Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Etruscans

We are in Chianciano Terme in Tuscany. I am giving several talks at a seminar on positioning the local (Chianciano) in the global world and (tourist) market. An old friend from the University of Florence, Professor Giovanni Bechelloni, is positioning or narrating the idea in an interesting way. He argues that this place builds on layers of the past, Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance that were in some ways already modern or which contribute major layers of the present modernity. (He doesn't really believe in the post-modern, although that would be another way of seeing how all these layers fit together, despite the likely insistence in each of them that they were more important than the preceding eras.

Frances Mayes, in Under the Tuscan Sun, says something similar. "In these stony old Tuscan towns, I get no sense of stepping back in time that I've had in Yugoslavia, Mexico or Peru. Tuscans are of this time; they simply have had the good instinct to bring the past along with them." (1996:153)

The Etruscan civilization lasted from around 800 B.C. to 200 B.C, increasingly chipped away and swallowed by Rome after about 300 B.C. They had a complex religious and cultural life, evident in their concern with burying their dead in careful ways. Their artistic life is visible in their tombs and burial urns, like this one with an interestingly stylized but recognizably modern face.

You can certainly see Etruscan faces literally walking on the street. Giovanni says a village named Murlo had had DNA comparisons done with Etruscan remains and found almost complete overlaps in DNA with some residents--in fact finding that the DNA also matched up with Lydia in Western Anatolia, indicating where the Etruscans themselves may have come from. (As have a few villages in England. An English schoolteacher was found to have pretty much the same DNA as a 9,000 year old stone age skeleton referred to as Cheddar Man.) This face from an Etruscan bust would not seem strange on the street.

This couple from the lid of an Etruscan funeral urn would not look that out of place at a dinner party, certainly not here, maybe not even in Texas, if you changed the hairstyles and clothes a bit.

The Etruscans seem to have had a very sophisticated nobility that in many cases fed straight into the noble houses of Roman or even later times. Here is a reconstruction of what a noble house dining room might have looked like, as reconstructed from archeological finds. They ate reclining, as did later Romans. They had long, leisurely dinners, which still seems to be the fashion, in Italy, home of the slow food movement.