By Dr. Jocelyn Penny Small Classical Archaeologist and Art Historian Rutgers University
Etruscan Studies 8:6 (2001), 130-151
Iconography and divination have much in common. Both are divinely inspired. Their practitioners need years of training and inculcation in the art of interpretation before formal admission into the priesthood. The interpretation invariably depends on details, or should I say signs. Fourth and finally, the validity of the interpretation is often apparent only to the interpreter. While my first two points are obvious and need no proof, the last two may be illustrated by the omens seen by Romulus and Remus, when they were about to found Rome. According to Livy (1.7.1):
Remus is said to have been the first to receive an augury from the flight of six vultures. The omen had been already reported when twice that number appeared to Romulus. Thereupon each was saluted king by his own followers, the one party laying claim to the honour from priority, the other from the number of the birds.
Although we know the results in this case – more is better than first – today’s practitioners of iconography all too often achieve only the next or middle stage, which Livy described as “They then engaged in a battle of words…” A group of late Etruscan funerary urns from Volterra, made in the first century B.C., not only demonstrates the shared principles of iconography and divination, but also represents an act of divination, at least in the interpretation of this “priestess” of iconography.
I start with Volterra 177 for two reasons (Fig. 1). The scene on its cask includes all the characters and the urn is fairly securely dated in the last period of urn production, roughly between 50 and 30 B.C. The major part of the scene is taken up by a quadriga moving to the right. At the head of it are three figures. On the far right, a bearded, winged man, wearing a crown, a long garment with “detached” long sleeves, and an Etruscan “girdle,” holds a smallish round object with “swirls” in each hand, which he appears to brandish at the horses. Below him a youth, wearing a tunic and chlamys, supports a fallen, bearded man, who is stabbing the nearest horse in its breast. This man is dressed similarly to the male demon, but with the addition of a chlamys knotted below his neck, a shield, and, instead of a crown, a Phrygian cap. On the far left are four figures. The first is an unbearded man, dressed like the fallen bearded man, but with boots. He is helping a woman down from the chariot, which is decorated with a griffon, facing right. The woman wears a necklace and her garment has slipped from her left shoulder. Behind her in the chariot is another man, dressed like the first one on the left. He rests his left hand on his sword. Between him and the horses’ heads is a winged female demon, wearing, like the men, a long garment with an Etruscan “girdle” and detached sleeves. She holds a torch in her hands, as she moves right, but looks back at the three figures on the left.
figure 1 – Volterra 177. After Brunn/Körte II pl. 51 No. 6.
Gustavo Körte, in his magisterial work on late Etruscan funerary urns, identified the scene as a representation of Pelops and Hippodameia returning from the infamous chariot race against Oinomaos. The fullest accounts of the story appear in Apollodorus (Epitome 2.3-9) and Diodorus Siculus (4.73). Oinomaos had learned from an oracle that when his daughter, Hippodameia, married, he would die. Such foreknowledge naturally made him discourage all suitors, which he did by challenging them to a chariot-race with the odd twist that Hippodameia got to ride with the suitor. Something like twelve young men lost not only the race, but their lives. Then Pelops, one of the fairest of them all, volunteered, enchanted Hippodameia, and defeated her father. For my purposes it does not matter whether it was Pelops or Hippodameia who was the one responsible for corrupting Myrtilos, the charioteer of Oinomaos. The end result was the same. Myrtilos fiddled with the linchpins to the wheels of Oinomaos’ chariot either by removing them completely or by substituting wax ones. Hence the chariot fell apart, Oinomaos became entangled in the reins, and was dragged to his death by the horses. In some versions, Pelops personally and directly kills Oinomaos. The subsequent death of Myrtilos, who was also enamored of Hippodameia, does not concern us.
The urn, according to Körte and accepted by most scholars today, shows the chariot of Pelops about to trample the fallen Oinomaos, who responds by trying to kill the lead horse. On the left, Myrtilos helps Hippodameia down from the chariot, driven by Pelops. The remaining figures are considered typical Etruscan supernumeraries: a winged female fury, a youthful assistant to Oinomaos, and a horse-demon. Körte suggests that the horse-demon may be Taraxippus, whom Pausanias (6.20.15-19) discusses at length in his account of the race-course at Olympia. Pausanias says:
…there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippus, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured.
Pausanias speculates as to exactly who Taraxippus is and what his origins were, but we can leave all of that aside, except that Pausanias directly associates him with Oinomaos:
Pelops made here an empty mound in honour of Myrtilus, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound Taraxippus…because the mares of Oenomaüs were frightened by the trick of Myrtilus. Some say that it is Oenomaüs himself who harms the racers in the course.
Körte interprets the two small round objects, which the demon on the urn holds, as swirling metal disks that are used to blind the horses with their flashing light.
There are problems with this interpretation of the urn. First, the type is an anomaly among the depictions of the chariot-race. Oinomaos is never killed by being run down by Pelops’ chariot either in other visual representations or in the literary sources. Remember that it is his own chariot that falls apart. That this action, however, is shown simultaneously with the end of the chariot- race is not an issue, since such a combining of episodes within one visual space happens often enough. This method lets you know the important events, even if you have to sort out the sequence yourself. And, more significantly, perhaps, for our purposes, the combination of two events exists no matter what interpretation is proposed. The three-figured group on the left, however, does not quite fit the story. Why does Hippodameia seem so intimately helped down from the chariot by Myrtilos? And why does Pelops not seem to mind their closeness? The three figures together like this are unusual in the series of representations of the horse-race. Why is the horse demon present? According to Pausanias he appears as a permanent fixture on the race-course at Olympia only after the race between Pelops and Oinomaos. The literary sources stress that it was the treachery of Myrtilos that enables Pelops to defeat Oinomaos. A demon would ruin the point of the story. In the other major version, Pelops has his own magic horses, a gift from Poseidon, to match the divine horses of Oinomaos. Again, no demon is necessary. Scholars do not always consider this kind of argument, which I believe is quite important. The point of a visualization of a story is to tell the story in such a way that the elements of the story are there in the same way they would be in a written or oral rendering. Artists, like verbal tellers of tales, must not spoil the punch line and I do not think that they do spoil the punch lines. An iconographer must distinguish between the problems that are unique to a visual representation and those that do violence to the plot.
figure 2 – Florence 78495. Photograph: Soprintendenza alle Antichità d’Etruria, Firenze.
In antiquity the artistic representations rarely match the literary descriptions with exactitude. Classical artists are not illustrating texts, but stories. This difference is crucial. If you have a text in front of you and want to render it in another medium, chances are that you can have a good correspondence. If, however, you are relying on your memory, then discrepancies are bound to creep in. You may even conflate different written and different oral versions of the same story. Furthermore, each medium obviously can do things that the other cannot. The visual scene will have to make concrete much that is omitted from the text or oral telling, but that necessity does not mean that the two different media have to have contradictory renderings. So, the question becomes whether or not a particular representation contradicts too much of the core of the story. Oftentimes, like divination, the conclusion is in the eye of the beholder.
For an example of the artist supplying a detail not in the literary sources, consider the beard of Oinomaos. Only once in all the visual representations of Oinomaos does he appear without a beard and, in that instance, at least one scholar thinks the inscription is wrong. Yet this particular tidbit of information is not mentioned in the main literary treatments of the story by Diodorus Siculus and Apollodorus. Instead, artists had a rule of thumb that said that all men who were kings should have beards in order to be readily recognizable. This particular detail is important, because some of the urns assigned to the story about Oinomaos show a youth, not a king, being run down by horses. Either this set of urns is another exception or the set shows another story. I believe that the latter is true, because the action is also different (Fig. 2). The youth tries to escape fromunder the horses by crawling off to the right, but he is unarmed and does not attack the horses. Moreover, the figure helping the king is omitted and a dog is added in some renderings. So I have eliminated the group with the trampled youth from consideration.
The next problem with Volterra 177, our main urn, is more theoretical than the previous issues. Can there be two divergent representations of the same story contemporaneously in the same place on the same type of object? Certainly no one questions that idea for literary versions. The most obvious example is the three divergent versions about Orestes and Electra by the three great tragedians from the fifth century B.C. But, as I mentioned before, art is not the same as literature in how it tells a story. With words you can make it quite clear what has happened to whom and how. With pictures the artist has three choices. First, he can label the figures like Attic vase painters and Etruscan mirror engravers. Second, he labels the scene with a title, something rarely done by classical artists. Third, he makes the scene distinctive enough through the figures and the action portrayed to make it securely identifiable. So, we assume today that there was an unwritten rule to always render any story in one place in one period in exactly the same way. Otherwise, how else would someone know what was depicted? To take a simple case, if you arbitrarily change the attributes of Athena, how will you recognize her? Iconography depends on conservatism for understandability. Of course, this rule does not relieve the viewer of all problems. The viewer may not be able to tell Athena/Minerva from Roma, who also appears fully armed; or Herakles and the bull may be indistinguishable from Theseus and the bull.
figure 3 – Florence 78479. Photograph: Soprintendenza alle Antichità d’Etruria, Firenze.
When discussing the scene on Volterra 177 and related urns, Körte discards an interpretation as the abduction of Helen for this scene on precisely the grounds that an extensive series of urns shows that scene. That identification is quite secure, because Paris takes Helen by ship back to Troy and the urns show a ship, along with her possessions. Yet the alternative Körte offers, the death of Oinomaos, was also depicted in all three urn centers in a similar manner, but quite differently from the scene on Volterra 177. As a typical example, consider Florence 78479, another urn from Volterra (Fig. 3). Here Oinomaos is smack in the center of a collapsing chariot. The four horses are falling or have already fallen to the ground. The two wheels of the chariot are no longer attached to the chariot: Pelops holds one over his head; and the other is not depicted, though in some examples, Pelops, the central figure, kneels on it. The horse-demon appears again on the far right. In addition, a winged female figure, just below the demon, looks as if she is rising from the ground and a winged male figure, now missing his head, stands on the left. These “extras” do not affect the interpretation of the scene. Only one other story focuses on a chariot killing its driver: the death of Hippolytos, whose chariot comes to grief when a bull rises from the sea to panic the horses. Now this scene too is represented on urns, but only on ones from Chiusi. On Chiusi 563 we see the same melee as on Florence 78479, but when we look at it more closely the differences are obvious (Fig. 4). I pass over the added supernumeraries to focus on the essentials: no wheels have parted from their chariot and amidst the writhing animals, right in the center, is the bull. Again, there is no question about the correctness of this identification.
figure 4 – Chiusi 563. After Brunn/Körte pl. 35 No. 5.
Körte tries to get around the problem of the same event in the same story being depicted in two different ways in the same place at the same time by calling the scene on Volterra 177 not the death of Oinomaos but the “Return of Pelops and Hippodameia from the Fatal Course.” Yet the representation misses the dramatic quality of the wheels flying off the chariot, at the same time as it seemingly postulates a different death, for Oinomaos was trampled by his own horses, not those of Pelops. Because of these anomalies, I believe that the scene on Volterra 177 must represent something other than the death of Oinomaos.
Another urn with the same scene has a minor, but for us quite significant, addition that suggests the proper identification. Volterra 180 shows the same cast of characters in the same positions (Fig. 5). An armed warrior, instead of the youth, now helps the so- called Oinomaos. But that is not the crucial difference. The difference that makes a difference is the bird on the head of the so- called Myrtilos on the far left (Fig. 6). Körte describes it as “more like a dove which has landed on the head (of Myrtilos) with its beak on the rim of the cap.” He believed that the bird did not affect his interpretation, but merely indicated that Myrtilos was marked for death. Yet I know of no other case on Etruscan urns or even in Etruscan art where a bird in this position performs this function, and, certainly, the urns do not lack for scenes of death. I think it very important to keep in mind that these are Etruscan urns made for Etruscans. Birds play an important role in the lives of the Etruscans, as well as the Romans. Hardly a major action would be undertaken by either of them without a consultation of the birds first, as my opening quote about Romulus and Remus demonstrates. Hence the story should be an Etruscan or Roman legend, because the Greeks were less concerned with avian matters. Two Etrusco-Roman stories involve birds on heads, one disastrously and one benignly.
The first, more Roman story, concerns Marcus Valerius, a tribune in 348 B.C. He accepted the challenge of a Gaul to a duel. Livy (7.26.3-5) says:
But the human interest of the combat was eclipsed by the intervention of the gods; for the Roman was in the very act of engaging, when suddenly a raven alighted on his helmet, facing his adversary. This the tribune first received with joy, as a heaven-sent augury, and then prayed that whosoever, be it god or goddess, had sent the auspicious bird might attend him with favour and protection. Marvellous to relate, the bird not only held to the place it had once chosen, but as often as the combatants closed, it rose on its wings and attacked the enemy’s face and eyes with beak and talons, till he was terror-struck with the sight of such a portent, and bewildered at once in his vision and hismind, was dispatched by Valerius, – whereupon the raven flew off towards the east and was lost to sight.
The story appears on the ends of two urns from Chiusi and now in Florence. In both cases a fully armed warrior has collapsed to his knees, as a bird perched on his helmet leans down over it to peck at the warrior’s eyes. This rendering differs markedly from the many-figured scene on the Volterran urns. It could be a different choice of moment within the same story. That is, the Volterran urns portray not the bird attacking the Gaul, but rather the bird first landing on Valerius’s head. This interpretation, however, is far more difficult to apply to the urns than an interpretation as Oinomaos and Pelops, because the scene should be a duel between two warriors and not a kingly figure being trampled by horses attached to a chariot. Why is the so-called Valerius not armed at all? Who is the woman, who is not mentioned in the sources and therefore should not be present? In short, this identification does not work.
The other, benign Etrusco-Roman tale involves the emigration of Tarquinius Priscus with his wife Tanaquil from Tarquinia to Rome. Again, I quote Livy (1.34.7-10):
They [Tarquinius Priscus and Tanaquil] therefore gathered their possessions together and removed to Rome. They had come, as it happened, as far as the Janiculum, when, as they were sitting in their carriage [carpento], an eagle [aquila] poised on its wings gently descended upon them and plucked off his cap [pilleum], after which, rising noisily above the carriage and again stooping, as if sent from heaven for that service, it deftly replaced the cap upon his head and departed on high. This augury was joyfully accepted, it is said, by Tanaquil, who was a woman skilled in celestial prodigies, as was the case with most Etruscans. Embracing her husband, she bade him expect transcendent greatness: such was the meaning of that bird, appearing from that quarter of the sky, and bringing tidings from that god; the highest part of the man had been concerned in the omen; the eagle had removed the adornment placed upon a mortal’s head that it might restore it with divine approbation.
figure 6 – Volterra 180, detail. Photograph: Author.
This story matches the scene on the urns much better than the tale about Valerius. Most importantly, we have the bird on the head. While the bird clearly is not an eagle, depicting an eagle in that space would not have been easy. A late Etrusco-Roman gem, now in Bloomington, Indiana, however, does show a young, unbearded man facing right with an eagle perched on his head in a unmenacing manner, though in this case the cap has been omitted (Fig. 7). This person, both on the gem and on the urn, is Lucumo or Tarquinius Priscus, as he came to be called. On the urns, he is helping his wife, Tanaquil, descend from the chariot. Beside her stands a charioteer. The fallen kingly figure should then be Ancus Marcius.
Now for the problems with this interpretation. I start with the biggest thorn. The change in rulership from Ancus to Tarquinius was supposed to be peaceful. As Tim Cornell puts it, “Ancus Marcius died in his bed…” But the scene on the urn implies that the king dies violently. If you think about it, the idea of Ancus Marcius of Sabine origin passing on his realm without a fight to an Etruscan seems strange. We know that the Romans, especially those from the late Republican era and after, were not at ease with the idea of Etruscans ruling Rome. R. M. Ogilvie says:
Roman pride was always aware that the Tarquins were interlopers and that Rome had fallen into the hands of a foreign power but was equally reluctant to explain this humiliation by an Etruscan conquest of Rome. In this dilemma the historians,while accepting the appearance of the Tarquins in the kinglist of tradition, were anxious to dispute their legitimacy. Hence two legal niceties are inserted to discredit the claims of the Tarquins to the Roman throne. Lucumo [that is, Tarquinius Priscus]was not legally the sole heir…and he was guilty of fraudulent behaviour in his capacity as tutor [to the sons of Ancus Marcius]…. These legal points are of a piece with the other legal insertions of the second century.
Hence Aurelius Victor says (6): “Named in the King’s will [of Ancus Marcius] as tutor to his children, Tarquin usurped [intercepit] the kingdom and ruled as if he had obtained it justly.” Virtually all knowledge of the Etruscans’ dominant role in Early Rome had been suppressed in at least one other case. Only throwaway mentions by Tacitus (Histories 3.72) and Pliny the Elder (Natural History 34.39 (139)) record that Lars Porsenna took Rome. Could an earlier event about the initial violent Etruscan entrance into Roman affairs have been similarly buried? Moreover, one modern hypothesis maintains that there were not two, but only one Tarquin ruling Rome. As time passed, their various accomplishments, both good and bad, were divided between the two men. In that case, the violent take-over by the socalled second Tarquin, Tarquinius Superbus, reflected the reality, but was removed from the so-called good Tarquin, Tarquinius Priscus. One final support of my hypothesis may come from Ancus Marcius himself. Remember that the urns in question were all made in the first century B.C., a period when Marcius was considered not to be a peaceful, but a warlike king due to his cognomen, which through a false etymology was related to Mars.
figure 7 – Indiana University Art Museum 64.70.40. Photograph: Courtesy of the Indiana University Art Museum.
The other problems with the interpretation of Volterra 177 and 180 as the entry of Tarquinius Priscus into Rome involve only details. Livy says Tarquinius Priscus and Tanaquil rode into town in a carpentum, which is identified by archaeologists today as a covered wagon rather than an open chariot. The carpentum appears comparatively frequently on urns from Volterra in scenes identified as the journey to the Underworld, as on Volterra 135. The OLD, however, more broadly defines carpentum as “two-wheeled carriage” which could fit a wide range of opened and closed vehicles, including the chariot on Volterra 177 and 180. This kind of substitution is not major and may possibly be an iconographical compromise, when the artist decided to combine two events: the entry of Tarquinius Priscus with the death of Ancus Marcius. The entry should have been in a carpentum, but the death of the king occurred as a military encounter in a chariot.
The composition of the two types, one with the carpentum and the other with the chariot, are quite similar. They both proceed to the right with flanking figures. And, perhaps, most curiously, the scenes with the carpentum, as on Volterra 135, sometimes include the so-called horse demon from the urns with the chariots. Since the horse demon also appears in secure Greek scenes such as the death of Oinomaos on Florence 78479, which I have already mentioned, this demon would seem to function somewhat like the winged female demons. He appears in scenes of death and separates the living from the dead. Rather than actually fostering the death of the horses, he saves them from dying. So, in the scenes with the carpentum the horse demon allows the recently deceased humans to pass, but not the horses drawing the carpentum.
A charioteer is a plausible addition to the scene. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (3.47.2) in his version implies a more elaborate entry into Rome than that described by Livy. He says:
he [Tarquinius Priscus] resolved to get together all his riches and remove thither [to Rome], taking with him his wife and such of his friends and household as wished to go along; and those who were eager to depart with him were many.
The entire story in combination with Dionysius’s mention of “riches” and “household” reminds me of the scene on the archaic procession frieze from Murlo (Poggio Civitate). There a cart with two seated figures moves left, as it is led by two male figures and followed by two figures carrying household goods on their heads. The covered container may be related to the doliolum with the sacra from Troy that is carried by Creusa on an Etruscan red-figure amphora. The Murlo scene would then represent the founding of Murlo.
The basic composition of the scene with a focus on a quadriga proceeding from left to right appears in one other non-Greek, non- mythological context: the triumph of an Etruscan magistrate. In this case, the magistrate stands alone in the chariot and is flanked on the ends by various members of his retinue. Significantly, some of these figures carry fasces and writing cases. The fasces, in particular, mark these scenes as Etruscan and not Greek. I believe that whatever an Etruscan artist might do to change a Greek model, he would never misplace a fasces, a local symbol of power. It would be like an American artist putting a crown on the head of a president not in jest, but as a symbol of the president’s office. While the urns with the triumph often portray the magistrate in a toga, this garment was worn in the first century B.C. by both Romans and Etruscans. Now many of the male figures on the urns with the entry of Tarquinius Priscus wear a kind of cummerbund that I have called an Etruscan “girdle.” In actual practice it seems to be a type of dress limited to Etruscans and not worn by either Greeks or Romans. Nonetheless, unlike the fasces, it is also worn by men in Greek scenes, such as the abduction of Helen. In other words, this Etruscanization indicates that the Etruscans had, like the Greeks and Romans, only a minimal sense of period costume and who should wear what garments. So changes from putative Greek models have to be examined for their natures and origins.
Four out of the twenty-one urns with the entry of Tarquinius Priscus absolutely have the bird on Tarquinius’s head. Ten of the urns are fragmentary and some of them may also have included the bird. I do not think the presence of the bird indicates a different story, because the bird is too small an element visually. It adds to and deepens the interpretation; it does not change it. While the bird is crucial to my interpretation, clearly it was not essential to the visual representation of the Etruscans. It was the combination of the other elements, both figures and action, that enabled them to understand what story was represented. A bird, generally an eagle in the sources, similarly marks Augustus as destined for ruling. It swoops down, picks up a piece of bread from Augustus, and flies off only to return it to him. Ogilvie believes the Etruscan story preexisted the Augustan variant and probably depended on some Oriental prototype. In any case, the idea of a bird indicating that a man will become king is a basic folktale motif listed by Stith Thompson. As for Augustus, I would assume that the story was attached to him after he acceded to power in the same way that Parson Weems in the nineteenth century created major events to display the character of George Washington. In other words, the urns predate the Augustan legend. As Tarquinius Priscus began a new order in Rome, so Augustus, similarly singled out by the gods, would too.
The last possibly anomalous detail is the bared breast of Tanaquil. Etruscan matrons ordinarily, or at least in tomb paintings and on the lids of the urns, are fully, if= not over dressed. The two most common explanations for such exposure are either brazenness, such as with Helen on the urns with her abduction, or vulnerability, as in some representations of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia on urns from Perugia.[47 To a certain extent, the iconographer or interpreter of signs can read this characteristic either way in the case of Tanaquil. From the point of view of a sympathetic Etruscan, she is jarred and upset from the death of Ancus Marcius. From the point of view of a not so sympathetic Roman such as Livy, she brazenly prophesies not only her husband taking over Rome, but also later helps Servius Tullius to succeed him.
Now consider the inscription on Volterra 177. It is one of the rare inscriptions in Latin to appear on a late Etruscan funerary urn. Part of the inscription has not survived, but it has been reconstructed as: C. Caesi[us] S.f. IIIIvir iu[re dicun]do / Iter[um] visxit annos LX […]. That is, “Caius Caesius, son of Sextius, magistrate for administering justice twice, lived 60 something years.” The inscription was uniquely placed on the bottom moulding to accommodate its length rather than as customary along the base of the reclining figure on the lid, probably because Caesius was so proud of his attainments. Both the inscription and the style of the cover place this urn in the last phase of production of urns at Volterra, sometime after the Social Wars, that is post 80/60 B.C. and most likely somewhere between 50-30 B.C. Unfortunately, our scholarly luck runs out here. We do not know from what tomb it came. Nonetheless, this Caesius offers us two possibilities: an Etruscanized Roman or a Romanized Etruscan.
In the first case of the Etruscanized Roman, we know that Roman citizenship was first granted to Volterra in 90 B.C., and then taken away when the city opposed Sulla in 80 B.C. Not until 45 B.C., however, did the Volterrans have to actually give up any land to the Romans. Now the Caesii are a good Roman family and one of them could have settled around Volterra. Even more important for our Caesius, the family name probably derived from the Etruscan name of ceinzna. Hence Caesius was returning, as we would say today, to his roots. Being Roman and of Etruscan extraction, he would be a good candidate for public office. When he died, he celebrated his joint heritage with an Etruscan form of burial, but with a Latin inscription, because he was more at home with Latin. At the same time, a scene on his cask, which portrayed a story drawn from both Etruscan and Roman history, seemed truly appropriate. Since he now lived in Volterra, a city that no doubt retained a fair amount of anti-Roman sentiment, the scene has a decidedly Etruscan slant.
Let us turn to the second case, that of the Romanized Etruscan. As William Harris points out, there is a limited stock of names and some Etruscan names are “common elsewhere in Italy.” Once the Tarquins and their followers were in Rome in the archaic period, shared family names obviously proliferated. So, the better known Caesii from Rome need not have supplied the Caesius of Volterra 177. Instead Caius Caesius was very much an Etruscan from Volterra, but more in the mould of a Caecina, the friend of Cicero, than like one of the diehard Etruscans who would not contemplate Roman things. Caius represents the tail end of the Romanization of Volterra. He was a local man elected to a Roman magistracy in an Etruscan city no longer organized according to Etruscan principles, but now governed in a Roman way. He was obviously fluent in Latin. The explanation for the scene on Volterra 177, again, is explicitly ordered by either Caesius himself or one of his family. It portrays a scene from the days of Etruscan glory, when the Etruscans and not the Romans ruled Rome. I tend to think this explanation, the simpler of the two, is more likely to be right. Moreover, because archaeological surveys of Volterra and its environs show only limited and localized evidence of Romanization, the likelihood of a Roman immigrant is extremely low.
Thus we can now add another candidate to the group of scenes drawn from Etruscan history: the entry of Tarquinius Priscus into Rome. Whether the Etruscans had their own historians, who wrote in Etruscan, remains hotly contested, but surely they told tales about their past, if only orally to each other. And they preserved some of these tales for us not in literary renderings, but in pictorial representations. That we know for a fact because of, among others, the frescoes in the François Tomb in Vulci from the fourth century B.C. As far as survival is concerned, the late Etruscan funerary urns from the late second through the first century B.C. present one of our fullest sources. Yet, as with so much from classical antiquity, all we have are tantalizing bits and pieces. Like the augurs of yesterday, we try to fashion them into reasonable interpretations, but ones that accurately foretell the past rather than the future. Whether or not you believe I have correctly read the sign of the bird, I do hope that you have a better idea how of the iconographer, if not the diviner, goes about interpreting the entrails of visual evidence.