3 Mar 2007

Piacenza Liver and Transliteration Hanky-Panky

If you're not convinced that we should question everything that we read, this should help kickstart your devil's advocate.

There are a lot of Etruscan inscriptions where the notable experts of this field can't seem to agree on what letters should be read from them. The disagreements would make sense if, let's say, the debated inscriptions were hard-to-read because of damage. However, when the disagreements involve clearly inscribed artifacts like the Piacenza Liver, it insults me as an astute reader and leads me to believe that Etruscology has one of the lowest standards of scholarship of any field of history.

The disagreement in question involves the underside of the Piacenza Liver artifact where we find two words: tivr usils. Larissa Bonfante has written that the word found on the artifact is indeed tivr, while Jean-René Jannot in Religion in Ancient Etruria (2005) claims that the word in question is tivs. In other words, some read "sigma", some read "rho", and the reader is caught in the cross-fire of an inane technicality.

Let's get busy: Which is the correct version of the story and which one's the fraud? Thankfully, pictures are worth a thousand words and I urge anyone to look at the artifact before believing anyone blindly:

The above drawing of the inscription makes clear that the word is tivr, not tivs, and if you should be skeptical at all, the real-life photo of the Piacenza Liver will lead you precisely to the same conclusion; the rho is clear and unmistakable, even in this grainy photo:

Jean-René Jannot loses this round. We'd expect that an academic authority worth his degree would get a simple inscription like this straight, seeing as how the artifact has been available for study for many decades now. So shame on you, J.R., for telling the reader fibs that are thankfully easy to falsify.

Curiously however, Larissa Bonfante cites in Etruscan (Reading the Past) in 1990 (on page 62 under Appendix 2 - Glossary of Etruscan words): tiu, tiv-, tiur moon, month. Yet, as above, there is no genitive form tivs, thus no such *tiv-, and since she does not source her citations, it is very hard to be sure whether tiu is real or yet another bad transliteration caused perhaps by improper word segmentation! Tiur however is well attested and real:

tiur [PyrT 2.iv; TCort vi] (na.sg.) // tiiurś [TLE 749], tivrs [TLE 181] (gen.sg.) // tiuri-m [LL 2.iii, 2.xv, 3.xxiii, 4.ii, 5.iv, 8.xxi, 8.xxxv, 9.iii, 9.xi] (loc.sg.)
(LL = Liber Linteus; PyrT = Pyrgi Tablets; TCort = Tabula Cortonensis; TLE = Testimonia Linguae Etruscae)

This shows me that even experts are a little confused about what is reality and what is not. But don't worry, we'll get this all straightened out one day.


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