Abstract: Making Prophecy Visible: Images of Divination in Etruscan and Roman Art

The lecture explores images of acts of prophecy in Etruscan and Roman religious art.  Ancient Italian rituals of divination required certain gestures, postures, instruments and personnel, and these can be analyzed and organized to show a complete vocabulary of iconography utilized to depict oracles and prophecies.  The inquiry starts with themes shown in engravings on Etruscan mirrors, which were themselves used as instruments of prophecy and which show some of the most famous instances of purely Etruscan prophetic myth: the story of the prophet Cacu and the Vipenas Brothers, and the story of the child Tages, who sang out the principles of the Etrusca disciplina , which was then transmitted to all the Etruscans.  What is surprising is that many of the motifs and themes found in Etruscan art of the fourth and third centuries BCE can be identified also in Roman representations.  The famous Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii has numerous prophetic motifs which long went unrecognized, but which, once identified, make a significant  difference in the interpretation of the mytho-ritual depictions of the Mysteries.

This is the lecturer’s on-going research and will include some consideration of new insights  that divination was practiced in connection with human sacrifice by the Etruscans.


Biblography, N.T. de Grummond:

“Mirrors and Manteia: Themes of Prophecy on Etruscan and Praenestine Mirrors,” in Aspetti e problemi della produzione degli specchi etruschi figurati, Rome, 2000, pp. 27-67. 

“Mirrors, Marriage and Mysteries,” Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplement 47, 2002, pp. 63-85.  

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