The stupid, it burns!

While innocently browsing the internet, I ran across this news article on the Discovery Channel website that reported how archaeologists in Italy have found an intact Etruscan tomb. Exciting news, if it indeed proves to be true. 

However, this brief article contains one paragraph that sticks out from the rest, shining in madness. It is a pure, unrefined lump of utter stupidity. I shared it on Facebook and added that it seemed to have been written specifically for a contest in which people were asked to pack the largest amount of errors into a single paragraph. The paragraph in question is this one: 

The Etruscans were a fun-loving and eclectic people who among other things taught the French how to make wine, the Romans how to build roads, and introduced the art of writing into Europe. They began to flourish around 900 BC, and dominated much of Italy for five centuries. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, considering the source. I cancelled my cable subscription years ago (around 2008, I think), and haven’t watched any television since then. (And I like to think I’m all the better for it.) Discovery Channel wasn’t exactly the mark of quality even back when I still had TV, and from reactions I’ve received from other people I don’t think that’s really changed over the years. 

But let’s return to that paragraph. 

What exactly makes a people ‘fun-loving’ and ‘eclectic’? To me, these words in this context don’t make any sense. What makes the Etruscans – known largely from their tombs! – so ‘fun-loving’? Artistically speaking, they always struck me as rather blood-thirsty. Attic vase-painters specifically decorated so-called ‘Tyrrhenian vases’ that would appeal to the more gory crowd in what is today Tuscany. And were they ‘eclectic’ because – we are perhaps to assume – they mixed Greek influences with native traditions? How does that make them any different from virtually any other people, past or present (including the Greeks!)? 

The ‘French’, needless to say, didn’t exist in 900 BC. The French were only created – if we want to be generous – when Frankish peoples, mostly from what are now the Netherlands, mixed with the native Gauls from about the third century AD onwards. France as a country didn’t exist until the middle ages. So obviously, the Etruscans didn’t teach them how to make wine. In fact, the earliest evidence for the making of wine dates back to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, and was first invented in the Middle East (if not earlier and even further to the east).  

Nor did the Etruscans teach the Romans how to build roads. Rome was, of course, within the Etruscan sphere of influence, at least for its early history (there’s a can of worms there that I won’t open at this moment in time!), and the Etruscans did indeed construct simple roads. But their road system was, by and large, comparable to that of the Greeks. The sophisticated road systems that the Romans have become famous for were, of course, a Roman invention. No Etruscans necessary. 

Then we have the claim that the Etruscans ‘introduced the art of writing into Europe’. That’s funny, because the system of writing that the Etruscans used was the alphabet that they adopted from the Greeks, who in turn adopted it from the Phoenicians in the eighth century BC. Unless somehow Greece is no longer a part of Europe, I’d say that the Greeks should be credited with introducing writing to this continent. We can even dive back further into the Bronze Age, at which point, the Linear A writing of Minoan Crete and, a little later, the Linear B of the Mycenaeans, would be the earliest systems of writing in Europe. 

According to this article, the Etruscans ‘flourished around 900 BC’. Unless there were radical changes in Italian chronology that somehow escaped me, 900 BC would be when the Villanova culture flourished in northern and central Italy. The Villanovans were the precursors of both the Etruscans and the Romans. As a culture, the Etruscans only become visible around 700 BC, thanks in large part to the Orientalizing influences introduced by the Greeks in Italy. 

Finally, the Etruscans didn’t ‘dominate much of Italy’, let alone for ‘five centuries’. The Etruscans were a powerful people, vying for control over bits and pieces of land with the Greeks and other people, but they didn’t ‘dominate’, in any particular sense of the word, ‘much of Italy’ at any point. Italy was home to a variety of different peoples, and only Rome would eventually come to dominate it. 

And with that of my chest, I wish you all the very best this Sunday!

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