Greek in Italy

Project Research Blog

Multilingual Mirrors part 1


The Fitzwilliam Museum has a lovely Etruscan mirror on show in its Greece and Rome gallery (Gallery 21), which has a picture of the judgement of Paris. We know this partly because of the picture itself (which you can see here), in which a dashing young man is standing in front of three women, one of whom is wearing the aegis, while another is wearing nothing but a veil as a rather half-hearted sop to modesty. But we also know who the characters are because, around the outside of the mirror, we are given the dramatis personae. And this short – four-word – inscription provides us with a fantastic example of the kind of language contact that was going on in Italy in the first millennium BC. Although the language of the inscription is clearly Etruscan, only one of the names is Etruscan: this is Turan, the name for Aphrodite/Venus. The other two goddesses are Uni and Menrva; the first of these is the equivalent of Latin Iuno (Greek Hera), borrowed from an Italic language in which Iuno was called Iuni, and the second is clearly Minerva (Greek Athene), borrowed either from Latin or from another Italic language. Paris is called by his alternative Greek name Alexandros, which, having gone through the Etruscan sound-change wringer, turns up as Elψsuntre. Four words, three (or perhaps four) languages – surely that’s a record?

2 thoughts on “Multilingual Mirrors part 1

  1. What’s the third letter in Alexandros? I can’t quite make it out on the image. Is it the khi-that-looks-like-psi letter from the Western Greek alphabet? So a -khs- spelling for /ks/? That would be interesting…

  2. Very cool! FYI, the link in your post to the page from the Fitzwilliam Museum no longer works. The permanent identifier for this object is:

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