Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Fred C. Woudhuizen, The Liber linteus: A Word for Word Commentary to and Translation of the Longest Etruscan Text. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, Neue Folge, Bd 5​. Innsbruck: Institut für Sprachen und Literaturen der Universität Innsbruck Bereich Sprachwissenschaft​, 2013. Pp. 210. ISBN 9783851242317. €40.00.

Reviewed by Karin W. Tikkanen, University of Gothenburg (

Version at BMCR home site

The Etruscan linen book Liber Linteus (LL) is, among so many things to do with Etruscan, a long-lasting enigma. The roughly 1200 legible words, penned in black and red ink over 230 lines of text, have baffled Etruscan scholars for ages, ever since Jacob Krall reassembled the linen wrappings from a 1st century AD Egyptian mummy in Zagreb in 1891. The aim of the present volume is clearly set out: a complete translation and total explanation of the LL, and the final resolution of the problem of the origin of the Etruscans.

The volume presents its content with a clear overview of the matter divided into six chapters. The first chapter, (I) Introduction, gives an easy to follow introduction into the interpretation of the LL based on an understanding of numerals (dates), names of deities, types of sacrifices, titular expressions and verbs. In section (II), the Etruscan text is dealt with and translated, followed by, in section (III), lists of etymological relationships deciphered through Woudhuizen's reading of the LL. Section (IV) is an overview of the system of (pro)nominal declension and verbal conjugation, and section (V) presents the text in full, transliterated and translated. The index in section (VI) lists all Etruscan words in the LL, in alphabetical order, and with references to the sections in the text where they are found.

Woudhuizen's ultimate aim is to prove the connection of Etruscan with the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European languages, specifically hieroglyphic Luwian, a not uncontroversial theory he has tried to corroborate for quite some time, most notably Woudhuizen (2008). The result of this new attempt, based on two recent editions of the LL, Bouke van der Meer (2007) and Valentina Belfiore (2010), is, alas, not very convincing.

The idea that Etruscan is related to the Luwian group of languages was brought forward by some of the earliest Etruscologists, such as Littmann, Danielsson and Herbig, and is at heart based on a comment in Herodotus (Hist. I,94) regarding the supposed Anatolian origin of the Etruscans. Among the primary arguments in favor of the theory we have the conjunction in -k (Etr. -c), and -(u)m (Etr. -um), and the almost identical sign for <f>. In recent years increasing numbers of scholars have favored the idea of Etruscan as an IE language (see Woudhuizen 2008, p. 415), strengthening Woudhuizen's characterization of Etruscan as an inflectional language of IE Anatolian type, although one "which has been affected by secondary influences of various strength or impact from, respectively, Phoenician, Greek, Pelasgian, Thracian and the Italic languages" (Woudhuizen 1992, p. 11). In the present volume, this remains the main idea, and he states (preface), that "the nucleus of the Etruscan language in vocabulary as well as grammar is decidedly Luwian in nature".

When it comes to the arguments against Etruscan as an IE language, there are several similarities that have proven highly suspect or "hinfällig" (cf. Gusmani 1964, p. 26). There is also the striking systematic difference, in that Etruscan is a clearly agglutinative language, where IE languages use suffixes (cf. Facchetti 2002, p. 111). I have, however, been unable to find any comment by Woudhuizen responding to these objections, and in the volume currently under discussion there are no such clarifications.

Now, here is what I perceive to be one of the major obstacles with this volume: the lack of a larger overview, or a systematization of assumed linguistic correlations between Etruscan and Luwian. What one finds is only lists: of words and word endings and verb conjugations. The volume is meant as an addition to Woudhuizen (2008), which, though written in the same line of argument, yet comes across as somewhat more coherent, although the ubiquity of lists is found there as well.

What there is of systematization, in Woudhuizen 2013, consists of a few bullet points, where case or verb endings are discussed in a fragmented fashion, as segments of language existing by themselves without any relation to other segments, and where the focus is solely that of finding Luwian parallels, whether in vocabulary or inflection. To take but one example, from section IV. Declension & conjugation:

"(3) The loss of the final vowel in the ending of the Abl.-Instr. in -t(i) and is also a feature Etruscan shares with Lydian." (page 159)
"(12) In regard to the conjugation of the verb, it deserves our attention that the loss of the final vowel with respect to the endings of the 3rd pers. sg. and pl. of the pres./fut. of the act., -t(i) and -nt(i) or -nθ(i), respectively, is a typical feature Etruscan shares with Lydian." (page 160).

These two points are given in isolation, with no comment regarding a possible general weakening and loss of final vowel in unstressed final syllables (on the whole, Woudhuizen seems rather uninterested in vowels). Here and there one finds references to Greek or Latin historical changes, and comments that "general Italic adstrate influences have not only affected the realm of vocabulary, but also penetrated that of the grammar" (page 160). I miss, however, a summary reflection on these changes, and indications of grammatical areas where Etruscan was apparently open, and prone, to such adstrate influenced changes. If Etruscan and Latin are indeed, as claimed, both IE languages, they would have inherited the same or similar endings from PIE, and in that case I find it curious that both languages display a similar change in verbal endings, e.g. the loss of final -i in secondary ending Lat. -*ti > -t. Among Latin scholars, this change is understood to have taken place on the Apennine peninsula, or at least at some point during the later historical development of Latin (and Sabellian). It seems, in short, that Woudhuizen's strive to find Etruscan/Luwian parallels clouds his perspective of things closer at hand.

A similar methodological fallacy becomes visible in the discussion of etymological parallels in the vocabulary, where the matter of loanwords becomes rather mixed up, as for example where Etr. zat-/saθ- 'body guard' is listed next to Lat. satelles, as an "etymological parallel" (p.145f.). For the sake of clarity: loanwords shed light on our assumptions concerning the close interconnection between languages in adjacent regions, in particular in relation to the areas of the vocabulary that have been affected, but cannot be cited as evidence of any genetic relationship. In the same list one also finds Etr. cletram, further explained on page 37 as a word "which no doubt originates from Umbrian kletram 'bier'". For the opposite view, i.e. the Umbrian word as loan from Etruscan, see Untermann (2000, s.v.), de Vaan (2008, s.v.). Part of the problem here may be the fact that for Latin/Italic parallels, Woudhuizen refers to Buck (1905), instead of the much more recent etymological dictionaries available, such as Untermann and de Vaan.

The translation, lastly, gives the impressions of being rather sketchy, or at least less coherent than earlier translations. Again, the prime focus lies on finding Luwian/Lydian/Lycian etymological parallels, at, as it seems, whatever cost, and Woudhuizen lists the presumed meaning of the individual words, or fragments of words, with no general overview of the text as a whole. The unfortunate result is an interpretation more or less void of logical narrative, where the wider context—that of a ritual calendar—becomes secondary in the hunt for etymological Luwian parallels. And this is one another aspect of Woudhuizen's work that stands out quite clearly: the contents of the volume are presented without connection to or reflections upon any earlier scholarship in the field. The LL has received great attention for more than a century and a half, but from reading Woudhuizen one might conclude that no previous scholar, apart from van der Meer and Belfiore, has been even close to arriving at a interpretation. In no place does Woudhuizen refer to previous translations, although there are several mentioned in the bibliography.

As already stated, the volume has its advantages in that it falls into clear, manageable sections, and I find it very helpful that the text and translation are given in full both in connection with the commentary (section II), and in a separate section (section V). The volume could, however, have been made a lot more reader-friendly:

- In section II, Commentary to the text in translation, it would have been helpful to indicate which part of the text (I - XII) is dealt with. This information could easily have been included by referring to each line entry by its part AND line number, instead of mere line number (thus "II 2-3", instead of simply "2-3"). This becomes especially relevant since references are constantly made to previous sections in the text.
- Section III, Overview of the etymological relationships, the vocabulary tables dealing with parallels between Etruscan, Luwian hieroglyphics, Lycian, Lydian and Lemnian, could easily have been condensed into one section with parallel listings, since most words are in any case repeated, with identical translation and explanation.
- Section VI, Index, might have been made more useful by including page references to the most relevant page in the volume, rather than to sections of the LL.

All in all, I cannot but agree with Oettinger (2010, p. 234, note 4), that following Woudhuizen's reasoning, one ends up with a most unlikely case of a "mixed language", drawing bits and pieces from all over the place; Latin and Greek and Old Italic, along with Luwian, Lydian and Lycian, not to forget Gallic (p. 61f., for Etr. truθ as 'druid'). The "evidence" cited is an unscrupulous mixture of vocabulary and supposed roots, word formation, and fragments of inflection, with no coherent discussion concerning systematization of sound laws or the rules of grammatical change. For this data, the reader is directed to Woudhuizen (1992) and (2008).

With the aim to find, and prove, an Anatolian origin of the Etruscan language set out on the very first page, the function of the remaining sections becomes that of fulfilling the initial prophesy, not that of a scholarly discussion and evaluation of all possible solutions in order to find the most logical, and the most coherently sound. Any potentially opposing or challenging evidence is neglected or unaccounted for or, as already stated by Oettinger, transformed into "parallels" in any other chosen IE language in which there are words that appear to fit the attested form.

I am certain that Woudhuizen's work has its group of admirers, and that this volume as well has found its way to its targeted audience. I fear, however, that it will not manage to convince or find any new followers, or reassure those already set on the opposing path.1


1.   Bibliography:

Belfiore, Valentina (2010), Il liber linteus di Zagabria: testualità e contenuto. Biblioteca di "Studi Etruschi" 50. Pisa/Rome: Fabrizio Serra editore.
Buck, Carl Darling (1905 [2005]). A Grammar of Oscan and Umbrian. Bristol, Pensylvania: Evolution Publishing.
Facchetti, Giulio M. (2002) Appunti di morfologia etrusca. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.
Gusmani, Roberto (1964), Lydisches Wörterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Verlag.
Meer, L. Bouke van der (2007) Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis. The Linen Book of Zagreb. A Comment on the Longest Etruscan Text (Monographs on Antiquity, 4). Louvain/Dudley, MA.
Oettinger, Norbert (2010), Seevölker und Etrusker. In: Yoram Cohen, Amir Gilad and Jared C. Miller (eds.) Pax Hethitica, Studies of the Hittites and their Neighbours in Honour of Itamar Singer. Studien zu den Boğazköy-Texten 51. Wiesbaden: pp. 233-246.
Untermann, Jürgen (2000), Wörterbuch des Oskisch-Umbrischen. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Verlag.
Vaan, Michiel de (2008) Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Brill.
Woudhuizen, F. C. (1992) Linguistica Tyrrhenica. A Compendium of Recent Results in Etruscan Linguistics. Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben.
Woudhuizen, F. C. (2008) Etruscan as a Colonial Luwian Language. Linguistica Tyrrhenica III. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturwissenschaft, Sonderheft 128.

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