For students of ancient Rome, the Etruscans are brought on the stage of history to die at the merciless hands of the Romans. For students of the ancient Greeks, they have often been represented as the rich westerners who tried to imitate Greek art and failed. For the more romantically minded, the Etruscans will always be mysterious, no matter how well known they may be today. Their origins are no longer a subject for serious debate, and even though their language has not ceased to attract wild theories, the Etruscans are not entirely mute and can often speak to us intelligibly.
Spivey's volume, in the always reliable World of Art series, is a well-organized and lively essay that communicates much of the author's enthusiasm and admiration for the Etruscan peopled touched in many places with an atmosphere that evokes the country they inhabited. After an introduction in which Spivey suggests that the Etruscans have now been demystified and both defends them in their usury unequal comparison with the Greeks and at the same time denies them the meditated anti-classicism that many have wished on them, we are treated to four chapters (1-3 and 5) that take US in rapid succession from the Bronze Age to Claudius and his Etruscan researches. All the way through, Spivey is anxious to make us realize that the art they produced was closely related to the land in which they lived, the life they led, the society they shared, and the religion they practised. Context for Spivey is paramount; the art did not exist in vacuo and this means we must be made aware of the soil from which its excavators (whether official or not) have over the centuries removed it. He successfully weaves the well-known objects such as the Sarcophagus of the Married Couple and the Regolini-Galassi tomb material (`by no means a subtle excavation', 50) with the less obvious and the more recent finds. We are gradually shown the various Near Eastern and Hellenic influences that helped to shape the archaic and classical Etruscans and the Roman presence that eventually eradicated their descendants.
Chapter 4 shows how keenly the author wishes us to think in terms of Local and urban contexts; Etruria was no nation state. We are taken on a selective tour of Etruscan sites. It is right that the big sites receive the most extensive treatment: Caere/Cerveteri, `the most hellenized of all Etruscan sites' (85), Tarquinia and its painted tombs, Vulci and its proliferation of Attic painted pottery, but there are many more, smaller places: the domestic sites excavated by the Swedes, the cliff-cut cemeteries of Castel d'Asso and Norchia, Pyrgi with its sanctuary, its gold plaques, and its savage terracotta pedimental figures, Murlo and its strange `condominium', and so forth.
It is right that the `imaginary Etruscans' of the generations that followed antiquity should receive their due in a final chapter: Annius of Viterbo and his fabrications that gave the Etruscans a place in the repopulation of the world after the Flood, 18th-century `Etruscomania', George Dennis and his cities and cemeteries, and D. H. Lawrence with `a valid gospel of engaged response to Etruscan art' (193). But the last illustration of a hard-faced tomb-robber who has admitted to emptying 4000 graves during his career cannot but leave the reader with a feeling of deep sadness.
Spivey has succeeded in presenting us with an engaging picture of the Etruscans and their art. Whether students are looking at Greek or at Roman art, they would do well to turn aside and wander for a while round Tuscany to meet the living ghosts of Spivey's Etruscans.
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|Publication:||Greece & Rome|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1998|
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