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Author Topic: Etruscan Deities and Mythology  (Read 2273 times)

Fier

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Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« on: September 05, 2011, 01:34:33 pm »
I'm wondering if anyone here works with any Etruscan deities or knows of any good resources on them.

My current understanding is that not much is know about the Etruscans, as we can't quite understand their language. Most of what is known about their mythology comes from tombs and mirror-backs.

It seems that half of their deities have parallels with Roman and Greek gods (Menrva : Minerva, Aplu : Apollo, Turan : Venus), while the other half have no parallel.

Here are a few websites I've found so far:
http://www.timelessmyths.com/classical/etruscan.html
http://www.purplehell.com/riddletools/egods.htm
http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/etruscan.html
http://www.maravot.com/
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Jenett

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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2011, 05:04:03 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;18006

My current understanding is that not much is know about the Etruscans, as we can't quite understand their language. Most of what is known about their mythology comes from tombs and mirror-backs.


I spent a summer working on an Etruscan dig in college: they're a fascinating civilsation, though my basic take on them is "If you made up a society like this in a fantasy novel, everyone would criticise your worldbuilding, and rightly so."

Enormously sophisticated engineering for the era (including draining swamps, creating substantial irrigation and water management projects), amazingly detailed jewelry work - and yet the actual houses were incredibly basic (wattle and daub), the writing system looks like something a kid wanting to create a secret alphabet would make up (the letters are not easy to write, particularly, and most of the script we have looks like it's stuff people didn't use widely.) And then amazing tomb paintings and carving work.

I wasn't Pagan at the time, so I was not hugely tracking the deity stuff - but basically, yeah, your summary is right, that some of them passed into Roman practice, but a lot of them, we don't know a whole lot about - just some very basic iconography.

My own impression is that while there's certainly some cognates, most of the sources I've seen that aren't heavily rooted in the archological record tend to over-associate (there's lots of ways to be a queen of the underworld that are not necessarily Persephone, after all, that kind of thing.) I've also got to say that the feel of the sacred spaces I've been in that were Etruscan also felt quite different than either Greek or Roman.

The other thing I find fascinating about them - and this is something it's easy to see for yourself - is that where Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art and sculpture is often a lot about balance (and often, very controlled gesture), Etruscan art is often deliberately imbalanced. (You can see lines of this continue through Roman sculpture, if you know how various artists were influenced). It's clearly a very different way of looking at the world, but it's hard to tell what *they* thought about it, because we don't have much writing to work with.
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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2011, 09:38:53 am »
Quote from: Jenett;18057
the writing system looks like something a kid wanting to create a secret alphabet would make up (the letters are not easy to write, particularly, and most of the script we have looks like it's stuff people didn't use widely.)

Ugh. Just trying to read the names of the characters on the mirrors is a headache. Most of the time they are written from right to left, but every once in awhile they switch it up.

Quote
My own impression is that while there's certainly some cognates, most of the sources I've seen that aren't heavily rooted in the archological record tend to over-associate

Yes, most of the reading I've done so far looks to Greek myth to interpret Estruscan art. Certainly there are similar stories - the Judgement of Paris is featured on one mirror-back, while another shows Helen shaking hands with Agamemnon with Menelaus between them - but then the author begins to interpret those pictures by bringing in Greek stories of characters who aren't depicted on any Estruscan art.

Quote
The other thing I find fascinating about them - and this is something it's easy to see for yourself - is that where Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art and sculpture is often a lot about balance (and often, very controlled gesture), Etruscan art is often deliberately imbalanced.

Can you explain this a little further? Do you mean imbalanced in the proportions of the figures, or something else? I can think of one Roman relief where the size of the figures is proportional to their importance in the particular ritual it depicts.
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Jenett

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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2011, 05:11:04 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;18183
Ugh. Just trying to read the names of the characters on the mirrors is a headache. Most of the time they are written from right to left, but every once in awhile they switch it up.


Yeah. It's just not a script style for people who write a lot, y'know? There's none of the little things that make writing longer texts easier that creep into alphabets over time.

Quote

Can you explain this a little further? Do you mean imbalanced in the proportions of the figures, or something else? I can think of one Roman relief where the size of the figures is proportional to their importance in the particular ritual it depicts.

 
A little more basic than that - look at the actual positions the figures are in. The best way I have to describe it is that many things look like they're caught in a moment of motion - if you were playing one of those 'stop and freeze' kids games, people would fall over. Comparatively, the Greeks and Romans are more static: if you froze them in an instant, they'd still be relatively stable (weight on both feet, or balanced on one, that kind of thing.)

One example, from the Met, is this amber carving. Or this urn.
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Caroline

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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2011, 06:10:02 pm »
Quote from: FierFlye;18006

My current understanding is that not much is know about the Etruscans, as we can't quite understand their language. Most of what is known about their mythology comes from tombs and mirror-backs.

 
Yup. It is always difficult, if not impossible, to discern what a culture thought and believed simply from the material culture, and I certainly agree with Jenett that there's a lot of over-association going on.

Greek contact and influence on the Etruscans was early - 8th & 7thC BCE, especially in terms of artistic expression from the 7th on (so much so that Greek terms re generally used to describe the development - Orientalizing, Archaic, Classical etc), but early on there was a heavy Phoenician influence as well. It certainly seems to have been a selective adaptation, with outer Greek forms being applied to Etruscan subjects. Especially in regards to deities, who were only anthropomorphized in the early 6thC.

I see a parallel methodology to the way the Etruscans adopted their script. Etruscan is an isolated non-IE language. As the Greeks adapted their alphabet from the Phoenicians, the Etruscans adopted the Greek, dropping and adding to make it serve their purposes. So just as we know the alphabet and can read inscriptions, but not understand the language, when we see artistic depictions of deity we can see borrowed imagery but there is no assurance that the symbology is the same.

The best book (excellent scholarly papers, fabulous art) on the Etruscans I know of is this: http://www.worldcat.org/title/etruscans/oclc/223325277

Fier

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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2011, 08:35:22 pm »
Quote from: Jenett;18244

A little more basic than that - look at the actual positions the figures are in. The best way I have to describe it is that many things look like they're caught in a moment of motion - if you were playing one of those 'stop and freeze' kids games, people would fall over.

 
Ah, gotcha. Yes, a lot of movement. Less 'stiff' than Roman art.
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Fier

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Re: Etruscan Deities and Mythology
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2011, 08:36:20 pm »
Quote from: Caroline;18265

The best book (excellent scholarly papers, fabulous art) on the Etruscans I know of is this: http://www.worldcat.org/title/etruscans/oclc/223325277

 
My university library has it! Thank you!
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