Copyright 1996 by H. T. Bryer
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Dr. Edgar Polome Letter
Druids and Etruscan Priests
The question of Etruscan origins has vexed investigators for more than two thousand years. Linguists have sifted through the languages of the world searching for clues to unravel the mystery of this enigmatic people and their perplexing language, but to date no clear relationship has been shown to exist between the Etruscan language and any other known language. As a result the etymological method of studying Etruscan which has given little in the way of positive results has been in disrepute with serious scholars for more than a century.
The progress which has been made in understanding the Etruscan vocabulary has come from a combination of methods. These include careful studies of bilingual inscriptions, analysis of Etruscan or reputed Etruscan words found in ancient Latin and Greek glosses, the archaeological context of the inscriptions, internal evidence, and comparisons of Etruscan text formulas with that of other ancient languages.
Although Etruscan is an unknown language in the sense that it cannot be assigned to any language family, it is not an undeciphered language. Etruscan is written in an archaic Greek alphabet and can be read phonetically with little difficulty. Using a combination of methods with slow and steady progress Etruscologists have come to understand much of the Etruscan grammar and the fairly certain meanings of more than two hundred words.
Using the Etruscan vocabularies contained in Massimo Pallottino's The Etruscans 1975, and Larissa Bonfante's Etruscan, 1990, as a basis for reliable comparison I will demonstrate the possibility that Etruscan is a cryptolect which was ingeniously devised by the Etruscan priestly and ruling castes whose primary language and culture was decidedly Italic. Like their cousins the Celtic Druids (who possessed a cryptic speech called Ogham) the Etruscan Haruspices framed their secret language for both religious and secular reasons.
The mention of Etruscan in connection with arbitrarily contrived speeches, cants, jargons etc. may sound far fetched, Etruscan is an ancient language whereas the notices of cant and other secret languages are of more recent occurance, with one exception and this is Shelta, the language of the Irish Travelers or Tinker clans. Shelta is a cant or arbitrarily contrived speech which the eminent Gaelic scholar Kuno Meyer believed to have been at one time the possession of the Filid or ancient poets of Ireland, and to be the same as the cryptic speech called Ogham. In his article, On The Irish Origin and Age of Shelta, Journal of The Gypsy Lore Society, Vol.2, no.5, pp.257-66. Meyer stated that Shelta is mainly a systematic perversion of the pre-aspirated Gaelic spoken in Ireland anterior to the eleventh century, that in Irish manuscripts there were mentions and records of it under various names and, that though now confined to tinkers, its knowledge was once possessed by Irish poets and scholars, who, probably were its original framers. Kuno Meyer goes on to describe the processes by which Shelta words were fabricated from the Irish ones, and it is with these same processes applied to Latin words that we will begin to understand how Etruscan words were formed.
In Shelta the Caird's Language , reprinted from the transactions of the Gaelic Society, Inverness, 1899-1901, David Macritchie, and F.S.A. Scot combine the researches of Kuno Meyer, and several other scholars with their own to throw light on the construction of Shelta:
Using the simplest method of disguising words, that of spelling or pronouncing certain Etruscan words backwards some interesting results can be obtained by using Latin and in a few cases Greek to explain word formation. We must keep in mind that Etruscan possessed only the voiceless stops k, t, and p, they changed the letters g, d, and b when these appeared in Greek, Latin, or Umbrian.
To begin with, it is almost certain that form(a) (form) came into Latin via Etruscan from Greek morph(e) (form); a perfect example of Etruscans reversing a borrowed word before adding it to their own vocabulary in order to disquise its meaning. from the uninitiated. In a similar case the Latin word for lead plumbum (of unknown origin), seems to have been derived from the Greek word for lead, molubdos , Latin plum(b) is the phonetic reverse of Greek molub(d), (Gk. b = Etr. p) .
Etruscan spur (city) is practically the phonetic reverse of Lat. urbs (city) interestingly the Etruscan quarter of Rome was called Subura. As Lat. urbs is of obscure origin, and the Latin Romans evidently learned the concept of cities from the advanced Etruscans, We must first ask the question ,"where did the Etruscans come by their term for city?". In the eigth century B.C. the first major city in Italy to which the Etruscans were exposed was the Greek port city of Sybaris, it also became their major trading partner . It is quite possible that Sybaris,which according to Etruscan orthography would be written *Supuru, also became their ultimate designation for city. This scenario would leave Lat. Urbs a second hand borrowing (Sybaris > Suburu> urbis).
One of the reasons why Etruscan has remained so confusing to linguists is that many Etruscan words were formed from the reversed suffixes of Latin words, the resulting Etruscan word stems appear to have no connection with the Latin words from which they were derived, ultimately leading to the common consensus that Etruscan is a non-Indo-European language. A good example of this process is the Etruscan word lauchum (king), which bears no resemblance to its Latin equivalent rex, regis (king), but Etr. lucair (to rule) can easily be recognized as a reverse version of Latin regula (rule), the Etr. C represents both the Lat. hard C (k), and Lat. G, cf. Lat. Graecus (Greek), Etr. (Creice)Greek
In comparing the Etruscan word nets 'vis with its Latin equivalent haruspex, one would be hard pressed to find any similarities, for haruspex is formed from the Proto-Indo-european roots gher1 (gut, entrail), and spek (to observe), but if you take the Etr. word neths'rac, pronounced nee'tshurack= , in its reverse form, i.e. cars'then , the destinctive Italic, Indo-European nature of Etruscan becomes evident, Lat. harus= Etr. cars', Lat. picine=Etr.then, cf. also Etr. athumic (noble), Nethune, with Lat.optimus(noble), Neptune).
Etruscan has two words for mirror, one which is malena, is transposed from Lat. lamina, meaning any thin piece of metal etc.(note that only the root lam was reversed while the suffix ina, ena has remained in place). The other Etruscan word denoting mirror is malstria, which appears to be composed of the Etr. root mal(malena) ,and stria which is possibly a retro version of Latin aeratus (made of bronze), thus malstria = aeratus lamina.
On the shorter version of the Etruscan-Punic bilingual inscription from Pyrgi, Etr. cleva has been translated from the Punic version as referring to a precinct or enclosure built for the goddess Athena. Cleva or cleua is possibly derived from Lat. aulikus (court),or Greek aulikos, aule (court,dwelling), in retro.
The Etruscan word or root tus' is generally understood to mean funerary niche, or repository. But it is the longer version of this word "tusurthir" which holds the secret to understanding how the Etruscans composed it by retroverting the Latin word reposit or as they pronounced it "reypauzuit" .
The Etruscans had a very unusual method of recording time, at the close of each year they ceremoniously drove a year nail into the wall of the temple of the goddess Nortia (the Fortuna of Volsinii), to record its passing.The Latin expression Clavus anni (the beginning of the year) finds its origin in this Etruscan year nail ceremony, as do the dating terms used on Etruscan funerary inscriptions which incorporate the Etruscan words, sval (alive), svalce (lived), avil (year), ril (at age of...years),and lup,lupu (to die) The variants of svalce are all derived from Latin clavus (nail, year nail) in retro, and the variants of lup,lupu(to die) stem from the root reversal of Latin pello (drive) .Thus the inscription AVILS LXX LUPU can be read as nail, or nails 70 driven i.e. this person lived to see seventy nails driven. Other combinations of these words are used such as LUPU AVILS XXV (he nailed nail-s 25), LUPU AVIL RIL LII ( he drove year nails to the number of 52 ), SVALCE AVIL LXVI (nailed year nail 66) etc. . When the Etruscans inscribed ziva ( the dead, deceased) on their funerary monuments it is likely that they were refering to their own parents and grandparents, therefore it seems logical that Etr. ziva (avi-s)= Lat. avi (forefathers, ancestors).
In Etruscan law terminology zeri is believed to mean a legal action or rite. I beleive it to simply be juris or as in early Latin iurus, again reversed by the Etruscans to hide its meaning from the uninitiated. Cecha (ceremony,right,law: praetor), cechase,and cechaneri (titles of Etruscan magistracies) possibly could have been derived from Lat. juridicus in retro irenachec .
A case of complex syllabic transpositioning may be found in the Etruscan word for sun which is us il , it appears to be a cryptolect of Latin so lis , i.e. (os sil ).
There are a series of Etruscan words which appear to have been formed from Latin by the dropping of initial consonants and sometimes the following vowel. Thus we have itus ( ides, middle ) from Lat. (m)edius; am (to be) from Lat. (s)umma; ati from (m)ater, apa from (p)apa, ateri (paternal) from Lat. (p)atrius (parental); Etr. ais (god)from Lat. (d)eus; Etr. ac (make,offer) from Lat. (f)ac(io); Etr. car, cer , (make,build) from Lat. ( fa)cere; Etr lein (to die) from Lat. (si)leo (cease), (si)len(s) (the dead)., etc.. The Etruscan name for Venus Turan believed to mean 'lady' , 'mistress" , ( she is usually represented on Etruscan mirrors as mature and dignified) may be derived from Latin (ma)trona.
Atri, Atrium is both a word and architectural feature thought by some to have been borrowed by the Romans from the Etruscans. It was the main ,and entrance room of the Roman house, and the hall of temples and public buildings. The residential atrium was a place where the family's treasured ancestral masks were displayed, and in public atria the images of city fathers lined the walls. Since it is has been noted that Etr. ateri = Lat. (p)atrius would it not seem logical that atrium , a sacred place in the home set aside to honor the fathers derive from p-atrium instead of the commonly accepted notion that it finds its origins in the Latin word ater which means black, gloomy, malicious, poisonous, and also forms the basis for Lat. 'atrox' ( terrible, horrible ) .
It has been assumed that Latin words of obscure origin which deal with religious, technological, civil, or military institutions are likely of Etruscan origin. In the religious area I theorize that (with Etruscan intermediation) Lat. cura (cure, curate) derives from (sa)cra, and Lat. caerimonia (ceremony) derives from *(sa)cramonia which has survived in its nasalized form sanctimonia. The Etruscans were an elite people, when it came to military matters they were the masters, leaders, and officers, they depended on the humiles (lower classes of people) to fill the ranks of common soldiers (miles), thus I believe that Lat. miles (soldier) and militia (army) are Etruscanized versions of (hu)miles and (hu)militas. Two Latin words used to denote actor, Ludio (actor, gladiator),and histrio (player, actor), earlier istrio, are refered to in ancient Latin glosses as Etruscan words. Ludio I believe is the Etruscanized masculine version of Latin (g)ladiator, cf. Lat ludia.(female gladiator, actress) and ludus (public games). As there may have been a fine line between the histrionics of a performer in the sacred mysteries , and an istrio (actor) in a profane play, all that it took was the Etruscanizing loss of an initial M to change a *mysterio into an istrio .
Sprinkled throughout Etruscan texts there are words which are purely Latin, a few examples are Etr. tur (to give) from Lat. dare (to give), Etr. tev (to show, see) from Lat.tuor (see), cf. Etr. tevarath (referee, judge, observer); Etr. clan, clens (son, dependant?) from Lat. Cliens (dependents of the pater familias), and Etr. pulum-chva (stars, i.e. heavenly objects) which is a compound of Latin polus (pole star, heaven) and Etr. cver (things,objects).
In his pioneering book The Etruscans p.217, Massimo Pallittino, the father of modern Etruscology calls attention to the question of the originality of Etruscan linguistic structures, stating:
One may wonder that if Etruscan is in fact an artificial language based on Latin, why then did not any of the great Roman men of letters have knowledge of its construction and pass down to us at least his suspicions on the matter. One may have, in the person of Titeus Lucretius Carus , in his poem De Rerum Natura ,6, pp.381-2, where he speaks of unrolling backwards the sacred verses of the Etruscans, in hope of discovering the hidden will of the gods:
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