Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Sunday Supplement Etruscans

Image (c) The Sunday Times.


Yeah, I know. It's Wednesday, not Sunday.

But very unusually, I got my grubby mitts on a Sunday paper. We don't normally bother- pre-baby we felt like they were expensive and luxurious, so would get them very occasionally. Post-baby, we don't have time. My parents were here, and they looove their big Sunday broadsheet, so palming Silvia off on her father, I leafed through the different bits of the Sunday Times. And there, in the telly guide, was a reference to the Etruscans! Unfortunately, it was in relation to a really poor piece of archaeo-tv, a programme on the Celts that has been so comprehensively reviewed by the excellent Rachel Pope that I won't go into its faults (and there were many) here.

The TV critic, A.A. Gill, broadly shared Rachel's opinion of the Celts programme. He divined that the Celts were really a made-up people (a somewhat fair point, considering the machinations of 19th century cultural historians) and that the whole show was trying to overcompensate for that fact, cobbling together a tight historical narrative based on Roman texts, instead of exploring the complex interrelationships of these different communities across Iron Age Europe*.

But he had to go and drag the Etruscans into it, didn't he? I've recycled the damn magazine now (foolishly), but the gist was that the Celts were a made up people "like the Etruscans." Well. Well now. Who'd have thought I'd wasted so many years of my life studying a figment of the 19th century imagination, stirred up from Roman texts?

Well, big sigh of relief all round, I definitely haven't. The idea of an Etruscan people is right there in their own words. The term "Rasna" or "Rasenna" is used to refer to a collective group of central Italian communities who chose to define themselves with this word. It's thought to mean "people of the city," so the Etruscans are stating the centrality of urban living to their self-identification. It's central to who these people thought they were. It's (perhaps) what made them different from their neighbours, across the Appennines and to the south. So, Mr Gill, even if you are unhappy with stylistic attributions that stick art styles to archaeology and then to supposed ethnic groups, here is a group of ancient people who were quite happy to define themselves as different from their neighbours. Leave the Etruscans out of it, please. We have quite enough problems of our own to deal with in promoting Etruscan archaeology without everyone thinking the whole thing was made up.

In fact, help a sister out. ***Brazen publicity request/plug alert*** Can we please have a feature on the Etruscans in the Sunday Times Culture section, perhaps when my new book comes out? Let's talk. 

*In a massive and simplified aside, why are we still so scared to admit that on occasion the Romans were wrong? The ever-brilliant Mary Beard (who Gill has been deeply, misogynistically unpleasant to in the past) was opining in the same Culture section of the same paper that the Romans are really terrifically overrated. And that's from a classicist! Come on people (especially commissioners of archaeological TV), let's break free of two millennia of Roman intellectual oppression. Digression over. 

** In the magazine of the Sunday Times, Mr Gill was back with a review of what sounded like an atrocious and very expensive restaurant in London. He made a reference to "if Lidl did an own brand French fish soup." Mr Gill, they do- I tried it last night, and it's not half bad- tasted ok, no nasty after effects and cheap as chips. I suggest you give it a go, it was far nicer than the bouillabaisse you described forcing down in the review.

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