But enough still remains to show that the mysticism and barbarism of this worship had their foundation in the essential character of the Etruscan people.

With our very unsatisfactory knowledge we cannot grasp the intrinsic contrast subsisting between the Etruscan conceptions of deity and the Italian; but it is clear that the most prominent among the Etruscan gods were the malignant and the mischievous; as indeed their worship was cruel, and included in particular the sacrifice of their captives; thus at Caere they slaughtered the Phocaean, and at Traquinii the Roman, prisoners. Instead of a tranquil world of departed "good spirits" ruling peacefully in the realms beneath, such as the Latins had conceived, the Etruscan religion presented a veritable hell, in which the poor souls were doomed to be tortured by mallets and serpents, and to which they were conveyed by the conductor of the dead, a savage semi-brutal figure of an old man with wings and a large hammer--a figure which afterwards served in the gladiatorial games at Rome as a model for the costume of the man who removed the corpses of the slain from the arena. So fixed was the association of torture with this condition of the shades, that there was even provided a redemption from it, which after certain mysterious offerings transferred the poor soul to the society of the gods above. It is remarkable that, in order to people their lower world, the Etruscans early borrowed from the Greeks their gloomiest notions, such as the doctrine of Acheron and Charon, which play an important part in the Etruscan discipline.

But the Etruscan occupied himself above all in the interpretation of signs and portents. The Romans heard the voice of the gods in nature; but their bird-seer understood only the signs in their simplicity, and knew only in general whether the occurrence boded good or ill. Disturbances of the ordinary course of nature were regarded by him as boding evil, and put a stop to the business in hand, as when for example a storm of thunder and lightning dispersed the comitia; and he probably sought to get rid of them, as, for example, in the case of monstrous births, which were put to death as speedily as possible. But beyond the Tiber matters were carried much further. The profound Etruscan read off to the believer his future fortunes in detail from the lightning and from the entrails of animals offered in sacrifice; and the more singular the language of the gods, the more startling the portent or prodigy, the more confidently did he declare what they foretold and the means by which it was possible to avert the mischief. Thus arose the lore of lightning, the art of inspecting entrails, the interpretation of prodigies--all of them, and the science of lightning especially, devised with the hair-splitting subtlety which characterizes the mind in pursuit of absurdities. A dwarf called Tages with the figure of a child but with gray hairs, who had been ploughed up by a peasant in a field near Tarquinii--we might almost fancy that practices at once so childish and so drivelling had sought to present in this figure a caricature of themselves--betrayed the secret of this lore to the Etruscans, and then straightway died. His disciples and successors taught what gods were in the habit of hurling the lightning; how the lightning of each god might be recognized by its colour and the quarter of the heavens whence it came; whether the lightning boded a permanent state of things or a single event; and in the latter case whether the event was one unalterably fixed, or whether it could be up to a certain limit artificially postponed: how they might convey the lightning away when it struck, or compel the threatening lightning to strike, and various marvellous arts of the like kind, with which there was incidentally conjoined no small desire of pocketing fees. How deeply repugnant this jugglery was to the Roman character is shown by the fact that, even when people came at a later period to employ the Etruscan lore in Rome, no attempt was made to naturalize it; during our present period the Romans were probably still content with their own, and with the Greek oracles.

The Etruscan religion occupied a higher level than the Roman, in so far as it developed at least the rudiments of what was wholly wanting among the Romans--a speculation veiled under religious forms. Over the world and its gods there ruled the veiled gods (-Dii involuti-), consulted by the Etruscan Jupiter himself; that world moreover was finite, and, as it had come into being, so was it again to pass away after the expiry of a definite period of time, whose sections were the -saecula-. Respecting the intellectual value which may once have belonged to this Etruscan cosmogony and philosophy, it is difficult to form a judgment; they appear however to have been from the very first characterized by a dull fatalism and an insipid play upon number.

Notes For Book I Chapter XII

1. I. II. Religion

2. This was, to all appearance, the original nature of the "morning-mother" or -Mater matuta-; in connection with which we may recall the circumstance that, as the names Lucius and especially -Manius- show, the morning hour was reckoned as lucky for birth. -Mater matuta-probably became a goddess of sea and harbour only at a later epoch under the influence of the myth of Leucothea; the fact that the goddess was chiefly worshipped by women tells against the view that she was originally a harbour-goddess.

3. From -Maurs-, which is the oldest form handed down by tradition, there have been developed by different treatment of the -u -Mars-, -Mavors-, -Mors-; the transition to -o (similar to -Paula-, -Pola-, and the like) appears also in the double form Mar-Mor (comp. -Ma-murius-) alongside of -Mar-Mor- and -Ma-Mers-.

4. The facts, that gates and doors and the morning (-ianus matutinus-) were sacred to Ianus, and that he was always invoked before any other god and was even represented in the series of coins before Jupiter and the other gods, indicate unmistakeably that he was the abstraction of opening and beginning.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
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