15 Jan 2012

Explaining away "tlusc arc"

A commenter reminded me of some unresolved issues regarding tlusc arc, written on the Liver of Piacenza artifact. The inscription in question can be seen inside the blue box in the picture above. To get to properly solving this inscription, we must overcome a few lazy misanalyses that still stifle any progress in the field. First, there's the persistent misanalysis of Tluschva as a "plurality of gods", even though the suffix -cva is already well-known to be grammatically inanimate (see Paleoglot: The nonsense about the Etruscan god Tluschva). The second problem is the whimsical misreading of *tlusc mar instead of reading it simply with respect to a single direction of writing as tlusc arc (see Paleoglot: The "Tlusc Mar" reading error on the Piacenza Liver). In search of a legitimate explanation of this elusive deity that specialists fail to offer, I've come to my own conclusions that Tluscva must be the Etruscan sea god, like Roman Neptune or Greek Poseidon. His name then likely means "Depths" and his positional opposition to Tinia, the highest of all gods in the pantheon, on the outer rim of the same artifact solidifies this interpretation.

Given this new analysis however, we're still left wondering what tlusc arc could refer to. We can see that the first element of the epithet is abbreviated for the full name Tlusχva (as shown on another inscription). Is the second word abbreviated in this cramped space as well? I suspect so. Arcumna and Arcmsna appear to be the only plausible comparisons we can make in the available Etruscan lexicon to date but this in itself tells neither what the epithet should mean nor the names.

Not accepting a dead end, I extended my search further, finding Latin arcus 'bow' in the process. The received wisdom among Indo-Europeanists is that the Latin term must stem from PIE *h₂érkʷo-. However this is one of many roots listed by IEists that fall on tenuous evidence. It could just as well be yet another substrate word passed off as a valid IE term. The compared Germanic neuter *arhwō 'arrow' doesn't entirely match the formation seen in Latin and a purely Germano-Italic term does not make for a strongly argued IE root. This naturally leads those like Donald Ringe to concede doubt of its thinly accepted IE origin and this naturally in turn makes me wonder if an Etrusco-Rhaetic word is at the heart of it.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that Arcumna and Arcmsna are built on a word *arcam 'bow' (later *arcum*arcm due to syncope). The Germanic word in *-ō then would be a reflex of Old Etruscan /-əm/ in *arcam presuming that the word was borrowed (perhaps through the Veneti) before Grimm's Law had occurred, sometime in the early 1st millennium BCE. The trading of bows and arrows between the Etrusco-Rhaetic population and northern Italian peoples would be historically expected and natural (particularly if we assume an Adriatic point-of-entry of Etrusco-Rhaetic people from the River Po). The above two names would then mean "Of the bow" and "Of the archer" respectively (if *arcamis = 'archer' with agent suffix -is). Coming back to tlusc arc, we might fill this out as *Tlusχval Arcam "The bow of Tluschva". Granted, my idea is cursed with little evidence either way but it's worth a try, if anything, because it will inspire others to come up with something better.

But what then would "The bow of Tluschva" refer to, if so? Latin arcus, aside from meaning simply 'bow', has a secondary meaning of 'rainbow' as in pluvius arcus 'rainbow' or literally 'bow of rain'. Even in French we say arc-en-ciel for 'rainbow', literally 'bow-in-sky' and other Romance languages have similar phrases. Perhaps there's a connection. Or perhaps not. However, the inscription's presence in the celestial zone should be noted. Additionally, according to Hesiod's Theogony, the goddess of the rainbow Iris is the daughter of Thaumas, a sea deity. The other daughter of Thaumas, twin sister of Iris, was coincidently named Arke. If this is all innocent coincidence, we have to agree that it's an interesting one to ponder over.


  1. Nominally, a closer comparison to Tlusχva might be the Sumerian "Abzu" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abzu ), the watery abyss.

  2. Yes, in name only, since the function of Abzu seems more parallel to Etruscan Nethuns, the god of in-land streams, rivers, etc. A similar use of "deeps" for the seas and ocean is found in other classical languages: Hebrew תְּהוֹם (tehóm) and Greek ἄβυσσος (ábussos).

  3. That's a very nice comparison you found in the Theogony.

    On an only marginally related note, Berber has some really weird words for 'rainbow' which I bet you'll find interesting:

    In Middle Atlas Berber we find:

    tiselit-n-uneẓar Literally wife-GEN-rain 'wife of the rain', which is a lovely expression, but not that weird.

    But another expression is:

    tamġera-n-wuššen which translates to 'marriage of the Jackal'.

    There must be some pre-islamic animalistic beliefs behind this expression, but sadly, we have no idea what they are.

    (it seems like your reply box doesn't allow HTML anymore?)

  4. Well then, part of my 2012 resolution must be to learn more about Berber mythology.

    PhoeniX: "(it seems like your reply box doesn't allow HTML anymore?)"

    Nope, I just used HTML tags to embolden your quote. I suspect you were using tags that weren't accepted by Blogger's comment box. Note that it only accepts a very limited set of them. I'm not exactly completely happy with Blogger's handling of the comment box, to be frank, but alas I must endure until I build something of my own. :o(