venerdì 15 marzo 2013

The Lemnos Stele

A little north of Poliókhni lies that village of Kaminia where, in 1885, as part of a church wall, the so-called Stele of Lemnos was discovered. This stele is generally dated at an epoch (shortly) before the Attic conquest of the island, and is now on exhibition at the National Museum of Athens. Portraying a warrior holding a spear, its paramount scientific and historical meaning is constituted, however, by two inscriptions. They are written in a hitherto unknown variant of the Greek alphabet and a language equally unknown in 1885; which language, from obvious reasons, was called Lemnian.

For the first time there was a testimony at hand that enables us to pursue the traces of the Etruscans back to their Aegean country of origin in Asia Minor by applying modern linguistic methodology. From the start -- as soon as those two inscriptions were published -- a convergence between Lemnian and Etruscan became clear: just like the Etruscan writing, the Lemnian writing has chosen only four vowel characters from its Greek mother alphabet: a, e, i, o (the Etruscans having selected a, e, i, u). Over the years, a huge amount of books and essays analysing the Lemnian language has been published, which unfortunately have produced few substantial results and rather frequently involuntarily amusing translations of the text. 
Nevertheless, after more than a century of research, the linguistic relationship between Lemnian and Etruscan -- despite the scanty material -- is nowadays established to a large extent as an undeniable fact.
The phonemic systems can not be set to coincide completely, yet it is significant that apart from the already mentioned four vowel system parallels exist in the consonant inventory, too. There are two varieties of s (here written s and sh) and no indications of the voiced plosives b, d, g, while next to each other are to be found in both languages t and th (no aspirate sound like the Greek one, but rather pronounced like ty).
Evident conformities exist in the vocabulary between Etruscan (ET, Ta 1.169:) avils machs shealchlsc (literally: "at (=-s) years at four and (=-c) at sixty"), and Lemnian mav shialchveis avis(literally: "four at (=-s) sixty at years"). The common translation, "at 64 years", is of course depending on the values assigned to the Etruscan numerals. In view of the extremely meagre vocabulary of the Lemnian language possible interpretations must rely almost completely on so far decoded Etruscan expressions. Yet, the interpretation of mav and mach is based additionally on the fact that in the (Indo-European) Anatolian language Luvian the word "four" is called maua. 

Grammatical analysis may compare constructions of both languages, which the linguist calls 'morpho-syntactic', e.g. the endings -le and -si expressing the logical subject connected with past forms of the passive voice in Etruscan -u and Lemnian -o 
Etruscan (Vc 3.2) ...larthia-le melacina-si mul-u "(was) by Larth Melacina(s) given" und Lemnian holaie-si qokiashia-le...evisth-o "by Holaie kokiashia (?) x-ed" are so convincingly matched that they entitle linguists to postulate a common ancestral stage of both languages which may be termed Proto-Etrusco-Lemnian. 

Further -- which has been only briefly mentioned here with Luvian maua -- there exist enough similarities between the Etruscan and Lemnian languages and the so-called Anatolian languages (in Asia Minor) to show that the roots of the Etruscans in Italy must be sought in the northwest part of Asia Minor -- approximately in the region of Troy. And this might well form the historical core of that myth of Trojan origin, which the Romans have borrowed from their neighbouring nation, in order to claim it for themselves.

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