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Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition
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Pages (PDF): 444
Publication Date: 1892
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This is essentially an ethnography of practical magic with an Italian flavor. We meet the Goddess of Truffles, learn the details of divining by oil, fire and molten lead; how to bring back the dead, and coerce nature spirits into performing favors. Leland carefully documents his field notes, and includes the full text of numerous spells and songs in Italian, particularly the Tuscan dialect. The text includes many fairy-tales of the sort that are not suitable for children. Although difficult reading at points, this book will reward anyone seeking details about the actual practice of a folk magic.
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IT was a peasant-girl with a wheelbarrow, or small hand-cart, in the streets of Florence. Had she been in London she would have been peddling apples or nuts, but as it was in Italy she had a stock of ancient classics in parchment; also much theological rubbish of the most dismal kind, the fragment of a Roman lituus, and a paper of old bronze medals. Of these I took twelve, paying for them two or three pence each as I pleased--and as the price was accepted with smiles, I knew that the blue-eyed dealer had realised several hundred per cent. profit. On examination I found that I had bought:--
1. The bronze medal, which the brazen Pietro Aretino had struck in his own honour with the inscription, Divus p. Aretinus flagellum Principum, of which I had often read but never seen, and would have given twopence any day to behold.
2. A very good bronze of Julius Cæsar--the reverse utterly hammered flat, but the great man himself fine and bold.
3. Nero Claudius Cæsar. A gold-like bronze, in good preservation--the wicked eye and bull neck to perfection.
4. A strange old Greek medal in hard white bronze of Luson Basileös, reverse, apparently three Graces, with the word Apol, and beneath Dionuso Lares. "Witch-money" so-called here. 5. A medal of 1544, perfect, representing a Cardinal who, reversed, is a jester with cap and bells, with the motto, Et Stulti aliquando sapite.
That will do; all were interesting and curious, but I do not propose to catalogue them. What struck me was the remarkable resemblance of the whole find, and the manner in which it was obtained, to the legends and other lore which I have got together in these pages. These, too, have come down from old Roman times; some are sadly battered and worn, some, like the Nero, have been covered with a rich olive patina, which has again--more's the pity!--been scaled away to restore it, even as an English curate "restores" a Gothic church; others, like the Julius, have only a slight ærugo-rust; some are of the Catholic-Heathen Renaissance--one is a Leo I.; in short, there are the same elements of society in the one as in the other, Christian and Heathen Lares turned to goblins, Dionysius-Faflon, witch-money, vulgarity, and Imperial grandeur.
And they were all picked up, the medley like the medals, both bearing legends, from poor peasant women who were in blessed ignorance as to their classical origin, save that there was something of sorcery in it all. I say this because there will be many to think that I have been over-keen to find antiquity and classic remains in these literary fragments; but no native Italian scholar who knows the people would say this. For here in Italy, just as one may find a peasant girl selling old Decretals, and Dantes, and Roman lamps, and medals from a wheelbarrow, you may find in her mind, deeply rusted and battered remains corresponding to them--and, indeed, things far older. For if You will reflect a minute it will occur to you that the bronze of my Julius Cæsar medal may have come from melting some other coin or medal or object which was primævally old, ere ever he who bestrode the world, like a Colossus, was born. The ruder a bronze, the older it may be; so it may befall that these rough legends touch the night of time.
True it is that there are rude things also of later date, and such often occur and are intermingled in this collection, and I also admit that with few books at my command, I have not been able to push the process of analysis and discovery very far. But there will be no lack of others to correct me where I have conjectured wrongly. I will now proceed to one of my first discoveries.
HEINE has shown in his Gods in Exile, how the old classic deities came down in the world after being dethroned. Had he been aware of the humble condition to which they have been reduced in Tuscany he could have added much curious confirmation of his view. Let us begin with Jupiter:--
"The Etruscans," writes OTTFRIED MÜLLER, "adored a god who was compared to the Roman Jupiter, the leading deity, and who was often called so, but who in Tuskish was known as Tina or Tinia. Tina was therefore the highest of their gods; the central point of the whole world of deities. He was honoured in every Tuscan city, as in Rome--at least since the times of the Etruscan kings, with Juno and Minerva--in the temple of the citadel. Lightning was, in the Tuscan art, ever in his hands; he is the god who speaks in it and descends in it to earth."
"Do you know the name of Tinia?" I asked of my witch authority, who knows not only the popular names of the current Tuscan mythology, but the more recondite terms preserved among the strege, or sorceresses.
"Tignia or Tinia? Yes. It is a great folletto" (a spirit, or goblin) but an evil one. He does much harm. Si, e grande, ma cattivo."
And then bethinking herself, after a pause, awaiting the expected memory as one waits a moment for a child whom one has called, she resumed:--
"Tinia is the spirit of the thunder and lightning and hail. He is very great (i.e., powerful). "Should any peasant ever curse him, then when a temporale, or great storm, comes he appears in the lightning, and bruccia tutta la raccolta, spoils all the crop.
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