Sinclair Bell and Helen Nagy (edd.), New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009. Pp. 336. ISBN 978-0-299- 23030-2. US$55.00.
Classics, University of Cape Town, South Africa
This volume is a collection of eighteen essays on a range of subjects of central Italian archaeology, with a focus on Etruria and Latium. The contributors cover subjects as diverse as Pompeian wall-painting and fake Etruscan objects in the collections of Japanese museums, which in many ways reflects the breadth of Richard Daniel De Puma's -- the honorand's -- own work. Yet the lack of internal coherence, which such a diversity of subjects and approaches inevitably entails, makes it a difficult volume to review.
Broadly speaking, the chapters can be divided into four groups. First, there are those that are primarily dedicated to presenting the results of recent fieldwork in Etruria and central Italy. If one bears in mind the considerable time that often elapses between fieldwork and publication, these essays give the reader welcome preliminary insights into both new results and innovative approaches and thus form a valuable part of the collection as a whole. The first chapter by Paolo Togninelli (pp. 3-21) discusses the Iron-Age settlement history of the area between Crustumerium and Eretum to the north-east of Rome. David Soren and Erin Nell (pp. 45-62) throw new light on the survival of Etruscan cults into the Roman period at Chianciano Terme (Chiusi) in Tuscany. Francesco di Gennaro’s paper (pp. 119-33) is, on the other hand, more concerned with the conservation (the prevention of looting) rather than with the further exploration of the archaeological heritage of Crustumerium. The importance of his contribution will be evident to anyone familiar with the lamentable fact that tomb robbing and other forms of looting continue to be particularly rife in that part of the suburbium.
Second, a number of papers deal with Etruscan, other central Italian and -- as it turns out -- rather more recent objects collected in museums. Stephan Steingräber's contribution on Etruscan fakes in Japan (pp. 79-90) affords yet another fascinating insight into the phenomenon of faking Etruscan art, which was surprisingly widespread during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, sometimes -- one might wish to add -- involving figures who also had a vested interest in 'scientific' archaeology. Jean Turfa (pp. 91-118) provides detailed catalogue of a collection of Etruscan and Roman gold jewellery in the University of Pennsylvania Museum, while Marjatta Nielsen (pp. 171-81) draws our attention to a fragmentary (and certainly less well known than its famous sibling) lid of a late Etruscan terracotta sarcophagus in Boston. Peter Holliday’s piece (pp. 22-44) discusses the Civitalba frieze (on display in Ancona) from the point of view of Roman commemoration -- while this contains a number of valid points, it is disappointing that the author does not comment more than he does on the oddities presented by this group of ‘architectural’ terracotta sculpture, such as the fact that it never made its way to the building for the decoration of which it had presumably been designed. Or perhaps this might turn out to be a reasonable yet ultimately fallacious assumption?
Two chapters (pp. 274-89, 290-98) by Ingrid Rowland and Edlund Berry -- address what one might call the 'afterlife' of Etruscan culture during the Renaissance and modern times respectively. In a similar vein to what was noted with regard to fake 'Etruscan' objects above, Etruscan culture has enjoyed great popularity since the Renaissance, inspiring works of literature that go beyond the purely historical, most recently in the guise of several 'historical' novels that, more than anything else, (at least in this reviewer’s opinion) tend to reveal a rather bizarre, obsessive fantasising à la Theopompus on their authors' part.
Lastly, there are nine contributions of varying quality on a wide range of individual subjects, ranging from art theory -- such as Jocelyn Small's delightful piece on perspective, 'Is linear perspective necessary?' (pp. 149-57), to Etruscan funerary ritual, 'The blood of animals: predation and transformation in Etruscan funerary representation' (Gregory Warden, pp. 198-219), and 'The deified deceased in Etruscan culture' (Giovanni Camporeale, pp. 220-50). Other chapters in this category include a discussion of the significance of the god Consus in the (early Roman) Circus Maximus, 'The gods in the circus' by Carin Green (pp. 65-78), as well as the customary -- in the context of Etruscan studies -- contributions on individual iconographical subject matters: Larissa Bonfante 'Some thoughts on the Baubo gesture in Classical art' (pp. 158-70); Alexandra Carpino, 'Dueling Warriors on two Etruscan bronze mirrors from the fifth century BCE' (pp. 182-97), Anthony Tuck, 'On the origin of Vanth: death harbingers and banshees in the Etruscan and Celtic worlds' (pp. 251-63). Finally, two papers on wall painting from the Vesuvian sites, 'How did painters create near-exact copies? Notes on four center paintings from Pompeii' by John Clarke (pp. 134-49), and 'Guests, hosts and politics at Herculaneum' by Carol Mattusch (pp. 264-73), while not really fitting in with the overall theme of the book, offer interesting perspectives on questions of the copying of paintings and their significance as social currency within the context of private and political relationships.
To conclude, New Perspectives on Etruria and Early Rome makes a valuable contribution to the field, especially within the Anglophone context, where Etruria (and early Italy in general) are still too often ignored. Indeed, there can be no doubt that university teachers will find several contributions to be welcome additions to their course bibliographies. And yet, while most of these papers make a worthwhile contribution in their own right, the lack of coherence not only presents an obstacle to the reviewer with little space at his disposal but also (and this is more worrying) makes the reader seriously wonder if the book really merits its title. In this light, it is regrettable that, on account of its internal diversity, the collection can, as a whole, not be more than the sum of its constituent parts.