Monday, September 05, 2005

Velzna and Perusia Bella

Not the Bellum Perusinum, mind you... I'm holed up in Perugia at the moment, though with more freedom of movement than Lucius Antonius when he did the same in 40 BCE.

Yesterday I rode out of Rome on the Orvieto (Etruscan Velzna) Express: Two museums and a tour in two hours. First, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. They've only recently moved in to this location to the right of the Duomo, so they've got spiffy new cases and everything, although they could do with a bit more in the way of description. Then again, how much can you really say about case after case of bucchero? Some very nice terracotta sculpture from temples, but the best in show was split between two painted Etruscan tombs installed in the back and a full panoply, which actually came from one of the two tombs and therefore the prize need not be split at all. Made up of a bronze shield cover, greaves, muscle cuirass, and Montefortino-type helmet (others of this type). All the museums seem to insist on referring to these as "elmi di tipo Etrusco," when it seems rather to have been a Gaulish invention. Furthermore, many of them (including this one) show up with triple-disc cheek-pieces, which must be inspired by the triple-disc armor popular among the Samnites a bit farther south. Finally they, like many -- nay, most -- other museums had the helmet displayed backwards, with the brim of the neckguard sticking out in front. This type is also referred to as a "Jockey"-style, because of the brim -- but it was worn with the brim in back, unlike a jockey. I told one of the guides about this problem, so maybe they'll fix it....

The Museo Faina across from the Duomo in Orvieto was a wash for me... I have a confession to make: I'm sick and tired of Attic figured vases. Exekias this! Berlin Painter that! Bah humbug. I think it's because in my mind they represent the adoration of antiquity to art object, the tearing of form from context, the elevation of beauty to truth, the destruction of knowledge in pursuit of esthetics. Keats is wrong. But if you like such things it's a fabulous museum.

Next I caught a tour of some of the Etruscan tunnels underneath the city: wells and workshops, millstones for olive oil and such. Pretty neat, but nothing mind-blowing. The really impressive thing is that they stretch under the entire city and you only see a fraction on the tour. Then I jumped on a train for Perugia, skirted the edge of Lake Trasimene (now something of a resort, I gather) and got into the hostel just before curfew after a bus ride that was a real trip.

Today I wandered around Perugia, saw walls, gates, wall & gate museums... the Pozzo Etrusco, or "Etruscan Pit," formerly the city's main source of water. The Mus. Arch. Naz. in Perugia has scads of Etruscan burial urns, very nice, very nice. The Cippus Peruginus, one of the most important Etruscan inscriptions, dealing with a property agreement between two families, is tucked in at the end of a hallway with little fanfare, although it does rate a polychrome explanatory panel...

There's a nifty Greek parade helmet of Phrygian type from an Etruscan tomb, associated with three urns... I wasn't expecting more than that. I entered another room, and felt a bit like Dave in Kubrick's Odyssey: "My God, it's full of helmets... " Eleven, count 'em, eleven helmets and associated grave goods from various necropoleis around Perugia. Five Montefortinos (di tipo Etrusco, of course) plus four Chalcidian/Attic and four "of Italic type" that have many similarities with the Chalcidian. Of particular interest was a pair of greaves, not actually present, having been removed for restoration, bearing an inscription in Umbrian:
that is, "of the people/state," leading to speculation that the Umbrians had state-issued military equipment. This was certainly the case in Athens, at least after the Ephebic Reform of 335 BCE, but Athens and Umbria are two different places entirely. Finally, the greaves came from an Etruscan grave: perhaps spoils of war buried with their captor.

Updates will follow. Maybe pictures, too, though that doesn't seem likely in the near future, unfortunately. Also, I have my phone figured out -- except that I don't seem to have service, which probably means something's broken.

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