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The Etruscan texts are largely legible. The alphabet derives from a Greek alphabet originally learned from the Phoenicians. It was disseminated in Italy by the colonists from the island of Euboea during the 8th century bce and adapted to Etruscan phonetics; the Latin alphabet was ultimately derived from it. In its turn the Etruscan alphabet was diffused at the end of the Archaic period [ c.

The real problem with the Etruscan texts lies in the difficulty of understanding the meaning of the words and grammatical forms. A fundamental obstacle stems from the fact that no other known language has close enough kinship to Etruscan to allow a reliable, comprehensive , and conclusive comparison. The apparent isolation of the Etruscan language had already been noted by the ancients; it is confirmed by repeated and vain attempts of modern science to assign it to one of the various linguistic groups or types of the Mediterranean and Eurasian world.

However, there are in fact connections with Indo-European languages , particularly with the Italic languages , and also with more or less known non-Indo-European languages of western Asia and the Caucasus, the Aegean, Italy, and the Alpine zone as well as with the relics of the Mediterranean linguistic substrata revealed by place-names.

Greek architectural orders

This means that Etruscan is not truly isolated; its roots are intertwined with those of other recognizable linguistic formations within a geographic area extending from western Asia to east-central Europe and the central Mediterranean, and its latest formative developments may have taken place in more direct contact with the pre-Indo-European and Indo-European linguistic environment of Italy.

But this also means that Etruscan, as scholars know it, cannot simply be classified as belonging to the Caucasian, the Anatolian, or Indo-European languages such as Greek and Latin, from which it seems to differ in structure. Nonetheless, with the increase of reliable data, in part from more recent epigraphic discoveries such as the gold plaques at Pyrgi mentioned above , the need to find the one right method appears to be of decreasing importance; all available procedures tend to be utilized. The lack of Etruscan literature and the widely acknowledged bias and contradictory accounts of Greek and Roman writers create a situation in which the careful study of the visible remains of the Etruscans is fundamental for understanding them.

The archaeological contexts and the remains themselves including pottery, metalwork, sculpture, painting, architecture, animal and human bones, and the humblest objects of daily life fall into three basic categories: funerary, urban, and sacred.

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There is sometimes an overlapping of these categories. By far the largest percentage of material is funerary; thus there is a great deal of information about Etruscan ideas on the afterlife and on their attitudes toward the deceased members of their families. But there can be no doubt that the relatively scarce information about Etruscan settlements is also of great importance.

The evidence of the well-preserved Etruscan city at Marzabotto c. The ritual involved in thus laying out a town, complete with walls, temples, and other sacred areas, was known to the Romans as the ritus etruscus. The system was commonly used by the Romans in laying out military camps and new cities and has survived in the centre of many European cities today.

Such rigidly organized town plans seem to have been rare in Etruria; more often one finds an irregular pattern resulting from the coalescence of villages in Villanovan times and the adaptation to the hills normally chosen as town sites. In a sacred context, the Etruscan temple also often revealed a careful organization, once again with a system that was passed on to the Romans. In contrast to Greek temples, those of the Etruscans frequently showed a clear differentiation of front and back, with a columniated deep front porch and a cella that was flush with the podium on which it stood.

The materials were frequently perishable timber and mud brick, on a stone foundation except for the abundant terra-cotta sculptures that adorned the roof. Especially well-preserved are the acroteria, or roof sculptures, from the Portonaccio temple at Veii late 6th century bce representing Apulu the Etruscan Apollo and other mythological figures. Of a different order are the spectacular finds from the site of Poggio Civitate Murlo near Siena, where excavations begun in have revealed a huge building of the Archaic period with rammed earth walls, measuring about feet on each side and featuring a large court in the middle.

Authorities still disagree over the nature of the site and are uncertain whether the building was a palace, a sanctuary, or perhaps a place of civic assembly. Ordinary Etruscan houses, known from a number of sites, include oval-shaped huts from San Giovenale and elsewhere and structures with a rectilinear plan from Veii and Acquarossa Archaic and Vetulonia Hellenistic. As for the necropolises of Etruria, these, too, occasionally show signs of a grid plan, as at the Crocefisso del Tufo at Orvieto second half of the 6th century bce and at Caere.

Thus the tombs of Caere especially those of the 6th century and later , carved underground out of the soft volcanic tufa so widespread in Etruria, have not only windows, doors, columns, and ceiling beams but also pieces of furniture beds, chairs, and footstools sculptured from the living rock. At Tarquinii, another tradition for tomb decoration led to painting the walls of the chamber with frescoes of Etruscan funerary celebrations, including banqueting, games, dancing, music, and various performances in a fresh outdoor landscape.

The scenes probably served to commemorate actual funerals, but they also may have alluded to the kind of afterlife that was expected for the deceased.

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The Elysium-like concept of the afterlife prevailed in the Archaic period, but in the ensuing centuries one finds a growing emphasis on the darker realm of the underworld. Frescoes show its ruler, Hades Etruscan Aita , wearing a wolf-skin cap and sitting enthroned beside his wife; demons and monsters populate this sphere. They may be seen in the remarkable Tomb of the Blue Demons c. He sometimes has a gentler partner, the angelic winged figure of Vanth, who helps to ease the transition from life to death. A perennial theme in the discussion of Etruscan material culture is its relationship to Greek models.

The comparison is natural, indeed essential, in light of the massive amount of Greek artifacts, especially vases, that have been excavated in Etruria and the abundant examples of Etruscan imitations, of the pottery especially. It is also certain that Greek craftsmen sometimes settled in Etruria, as in the report by Pliny the Elder 1st century ce about a Corinthian noble named Demaratus, who moved to Tarquinii, bringing along three of his own artists.

Instead, increasing emphasis is being placed on defining the highly original elements in Etruscan culture that exist side by side with the qualities that show their great admiration of things Greek. In addition to their distinctive modes of designing a town or of building a temple or tomb, one may note their unique native pottery, bucchero beginning c.

Etruscan fashion also had many unique elements such as a hem-length braid down the back 7th century bce , pointed-toe shoes c. Finally, the Etruscans seem to have taken an early interest in reproducing the features of their honoured relatives or officials as in the funerary canopic urns from Clusium and thus gave a major impetus to the development of truly realistic portraiture in Italy especially in the Hellenistic period.

The essential ingredient in Etruscan religion was a belief that human life was but one small meaningful element in a universe controlled by gods who manifested their nature and their will in every facet of the natural world as well as in objects created by humans. This belief permeates the Etruscan representational arts, where one finds rich depictions of land, sea, and air, with man integrated into the ambient. Roman writers give repeated evidence that the Etruscans regarded every bird and every berry as a potential source of knowledge of the gods and that they had developed an elaborate lore and attendant rituals for using this knowledge.

Their own myths explained the lore as having been communicated by the gods through a prophet, Tages, a miraculous child with the features of a wise old man who sprang from a plowed furrow in the fields of Tarquinii and sang out the elements of what the Romans called the Etrusca disciplina. The literary, epigraphic, and monumental sources provide a glimpse of a cosmology whose image of the sky with its subdivisions is reflected in consecrated areas and even in the viscera of animals.

The concept of a sacred space or area reserved for a particular deity or purpose was fundamental, as was the corollary theory that such designated areas could correspond to each other. Heaven reflected Earth , and macrocosm echoed microcosm. The celestial dome was divided into 16 compartments inhabited by the various divinities: major gods to the east, astral and terrestrial divine beings to the south, infernal and inauspicious beings to the west, and the most powerful and mysterious gods of destiny to the north.

The deities manifested themselves by means of natural phenomena, principally by lightning. These conceptions are linked closely to the art of divination for which the Etruscans were especially famous in the ancient world. Public and private actions of any importance were undertaken only after having interrogated the gods; negative or threatening responses necessitated complex preventive or protective ceremonies.

The most important form of divination was haruspicy , or hepatoscopy—the study of the details of the viscera, especially the livers, of sacrificial animals. Second in importance was the observation of lightning and of such other celestial phenomena as the flight of birds also important in the religion of the Umbri and of the Romans.

Finally, there was the interpretation of prodigies—extraordinary and marvelous events observed in the sky or on the earth. These practices, extensively adopted by the Romans, are explicitly attributed by the ancient authors to the religion of the Etruscans. The Etruscans recognized numerous deities the Piacenza liver lists more than 40 , and many are unknown today. Their nature was often vague, and references to them are fraught with ambiguity about number, attributes, and even gender.

Some of the leading gods were eventually equated with major deities of the Greeks and Romans, as may be seen especially from the labeled representations on Etruscan mirrors. But their character and mythology often differed sharply from that of their Greek counterparts. Menrva, for example, an immensely popular deity, was regarded as a sponsor of marriage and childbirth, in contrast to the virgin Athena, who was much more concerned with the affairs of males.

Many of the gods had healing powers, and many of them had the authority to hurl a thunderbolt. There were also deities of a fairly orthodox Greco-Roman character, such as Hercle Heracles and Apulu Apollo , who were evidently introduced directly from Greece yet came to have their designated spaces and cults.

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Because the Etruscans spoke a non-Indo-European language while being surrounded in historical times by Indo-European peoples such as the Latins and Umbro-Sabelli, scholars of the 19th century examined and debated, often bitterly, the origins of this anomalous population. Their dispute continued into the 21st century but has now lost much of its intensity.

A leading scholar in Etruscan studies, Massimo Pallottino, wisely observed that such discussions have become sterile as the result of an incorrect formulation of the problem. Too much emphasis has been placed on the provenance of the Etruscans, with the expectation that there could be one simple answer. The argument began, in fact, in antiquity with the statement by Herodotus that the Etruscans migrated from Lydia in Anatolia shortly after the time of the Trojan War ; their leader was Tyrsenos, who later gave his name to the whole race.

But chronologically the Oriental inundation occurred nearly years too late for the Herodotean migration. Further, it developed gradually rather than making the sudden appearance that would have characterized the arrival of a people en masse; moreover, it is quite easily explained by reference to the trade conduits established by the Euboean Greeks in the 8th century bce. A key document in the Eastern theory is the inscription on a stone grave stela found on the island of Lemnos near the coast of Anatolia that shows remarkable lexical and structural similarities with the Etruscan language.

But this curious isolated document dates only to the 6th century bce and thus cannot be interpreted as evidence of an Etruscan way station in the Herodotean migration from Anatolia to Italy. On the contrary, it has now been proposed that Lemnos may in fact have been colonized or used as a trading point by the Etruscans looking toward Anatolia in the 6th century bce rather than as a place they visited moving away from the area.

A second theory on Etruscan origins was proposed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus , who rejected the tradition of Herodotus, pointing out that the Lydian language and customs and those of the Etruscans were greatly dissimilar; he argued that the Etruscans were autochthonous of local origin. There is, however, mounting evidence of a critical transition period at the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, in which there are so many important developments that the connections between these two cultures and the Villanovan seem minor.

There was an increase in population and in overall wealth, a tendency to have larger, permanent settlements, an expansion of metallurgical knowledge, and a strengthening of agricultural technology. The fact that the Proto-Villanovan archaeological horizon developed gradually rather than suddenly as the result of invasion or large migration might seem to support the theory of autochthony for the Etruscans.

But once again the picture is clouded, because the Proto-Villanovan occurs in scattered areas all around Italy, including zones that definitely did not emerge as Etruscan in historical times. To these two theories from antiquity was added a third in the 19th century to the effect that the Etruscans migrated overland into Italy from the north. This theory, without any ancient literary support, was based on similarities in customs and artifacts between the Villanovan and the Iron Age cremating cultures north of the Alps and on a dubious comparison of the name of the Rasenna with that of the Raeti, a people inhabiting the east-central Alps in the 5th century bce.

The theory is basically without supporters today, though the influence or presence of certain central European weapon and helmet types and vessel forms in Etruria is not denied. These elements, however, are now put into perspective as representing simply one significant strand in the complex fabric of Etruscan culture as it developed from Villanovan to Orientalizing. These northern connections in a sense form a parallel to the Greek influences in subsequent periods, whether Euboean 8th century bce , Corinthian 7th century , Ionian 6th century , or Attic 5th century.

Likewise, Oriental influences may be readily acknowledged, coming from such diverse areas as Lydia, Urartu , Syria , Assyria , Phoenicia , and Egypt. Archaeological evidence helps to develop a picture of the beginnings of Etruscan cities during the Villanovan period.

Nearly every major Etruscan city of historical times has yielded Villanovan remains, but it is in the south, particularly near the coast, that the earliest signs of city formation appear. It is hypothesized that clusters of huts forming a network of villages on a single hill or on several adjacent hills coalesced into pre-urban settlements at this time. The plural form of the names of some of these—Vulci, Tarquinii, and Veii—is consistent with this hypothesis.

Ash urns in the shape of oval huts with thatched roofs excavated in the area suggest what the houses of the living may have looked like, while the parity of grave goods for men and women implies a basically egalitarian society, at least in earlier stages. Cremation with ashes in a biconical vessel is commonly found as a holdover from the Proto-Villanovan; inhumation also appeared and during the Orientalizing period eventually became the prevailing rite, except in northern Etruria, where cremation persisted to the 1st century bce.

After contact was made with Greeks and Phoenicians , new ideas, materials, and technology began to appear in Etruria. The Regolini-Galassi Tomb at Caere c. Even if Caere did not have kings and queens at this time as did Rome, or as Caere certainly did in the 5th century , it is clear that society had become sharply differentiated , not only in regard to wealth but also in division of labour.

Many scholars hypothesize the existence of a powerful aristocratic class, and craftsmen, merchants, and seamen would have formed a middle class; it was probably at this time that the Etruscans began to maintain the elegant slaves for which they were famous. Various Greek and Roman authors report on how Etruscan slaves dressed well and how they often owned their own homes.

They easily became liberated and rapidly rose in status once they were freed. Literary sources report that Rome itself came under the rule of Etruscan kings in the late 7th century.

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Livy describes the arrival from Tarquinii of Tarquinius Priscus, the later king, and his ambitious, learned wife Tanaquil, a worthy counterpart to Queen Larthia of Caere. There is also archaeological evidence of Etruscan expansion northward into the Po valley in the 6th century. True urbanization followed these developments. Mighty city-states featuring fortified walls and other public works flourished both in Etruria and in its spheres of influence. The Rome of the Etruscan kings, described in detail by Livy and known through excavation, had fortifications, a paved forum, a master drainage system the Cloaca Maxima , a public stadium the Circus Maximus , and a monumental Etruscan-style temple dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus.

The contributors to this volume draw on The Lexicon of Greek Names, which has already identified more than , individuals, to demonstrate the breadth of scholarly uses to which name evidence can be put. The contributors also narrate the stories of political and social change revealed by the incidence of personal names and cast a fascinating light upon both the natural and supernatural phenomena which inspired them.

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About Simon Hornblower. Simon Hornblower. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in