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Monday, December 29, 2014

44.1—Scoprendo Gli Etruschi (Part One of 3)

Discovering The Etruscans: 

People, I tell you, if it’s possible to have a love affair with an ancient civilization, I did:

It happened quite unexpectedly but splendidly. I remember studying the Etruscans in junior high: They were ancient and wrote funny. From their name—Etruscans—I pictured them as people who dressed in furry outfits and adorned themselves with tusks. They lived somewhere, you know, over there.

When I was studying in Florence in 2011, the school offered a field trip to the Tuscan hill town of Cortona (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame). Walking along a grassy ridge, we came upon a rock slab slightly larger than a grave stone. On the slab were strange markings. “Gli Etruschi,” our guide remarked, over his shoulder. We all took pictures and walked on—oblivious to the connection between the names Etruscan and Tuscany.

As I delved into various histories of Rome, I found they all began with a brief description of the Etruscans—invariably called “mysterious." Scant evidence suggested that earliest kings of Rome were Etruscan. Archeological evidence, however, showed unequivocally that these mysterious folks were a smart and enterprising people who settled central Italy. lived there from about 700 to 200 B.C., and developed a prosperous Mediterranean trade. They were also probably the ones who drained the swamps of what was to become Rome. 

Last year, my friend Kathy gave me a map with a pictorial history of Italy. And there were the Etruscans—the first civilization in Italy. Beneath the drawing of a sculpture of a woman found in the Museo Etrusco in Rome, a caption revealed that “Etruscan women…enjoyed a social status far above that of women in Greece or Rome.” Cool. The synopsis of Etruscan accomplishments revealed that the people were so wary of their Greek trading partners that they remained oblivious to the rise of the Romans so that one by one their city-states fell to their conquerors. Had to be a sad story there.

Intrigued, I logged onto Amazon, typed in Etruscans, and among the scholarly works found one by D. H. Lawrence called Etruscan Places: Travels Through Forgotten Italy. “An uninhibited, elemental people,” said the book description, “the Etruscans enthralled D. H. Lawrence, who craved their ‘old wisdom,’ the secret of their vivacity….” Wow! What could possibly enthrall the creator of Lady Chatterly and her lover?
I bought a used copy with a single click. 

The small slim book immediately opened a world to me that I’d yearned for, without realizing it. Perhaps because I had never believed such a world was possible. This was surprising because in the book, Lawrence is describing his exploration of Etruscan tombs throughout Tuscany
Images of the people in those "easy centuries"

“The tombs,” he wrote (p. 28), “seem so easy and friendly, cut out of rock underground. One does not feel oppressed, descending into them. It must be partly owing to the peculiar charm of natural proportion which is in all Etruscan things of the unspoilt, unromanized centuries. There is a simplicity, combined with a most peculiar, free breasted naturalness and spontaneity, in the shapes and movements of the underworld walls and spaces, that at once reassures the spirit. The Greeks sought to make an impression, and Gothic still more seeks to impress the mind. The Etruscans, no. The things they did, in their easy centuries, are as natural and easy as breathing. They leave the breast breathing freely and pleasantly, with a certain fullness of life. Even the tombs. And that is the true Etruscan quality: ease, naturalness, and an abundance of life, no need to force the mind or the soul in any direction.”

Longing to know these people and life in those "easy centuries," I planned to visit il Museo Etrusco in Rome and then take the train to old Etruria. As it turned out, the mold worked in mysterious way to open my mind and soul.

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