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A useful primer to what is known about the Etruscan language, i.e. not actually all that much. The longest surviving inscription in Etruscan is one thousand two hundred words long; I suspect these book reviews of averaging longer than that. And we've no literature at all, it's entirely inscription and this one segment of devotional liturgy that was found on some mummy wrappings.

And apparently the grammar is sufficiently theoretical that Bonfante can remark that as of 1975 a complete Etruscan grammar was 'entirely conjectural', which if you have spent much time with the classics you know means 'OMG STOP MAKING SUCH WILD SPECULATIONS'.

I had known pretty much nothing at all before reading this book, though, which is rather sad considering my fields of study, so nearly nothing is better than nothing. I had not known, for example, that Etruscan is not an Indo-European language. It's a complete isolate unrelated to anything except maybe an obscure dialect from Lemnos, which has caused some difficulties in interpretation (/understatement).

I had also not had a good list of Greek words that shifted into Etruscan, Etruscan words that shifted into Latin, and, importantly, Greek words that shifted through Etruscan into Latin. The alphabet itself shifted through Etruria from Greece into its Roman form, apparently, and the Etruscans added a letter for f (as opposed to φ, which this book takes as p-aspirate) and started that Latin habit of differentiating k-in-front-of-u as q. Also Etruscan had no long vowels at all, which does a lot to explain the Roman macron system to me as it is not logically descended from the Greek.

Good discussion here too of the context of the inscriptions and dedications we do have, which are focused around mirrors, seals, gems, and funerary offerings; some of the mirrors are quite lovely and also have very mythologically interesting carvings, and the names of the gods do some impressive phonetic shifts. As in, the Etruscan equivalent of Greek Dionysus and Latin Bacchus is Fufluns, which amazes me.

I think my favorite Etruscan-to-Latin derivation is cera, wax, which of course has come into English via the Latin sine cere, 'without wax', i.e. this pottery has not been patched back together in a fraudulent fashion and is therefore sincere. So there's your daily Etruscan.

All in all a very useful little book. It even has an article on Oscan, which was the principal Indo-European non-Latin dialect of central Italy, has its own alphabet, and about which we know even less. Extremely handy reference as a starting point for looking into Etruscan versions of classical mythology, which is probably the direction I'm going with it.

Oh, and they weren't Etruscans. They were Rasna, or Rasenna. Etruscan is the Roman name. But so it goes.


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