BMCR 2011.01.36

Il liber linteus di Zagabria: testualità e contenuto. Biblioteca di “Studi Etruschi” 50

, Il liber linteus di Zagabria: testualità e contenuto. Biblioteca di “Studi Etruschi” 50. Pisa/Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010. 244. ISBN 9788862271943 €295.00 (pb).

Valentina Belfiore’s carefully edited book, dedicated to the Linen Book of Zagreb (henceforth LL), is an important contribution to our understanding of the longest extant Etruscan text, which is preserved on the remains of a linen book, now well-conserved and horizontally exhibited under glass in a special room of the splendid Archaeological Museum of Zagreb. Her approach can be characterized as a primarily linguistic and philological. It summarizes more than a century’s research on words, lexemes (lexical units; roots), strings of words and strophes.

The book consists of an Introduction; Chapter 1: discovery and reconstruction of the text; Ch.2: the text; Ch. 3: palaeography, date and graphic variants; Ch. 4: origin and interpretation of the manuscript; Ch. 5: analysis and comment; and Ch. 6: conclusive considerations. The bibliography is almost up to date. The ‘terminological’ index of the LL refers to all columns (pages) where a certain lexeme is mentioned, and the index of quoted lexemes refers to the discussion in the main text, with italicized page numbers for the most important comments.

Chapter 1 tells us that a Slovene ex-functionary of the Royal Hungarian Chancery at Vienna, Mihail Barić, bought a mummy in Egypt in 1848 or 1849. The text on its linen wrappings was recognized as Etruscan by an Egyptologist, J. Krall, in 1891. It appears that a linen book, probably used as book-scroll, was nicely cut into 11 bands bearing written, inked texts, which originally formed five long strips. Three long strips are missing, one with text and two without, the latter above and under the text. The book, originally measuring c. 340 x 44.4 cm, has 12 text columns and a small empty cover. The text, to be read from right to left apart from some retrograde letters, contains c. 1300 lexemes, which can be reduced to c. 500 different words or roots. Belfiore sketches the history of the book’s reconstruction and of technical research until 1985, when the linen was restored by the Abegg Foundation Berne at Riggisberg (Switzerland).

In Chapter 2, the text of the LL is presented in the most objective way: in fact, only words which are clearly visible. Dots under characters indicate uncertainty of reading. In the margin are alternative readings and restorations suggested by scholars from 1901 onwards. The main difference with the text in H. Rix (ed.), Etruskische Texte. Editio minor (Tübingen 1991), pp. 1-8 is that that many completions, based on parallel texts or repeated formulas in different columns (e.g. column IV and IX), are not integrated in Belfiore’s text, which makes getting an overall picture more difficult. The author has discovered errors in the text of Rix and others, e.g. lustras instead of lustres, unum instead of unuch.

In Chapter 3, Belfiore, using A. Maggiani’s palaeographic research, dates the LL from the end of the third to the second century BC. For Maggiani the terminus ante quem is c. 150 BC (p. 49, n. 4). The text is written by one and the same hand. Based on letter forms and graphic variants the scribe would have done his job in north Etruria, in an area adjacent to a region with a non-Etruscan (Italic) language.

In Chapter 4 the author explains that the linen book may already have been transported to Egypt, for example to Alexandria, in the last centuries BC. She characterizes the LL as a ritual calendar. As for the understanding of rituals she follows K. Olzscha, who hypothesized a successive invocatio (invocation), placatio (propitiation), oblatio (offering), postulatio (questioning), and acceptatio (acceptation by a god). Aisna may be the Etruscan word for (a) ritual (see p. 136).

Chapter 5 (pp. 65-196) is the core of the book, the text analysis. Each paragraph deals with one column; only columns I and II, and columns VIII and IX are taken together. It should be recalled, however, that columns usually do not coincide with one specific month. For each lexeme Belfiore repeats the interpretation of many scholars, from 1892 onwards, adding her own preference, her new interpretation, leaving something open or confessing a non liquet. Once a word or string is dealt with, it is not repeated. Unfortunately Belfiore often refers to a comment far later in the chapter. A positive point is that large pieces of text, sometimes strophes, are commented upon, word by word, although there is rarely an evaluation of one column or a long passage. Belfiore offers few translations of her own, but she does give some new, convincing interpretations. For example pethereni probably means ‘again; anew’ (p. 164).

In Chapter 6 Belfiore concludes that the text is both liturgical and prescriptive. She rightly states that bilinguistic research has its limits. No Etruscan word string is completely identical to a text on one of the seven, probably contemporary, Umbrian Tabulae Iguvinae, the Bronze Tables of Gubbio. The author presumes that the ritual year of the LL had twelve months, although only two names of months can be identified with certainty: Etr. acale means ‘in June’ and Etr. celi ‘in September’. As for the production place of the LL and its text Belfiore remains in dubio. If the words methlumeric enas (see below) do not refer to the name of a city but rather mean ‘and for the city of whomsoever’, as proposed by E. Benelli, the LL was destined to be used in different cities. If, however, the words unialti ursmnal (‘in (the area of) Uni/Iuno of the gens Orsminnia ’) in column XII.10 refer to a sanctuary in Chiusi, as A. Maggiani suggests, the text may have been written and used there. It should be noticed, however, that the name Urs(u)mna(s) also occurs elsewhere in Etruria. In addition, there are far more pointers to Perugia than to Chiusi. Belfiore’s statement that ‘her analysis raises more questions than could be answered’ is true. Inscriptions from future excavations will hopefully shed light upon many unsolved problems.

Because the LL text and Belfiore’s comment are very complicated, readers should know (academic) Italian, Greek, Latin, Umbrian and German. Many translations are in those languages. In view of the terminological jargon (e.g. pertinentive, injunctive) one has to use H. Rix’ grammar of Etruscan in M. Cristofani (ed.), Die Etrusker (Stuttgart 1985), pp. 210-238 or R. E. Wallace, Zikh Rasna: A Manual of the Etruscan Language and Inscriptions (Ann Arbor/New York 2008). Belfiore presumes that readers already know words like acil, farthan, hamphi – the meaning of which are certain (p. 13, n. 4). These words are under-evaluated in her analysis. For example, farthan means ‘procreator’ (Latin genius). So the question arises whether farthan is one and the same father of the main gods, aiser seu, flere in crapsti and flere nethunsl, or refers to three different fathers.

Belfiore does not state which methods she uses. Countless, however, are her references to the Iguvine Tables. What she calls a bilinguistic comparison between Etruscan and Umbrian ritual texts is in fact a bicultural approach. Indeed, there are translations of Umbrian texts, but they are different because of interpretive problems.1 The LL text may show Umbrian influences if we compare Etr. crap (cf. flere in crapsti : ‘the numen that is in (the area of) crap ’) with the Umbrian adjective Grabovius, epithet of three gods who were worshipped outside the city gates of Gubbio. It looks very likely that the Etruscan lexeme cletram is identical to Umbrian kletram (accusative of kletra). It may mean ‘litter’. More often loan words in Etruscan are accusatives without declension. Nevertheless Belfiore, unfortunately, due to her over-interpretation of two misspelled words, cntram and cltral, divides cletram into a demonstrative pronoun cle – and a flexible, non-existent suffix in postposition (- tram) (p. 92). As cletram, however, is followed by the plural or adjective srenchve, locative of * srenchva, which means ‘images’ or ‘decorated’, the locative suffix would have been – tre (< * - trai). Interestingly, only the main gods, mentioned above, are associated with cletram.

It is understandable that Belfiore pays, in a meticulous and eloquent way, much tribute to ideas of former scholars, especially of K. Olzscha, but the consequence is that the text is very redundant. She mentions too many superfluous, out-of-date, fantastic interpretations. To give an example: nowadays, it is almost certain that * thuc(h) – means ‘house’ or ‘room’. Therefore Pallottino’s comparison with Gr. Thuios is incorrect and need not be repeated (pp. 154-155). In addition, many commentators writing before 1991 did not or could not know the almost correct version of the whole LL text as offered by H. Rix.

The evaluation of religious aspects is not exhaustive. A frequent formula reads: sacnicleri cilthl spureri methlumeric enas (‘for the sacnica of the citadel, for the city community and for the city of ena ’). Belfiore analyses all lexemes with the root sac – concluding that it means ‘sacred’. Rix translates sacnica with ‘priesthood; fraternity’ and others with ‘sanctuary’. Belfiore neither accepts nor rejects these options. As e.g. * hanipalusca in a well-known inscription means ‘people of Hannibal’, the first option is most likely. In addition, the Iguvine Table III.23 mentions a ritual ‘for brethren’ ( fratrusper). Belfiore holds that aiser (‘gods’) and tin in sarle (‘Tin who (is) in the tenth’) are celestial and that flere in crapsti and nethuns are Underworld-gods (p. 195). However, column V.10 mentions eiser sic seuc (‘gods both si and seu ’) and V.19-20 thesan tins thesan eiseras seus, which may be translated as ‘Aurora of Tin/Day(light) (and) Aurora of the seu gods (consequently gods of the darkness)’. So we may conclude that the eiser si are positive, light-deities and the eiser seu negative, night-deities. Because many words have a funerary connotation, the question remains whether the calendar was only used at funerary occasions. Olzscha’s hypothetical sequence of rites is not evaluated in the conclusion. From the analytical chapter, however, it appears that the imperative trin (‘speak!’) is an invocation and sin (‘accept!’) an invitation to accept. What was offered to a deity ( oblatio) depended on his or her function (p. 194).

Another problem is Belfiore’s analysis of words which mention realia. For example, following G. Colonna’s hypothesis she interprets the word thapna as derived from Gr. dapane, which means ‘(prestigious) expense’ (p. 172). Thapna, however, is usually a name on dishes, cups, chalices and bowls so that it indicates only its form or function but not its price. When Greek vase names are used in Etruscan (e.g. Etr. ulpaia from Gr. olpa), real names but no abstract concepts are loaned. Following many scholars Belfiore translates one of the offerings, fase, with ‘food’, ‘bread’ or ‘flour’. This is impossible, as an askos from Spina (p. 177 n. 5) bears the vase name fasena. So it was obviously destined for a liquid, probably oil, but not for food.

To conclude. Belfiore has written a thorough book, which should be studied ad fundum. It would have been more readable if she had focused only on serious research of the past few decades. A positive point is that there are very few printing errors. There are, however, inconsistencies. E.g. the numeral huth means 6 on p. 60 and 4 on p. 183. The non-Greek, Tyrrhenian or Pelasgan place name Hyttenia (Greek Tetrapolis (‘Four-city’) in Attica), however, points to the latter option. Thesan means ‘morning’ (passim) but ‘day’ on p. 149. Belfiore’s book should be consulted in combination with another, very recent, illustrated book on the LL, which pays more attention to methodological, archaeological, cultural, and religious aspects.2 A comparison between the two books with their many congruencies, differences and mistakes will show that linguists and archaeologists should cooperate to a greater extent in order to understand Etruscan texts.


1.. See now M. Weiss, Language and Ritual in Sabellic Italy. The Ritual Complex of the Third and Fourth Tabulae Iguvinae. Leiden/Boston, 2010.

2.. L.B. van der Meer, Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis. The Linen Book of Zagreb. A Comment on the Longest Etruscan Text (Monographs on Antiquity, 4). Louvain/Dudley, MA, 2007. It was reviewed by Dr. Jean MacIntosh Turfa, BMCR 2008.05.37.