Abstract: Etruscan Lightning, Livers and Lore: Myth and Ritual in Ancient Etruria
Study of the religion of the Etruscans is made difficult by the lack of texts in the Etruscan language. But with the aid of archaeological excavations, inscriptions, Latin and Greek texts, and representations in art, it is possible to reconstruct some of the striking rituals of Etruscan religion, especially in regard to prophecy and divination. Various mythoritual elements in Etruscan art and archaeology will be explored: the reading of lightning and thunder as showing the will of the gods; the ritual hammering of the nail into the door or wall of a temple to mark fate and the passage of time; the representations of birds of omen in art and in Etruscan books. The Etruscans had an elaborate concept of a 16-part cosmos and the habitations of the gods which will be detailed in the lecture.
The lecture includes the intriguing myth of Tages, the magic child who popped out of a ploughed furrow at Tarquinia and revealed the principles of Etruscan religion (the Etrusca disciplina), which were then written down by the hero Tarchon. Excavations at Tarquinia have produced an amazing find, a burial of an epileptic child near a great cavity in the earth and a stone altar, that may have given rise to the myth or served as a confirmation of its reality. Divination is further examined in regard to the reading of the liver of sacrificial animals, seen in representations of the Etruscan seer Umaele and the Greek priest Chalchas.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic (for lay reader):
Nancy T. de Grummond and Erika Simon, The Religion of the Etruscans, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006.
Nancy T. de Grummond, Etruscan Myth, Sacred History and Legend, Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2006.