Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1.2.2


Larissa Bonfante, Etruscan. Reading the Past, 8. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press/British Museum, 1990. Pp. 64. ISBN 0-520-07118-2.


Reviewed by H.M. Hoenigswald, University of Pennsylvania

This etruscheria is a recent addition to the series "Reading the Past", so far devoted to scripts and other sign systems from Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean world, and Central America, and nothing short of delightful in style and appearance. The present monograph goes a little beyond the expected fundamental pattern. The Introduction is pleasantly general with its historical and archaeological orientation; chapters on Writing Materials and Methods, and on Etruscan Inscriptions as Historical Evidence make good sense; and the final chapter on the Oscan Agnone tablet is sheer lagniappe, though one wonders why this non-Etruscan object is included here, in Vittore Pisani's treatment and with his Latin translation as well as with what seems to be B.'s own English one. The illustrations are particularly welcome because they include items which are not so easily come by in such fine quality; mirrors, gems, and coins profit the most.

The author deserves great praise for her way of selecting and presenting the inscriptions. Oversights in transcription are insignificant. Readers who have acquired some reading skill from this book will discover for themselves that the photograph showing the dedication on the Vulci rhyton, #3l, is upside down. On the other hand, thanks are in order for tacit corrections, as when the name on the mirror TLE2 749 is now properly given as (th)ancvilus (not tancvilus). [e-note: i.e., as beginning with a theta, not a t.]

Comment on matters alphabetic and phonological is not as successful. Omega and upsilon have nothing to do with the Phoenicians, nor is it easy to see how "we owe the sound f to the Etruscans" (15) or in what sense "pronunciation was harsh" (18); so-called syllabic punctuation does not "separate" syllables (17); vowel quantity there may well have been, considering the differential resistance to vowel loss and the fact that Latin renderings of vowels in Etruscan names and words are neither uniform nor random in length (18); the statement that such vowel loss was compensated for by "nasal liquids (the 'l' in Atlnta ['Atlanta'] ... like the final syllable of ... 'castle')" (17) will puzzle anyone. The Oscan inventions <í> and <ú> did not "indicate the long vowels" (53).

The attempts at interpreting the texts and their languages are commendably cautious. For the Etruscan numerals, in fact, our reliance on the Tuscania dice (22) is no longer as great as it was, since (as we are told elsewhere [28]) ci "3" made its appearance on the Tusco-Phoenician quasi-bilingual from Pyrgi. The Monumentum Ancyranum is, however, not merely a "Greek translation" of Augustus' testament (25). The statement that personal names have gender (19) can only mean, in the absence of concord, that their shape frequently gives them away as male or female; even that does not go far as B.'s examples make clear. As for Italic, Latin has lost and replaced the Indo-European word for "daughter" retained in Oscan futír, E. daughter, G. thugatêr and indeed elsewhere. But these retentions are no signs of a special relationship (53), though there are other words which do look intriguingly like shared innovations exclusive of Latin.