Friday, 4 June 2010

Where are the Etruscans now?

Non se no sono

Nor strictly true, of course, they must be there biologically, well mixed into gene pools across Tuscany, Umbria and other parts of italy. But their language, their culture, their civilisatiion, such things as constituted their particular humanity, have vanished without a trace.

When I was young I read Mika Waltari's The Etruscan, not as good as The Egyptian but still pretty good. It lost out of course because The Egyptian was rooted in hunan history and the history of ideas. The Etruscan, he had to make up! Good enough all the same for me to have kept an eye out over more than half a century to see when we might know any more of Tuscan civilisation.

So yesterday it was off to Volterra, a huge Etruscan city before the Romans came, to see what's now what.

It seems that we are none the much wiser than fifty years ago. In the Museo Archeologica in Volterra there are six-hundred of those haunting, iconic little seplulchers. 

Archeology can take you so far, in this case to an overdose of little sepuchers with one-third-scale effigies on top, lolling at their eternal ease with their stoney, stolid, steretyped stares (sorry about the alliteration, it just happened!). Add to this a valise-full of funny little metal figures, a lot of pots and a few other things, and what do we know of human value? Not a lot. In fact, nothing.

Archeology is not history. There can be no history without the word. Without the Etruscan language, we can know nothing of their culture, their civilisation, and their humanity.

They were not the first civilisation to vanish without a trace, they have not been the last, and many others will also go the way of all flesh (whatever the DNA does!).

Heavy handed this, perhaps, but an analogy that came to me vividly in the Volterran rain.

Don't forget the Vampires

As any teenage girl in the English-speaking world will tell you, there is more that's dead in Volterra, strictly speaking 'undead', than the poor old Etruscans.

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