prophecy of Tarchiie'. This fits much better with context and grammar. Note that Tarχies ends in the type-I genitive ending and so it can only ever mean 'X of Tarchiie', whatever value we decide to give pava. Certainly then, the phrase neither means 'Child Tages' nor 'Child of Tages' which both conflict with context and/or grammar. So clearly this hypothesis is already suspicious.

Second, how are we certain (aside from depending on more idle phonetic look-alikes) that Tarχies refers somehow to 'Tages'? Another hypothesis based on the much frowned-upon eyeballing technique, hmm? How to explain the missing 'r' then in the reported Roman name?

Lastly, it annoys me that despite describing the mirror repeatedly over the decades, all authors I've read insist on leaving the overall meaning of this mirror an unexplained mystery without bravely asking new questions or providing new interpretations. If the same unproven assumptions are repeated over and over without progress (as among Jean-René Jannot, Nancy De Grummond and Suzanne Rasmussen), maybe we're not asking enough questions.

Quite honestly I remain a little confused about this mirror myself but I have questions that I don't see anyone addressing so I'll just throw out some ideas I've been pondering on recently:
  • What do the two nude male deities represent? They seem almost to suggest opposites: one young, the other mature; one on the left, the other to the right; one is attached to Apollonian icons (eg. laurel), the other to Martial ones (eg. spear). Are they the "young sun" (beginning of the year) versus the "old sun" (end of the year)? Are they Jove versus Anti-Jove (Veiovis)? Peace and War? North and south?

  • Is the haruspex looking at something more specific than just the liver as a whole? I've been noticing that he's looking at a specific region of the liver more closely. Perhaps he spies the pyramid region displayed prominently on one side of the Piacenza Liver. Do the prophecies from this particular region of the liver suggest a more specific kind of prophecy such as the future of a city and its ruler?

  • Is the sun rising in the east or setting in the west? How can we determine the orientation of this scene knowing that Etruscans considered the proper orientation of cardinal directions important to their rites? Is this a specific rite meant to convey something specific? Does it need to be performed at a certain point of day for a symbolic reason?


  1. Two questions come to mind.

    The winged god at the bottom: Is this the Etruscan equivalent of Atlas, holding up the world?

    The god(dess) with the four horses: Is this the Etruscan equivalent of Apollo, driving the solar chariot? Or, since the sun itself is depicted, could it be the sky god?

  2. It seems to me that this mirror shows the same tripartite division seen in a couple of other Etruscan mirrors I've talked about.

    Given this, the chariot-driving god above is the anthropomorphized Sun (and there would be no point for the empty sky to have a chariot since it doesn't really "move" anywhere like the sun does). The chariot is a symbol of the sun's swiftness across the sky since horses were appreciated for their speed. Compare with images of Greek Helios. The god on the bottom is then representative of the underworld somehow.

    If I were now to match these gods with names, I might identify the sun god above as Tinia and I'd label the god below as Tluschva, god of the depths. This then would convey the vertical extremities of the Etruscan cosmos.

    Building from there, do Rathlth and Veltune represent similar extremities of the cosmos somehow? I'm not sure, but then again, is anyone in this field?

  3. "Tarχies ends in the type-I genitive ending and so it can only ever mean 'X of Tarchiie'"

    Let me see if I got this right: there's a difference in meaning between type-I and type-II genitive?

  4. No, 'type-I' and 'type-II' simply refer to two distinct patterns in case endings (see Lingua Files:Etrusco-Lemnian declension [pdf]). Tarχies is the s-genitive of a name *Tarχie (ending in the popular name formant -ie). If it were type-II, the genitive would have been **Tarχial.

    Regardless of type and despite these two very different genitive endings, the meaning of the case stays the name: to indicate origin, belonging or recipient.

  5. 1. On the top we see a head with a halo clearly referring to the sun. The four horses then probably refer to the four seasons.

    2. In my opinion "Pava Tarχies" doesn't mean "child of Tages" but "Little Tages". I think originally "pava" or "puer" means "little" as people would simply call children "little ones" thus the confusion later. Futhermore this title emphasizes the contradictory attributes of Tagès as he is known to be both little (like a child) AND wise (like a elder). I came to this from an area of study totally unrelated to linguistic or archeology which I can't explain right now but I think I have strong elements to support this (and tie it all back to the prophecy aspect). Please advise if this interpretation makes sense.
    Good day!

  6. Sidney, I don't see how that changes anything because you're still appealing to Latin-affected translation wholly on a conviction that Latin must be appealed to at all when Etruscan and Latin are decisively unrelated.

    I think it should be recalled that many of these alleged Latin-Etruscan "cognates" are holdovers from the Victorian Age when some of the more naive of Etruscan specialists still entertained the possibility that Etruscan was an Italic idiom of the Indo-European language. Now stripped of this basis, your Latin red herring falls short, particularly if you cannot reasonably address the *full* context of the word in other inscriptions.

    The word is also found in the Tabula Cortonensis, where pava acts clearly as a noun in a list of offerings: pes Petrus, pava-c, traula-c which I am reading as "food for Petru, a prophecy and a libation" which just maybe could be built on an analogy between the types of offerings and the elements of the cosmos for which one gives thanks (ie. food = blessings of earth, prophecies = blessings of sky, libations = blessings of water). One can certainly debate my translations but the nouny-ness of this word is hard to squirm out of given these grammatical grounds, if not semantic as well. (For amusement, we can compare what I suggest with Bonfante's fragmented and meaningless translation of the same sequence as "the pes of Petrus, and the boy and the traula".)

  7. Wow! Thank you for these further explanations and for your patience as my propositions really seem to come out of nowhere.

    As I said, I do not rely on linguistic and I understand the roots of the Etruscan language differ from indo-european languages. Innocently I wasn't troubled by the pava/puer parallel because I know that the Etruscan culture strongly influenced the romans in all kinds of ways and I focus on the mythology reported by Latin authors.

    I'm just fascinated by the figure of "Tages" so I'm going to search more seriously and hopefully come up with more concrete stuff. Also I read your article about trolls so thanks for not deleting my post ;)

    By the way if you have french references that I can study about this subject I thank you in advance.

  8. I trust that your search has already started with a trip to Google France with some keyword search like "Tagès" or, better yet, "pdf Tagès étrusque". I like searching with the "pdf" keyword to more easily find academic articles which tend to be presented in pdf format using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

    Unfortunately I can think of no references in whatever language that I could truly recommend to you on the god "Tages" without cringing a little at the lack of intelligent insight regarding his place in the Etruscan pantheon and his function. I advise others to be daring enough to question the assumed Tages-Tarchon connection, another whimsical Victorianism in my view.

    What is not understood enough, I believe, is that Tages is fundamentally the generic god of the seasons that we've seen elsewhere in other religions and cultures across the Mediterranean. While the Etruscan mythos has some genuinely unique features, it nonetheless did not arise out of nowhere. It emerges from the context of a common Mediterranean religious foundation historically uniting Southern Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. This common tradition of faith was the natural result of across-the-sea trade.

    Tages finds similarity in Hattic Telepinu, in Babylonian Tammuz, in Sumerian Dumu Zid and in Egyptian Ptah. One could even argue for parallels between this cyclically-dying "god of the seasons" and the later worship of Jesus in the Levant, a tale ironically replete with pagan symbolisms likely recognizable to an Etruscan. These broader connections can enrich your search.

    Best of luck! :o)

  9. Oh also, on Google France, you can go specifically under Livres to search for French book references and to see small samples of text. This can be helpful to find good research leads. Here is a ready-made book search with the keywords Tagès étrusque: click here.