The Praenestine Fibula debate doesn’t go away

Several years back Michael Weiss, an Indo-Europeanist at Cornell, offered on his website a fine outline of the evolution of Latin grammar from PIE to the classical era. Weiss recently published this Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin (Ann Arbor: Beech Stave Press, 2009), though regrettably through a no-name press that isn’t even available at Amazon. Just as interesting as the Outline itself is Weiss’ OHCGL Addenda and Corrigenda blog.

Back when I was heavily invested in Indo-European linguistics as an undergraduate, I enjoyed reading about the debate over the Praenestine Fibula, that Roman artifact whose inscription MANIOS MED FHE:FHAKED NVMASIOI was long unquestioned as the oldest attestation of Latin. Arthur Gordon’s article in Classical Journal 78 (1): 64–7 and Eric Hamp’s in the American Journal of Philology 102 (1981) 151–153 list the major linguistic doubts that arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Subsequent studies treating the history of Latin have tended to consider the fibula an outright fake, e.g. Gordon in his 1983 Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy p. 76, Baldi in his 1988 Foundations of Latin p. or Szemerenyi in his 1990 Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics p. 10.

Weiss’ blog reveals that debate over the artifact’s authenticity has arisen afresh. In a February 2010 post titled ‘Numasioi Vindicated’ he mentions recent work by Hartmann that, if not proving the fibula authentic, at least suggests that earlier scientific testing was flawed. He then makes reference to a recent Etruscan monument that might provide independent attestation of the name Numasios. The later post ‘Numasioi Vindicated? Maybe not’ contains an update.

So, the matter of the fibula is still unsettled. I don’t like being reminded that in historical linguistics in general, all conclusions are rather tentative.

Liber Linteus

The longest extant text in the Etruscan language is the Liber Linteus, the linen wrapping of a mummy now held in the National Archaeological Museum in Zagreb. I saw this mummy several years ago during a trip to Croatia, and I regret that at the time I had no idea of the import of what I was seeing. There’s an interesting presentation of the text at ‘The Etruscan Liber Linteus’ that’s worth checking out.

Also, the Open University of the UK maintains a collection of links on Etruscan subjects (with linguistic links helpfully divided into ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’) that may also prove helpful.