Etruscans

CHAPTER I Life Governed by Religion BETWEEN Florence and Rome lies the inviting land of Tuscany. This was in ancient times the home of a civilized people who possessed the art of enjoying life to the full yet at the same time were perpetually conscious of fate, death and change, and showed a strangely submissive attitude towards the powers of the underworld. The Romans called the people who created and maintained this civilization Tusci and Etrusci, but the Greeks knew them as T??????? or T???????, i.

e. Tyrrhenians or Tyrsenians. The name they themselves used-Rsna, Rasenna — was not adopted either by ancient or modern languages. Hesiod, writing about 700 B.C.

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, speaks of the T?????????? ???????????? ‘the renowned Tyrsenians’, whereas Thucydides, writing in the second half of the fifth century B.C., classes them with ‘barbarians’. ‘Tuscan’ to the Romans of later date frequently meant the same as did ‘Italic’ in ancient times. Finally, about A.

D. 300 Arnobius was to describe Etruria from the early Christian point of view as genetrix et mater superstitionis, ‘originator and mother of all superstition’. Etruscan civilization had its beginnings in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. and reached its zenith in the sixth century. Its end, or rather its assimilation into the pan-Italic civilization established by Rome, coincided with the end of the Roman Republic in the last century B.C.

In 44 B.C., after Caesar’s death, an Etruscan seer announced the beginning of the end of Etruscan greatness. Thus its history corresponds in time to that phase of Greece’s development which had such a great influence on the intellectual and social history of Europe, the period which began with the break-up of the geometric style and the creation of the Homeric epics, continued through the period of archaic art and the age of Solon into classical times and led finally into the age of Hellenism. There are two museums in Italy which house the principal Etruscan antiquities and everyone who visits Etruria should begin and end his journey in them.

One is the Museo Archeologico in Florence with its infinitely attractive series of halls arranged according to the cities and their domains. This museum also encloses the Giardino Archeologico containing actual tombs collected from every part of the region. The This fortunate countryside, so varied in formation and vegetation, reveals its volcanic character to this day in numerous hot and cold mineral and sulphur springs, baths and delicious table waters. Formerly this soil produced good wine. The tuff1 area stretches south from Orvieto as far as Latium, with streams which carve canyon-like gorges through the plains, the crater lake of Bolsena sparkling like silver, and the forest-clad Ciminian mountains in their age-old solitude. This is the countryside in which the Etruscans developed their peculiar rocktomb architecture. In the cemeteries of Bieda, San Giuliano, Norchia, Castel d’Asso and of Sovana in the upper Fiora valley, are preserved hundreds of monumental tombs carved block-like out of the lava rock faces.

The contours of northern Etruria on the other hand are for the most part softer, formed as they are by sedimentary deposits, while its rivers are laden with the soil and dissolved lime they wash down. Before they had access to Sicily the Romans relied on the land of the Etruscans for their reserve granary, from which they imported grain for bread whenever their own harvest failed or suffered damage. Additional sources of great wealth were mining and a famous metalworking industry, both made possible by Elba and the Monti Metalliferi, the ore-bearing mountains of the north-west, which were the basis of the prosperity of Populonia, Volterra and Vetulonia, and by the rich mineral deposits in the woodlands of La Tolfa, which lies behind Cerveteri. The apparently inexhaustible mountain forests provided firewood for smelting the ore and timber for building temples and ships. This then was the rich soil from which Etruscan civilizationsprang and flourished, sustained by the wealthy families and yet aiming primarily not at any expansion of power or at profit, but at dominion through religion over life and death. Music, dancing and masks played an important role in the life of these people.

The instruments they particularly favoured were the double pipes, the zither, a percussion instrument like the castanets, the short, slightly curved horn, the long, curling horn and the resonant trumpet, whose inventors they were believed to be. We learn how sweet and bemusing was the sound of the Tuscan pipes from a tale told by Aelian in his work on zoology as late as the third century of our era, when their music had long been silent. ‘It is said in Etruria, where wild pigs and stags are caught with nets and dogs in the usual manner of hunters, that success is greater when music is used as an aid. I shall now relate the manner of doing this.

Nets are stretched out and all kinds of traps set in position. Along comes an experienced piper. He avoids so far as possible regular melodies and loud sounds and plays the sweetest tones the double pipes can produce. In the silent solitude his airs float up to the tops of the mountains, into the gorges and thickets, into all the retreats and breeding-grounds of the game. At first when the sounds reach their ears the animals are terrified and filled with fear. But later they are irresistibly overcome by enjoyment of the music.

Enraptured they abandon their young, their lairs and their familiar trails, from which they would normally be so unwilling to stray. Thus are the wild beasts of the Tyrrhenian forests gradually attracted by a powerful magic, and they draw near, bewitched by the sounds, till they fall, overpowered by the music, into the snares.’ (De natura animalium XII, 46.) From tombstones and urns, and above all from the gay wallpaintings of the underground burial places of Tarquinii we can learn of the lively round dances of the women, the weapon dance of the men and the passionate dance-game of youths and maidens who move and turn in couples or singly to the sound of pipes and zithers.

These dances are full of dark sensual pleasure, yet at the same time restrained in a melancholy way, in spite of all their excitement and tenseness. They are the expression of a deep musicality which needs no words.Bibliography: