Thursday, December 16, 2010

Was there an Etruscan Book of the Dead?

In the 1998 movie entitled 'The Eighteenth Angel', the fictional plot revolved around something called "The Etruscan Book of the Dead." However, was this based on ancient reality? Certainly we know that there was the Egyptian "Book of the Dead." Google shows 703 results for an exact search for "Etruscan Book of the Dead," but still, the evidence seems to be lacking. We do know that the plot in 'The Eighteenth Angel' was at least partly based on fiction, as it portrayed the book as having something to do with Satan. Satan was a Christian concept, and would not have been present in ancient Etruria.

One possible answer may be hinted at in the book 'Marcus Aurelius: A Life' (McLynn; 2009). According to the book, the former Emperor of Rome enjoyed talking about local wines and the "Etruscan book of the dead" (in lower case). Therefore, this lowercase "book of the dead" possibly could be merely a nickname for the 'Etrusca Disciplina'. To quote Wikipedia's "Etruscan mythology" page: The Etruscan religion was a revealed one. Its scriptures were a corpus of Etruscan texts termed the Etrusca Disciplina.

According to the Romans, who had vanquished the Etruscans long before, "Etruria" was a dead culture. The early Romans had destroyed virtually everything Etruscan, including its spiritual traditions, therefore, the later generations of Romans would have looked back to the pre-Roman period in the region as mysterious. "The dead." Maybe someone out there could give us a little help here, but it appears that this explanation makes sense.

To quote the Etruscan Religion page:

The disciplina etrusca seems to have comprised three categories of books of fate. The first was that of the libri haruspicini, which dealt with divination from the livers of sacrificed animals; the second, the libri fulgurates, on the interpretation of thunder and lightning; the third, the libri rituales, which covered a variety of matters. They contained, as Festus says, "prescriptions concerning the founding of cities, the consecration of altars and temples, the inviolability of ramparts, the laws relating to city gates, the division into tribes, curiae and centuriae, the constitution and organization of armies, and all other things of this nature concerning war and peace.

Among the libri rituales were also three further categories: the libri fatales, on the division of time and the life-span of individuals and peoples; the libri Acherontici, on the world beyond the grave and the rituals for salvation; and finally, the ostentaria, which gave rules for interpreting signs and portents and laid down the propitiatory and expiatory acts needed to obviate disaster and to placate the gods.

The "Etrucan book of the dead" is probably just a nickname for the 'Disciplina Etrusca' and its "books of fate."


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