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"If it thunders, the wild beasts shall undo the humans."
March 6, 2014 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Three thousand years ago, more or less, a Tyrrhenian farmer was working his land when a little boy appeared before the blade of the plow, as suddenly as though he'd risen from below the ground, or had been transformed from a clod of earth. This boy, who was called Tages, had the wizened face of an old man and the gift of prophecy, and he immediately began to speak on how the future might be discovered. The twelve Etruscan peoples gathered around to listen to him and write down his teachings, from which two schools of divination would develop: haruspicy (the future read in the livers of sheep) and brontoscopy (the future read in thunder.) Translated excerpts from a brontoscopic calendar, which assigns meaning to thunder on every day of the lunar year, may be found here.
posted by Iridic (42 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Tagential: "Every Raindrop Means A Lot," by classic Swedish rock outfit Tages.)
posted by Iridic at 11:58 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


There might still be a rustic Etruscan or two lurking around in the hinterlands.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:06 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


It's likely that the Liber Linteus, one of the few existing works of Etruscan literature, is a religious calendar or yearbook in much the same way. Sadly, and though our knowledge of their language is growing, it can't yet be read and understood.
posted by Thing at 12:18 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


"Brontoscopic" is now my new favorite word.

October 7 - If it thunders, there will be fewer beans but more wine.

That seems Metafilter relevant in a couple of different ways.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:23 PM on March 6 [20 favorites]


haruspicy (the future read in the livers of sheep) and brontoscopy (the future read in thunder.)

One of these things sounds like a snack from a Japanese vending machine, and the other sounds like dinosaur plastic surgery.
posted by selfnoise at 12:24 PM on March 6 [16 favorites]


I'm certain that nearly all prophecies in brontoscopy boil down to:

"Can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."
posted by happyroach at 12:28 PM on March 6 [17 favorites]


dinosaur plastic surgery.

It's not plastic surgery, it's a simple, if somewhat unpleasant procedure that every large herbivore over 40 million years old should have every year, especially if there is a family history of extinction. And it's actually more properly known as Apatoscopy.
posted by The Bellman at 12:30 PM on March 6 [19 favorites]


^^^ My brontologist is also a skilled motorcycle stuntman.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:35 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Sadly, and though our knowledge of their language is growing, it can't yet be read and understood.

Thing is, the Liber Linteus was found among the crimson burial shrouds of an Egyptian mummy. I also look forward to the time when we can decipher it, but I'm sure as hell not going to volunteer to be the first to read it out loud.
posted by Iridic at 12:37 PM on March 6 [18 favorites]


"a little boy appeared before the blade of the plow, as suddenly as though he'd risen from below the ground, or had been transformed from a clod of earth"

...makes as much sense as a virgin birth.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:44 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


The words don't seem to be mentioned, but the Etruscan names for the priests involved in seercraft were:

trutnuθ: brontoscope, fulgiarator, lightningseer
netśvis: haruspex, innardseer

Thing is, the Liber Linteus was found among the crimson burial shrouds of an Egyptian mummy. I also look forward to the time when we can decipher it, but I'm sure as hell not going to volunteer to be the first to read it out loud.

Nah, the use of the cloth dates to a time when mummification was a craze in Egypt among Greek and Romans. So much so there was a shortfall of cloth, and they literally used anything they could get their hands on. The writing on the cloth meant nothing to them. It's sad to think about, I suppose, that a once-great civilization had its culture lowered to this.
posted by Thing at 12:50 PM on March 6 [4 favorites]


October 7 - If it thunders, there will be fewer beans but more wine.

This makes perfect sense to me, since different crops like different amounts of rainfall at different parts of the growing season.

In fact, I'd venture to say that brontoscopy is probably the most accurate form of divination.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Three thousand years ago, more or less, a Tyrrhenian farmer was working his land when a little boy appeared before the blade of the plow, as suddenly as though he'd risen from below the ground, or had been transformed from a clod of earth.

wait did that really happen
posted by Legomancer at 12:55 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Three thousand years ago, more or less, a Tyrrhenian farmer was working his land when a little boy appeared before the blade of the plow, as suddenly as though he'd risen from below the ground, or had been transformed from a clod of earth. This boy, who was called Tages, had the wizened face of an old man and the gift of prophecy, and he immediately began to speak on how the future might be discovered.

See? God damn it, this is what I'm talking about! Why is this shit always like three thousand years ago? Why doesn't a wizened little prophet kid pop up out of a cornfield in Iowa today, when we could use one?
posted by Naberius at 12:59 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


Cicero on the apparition of Tages:
...Do we need a Carneades or an Epicurus to refute such nonsense? Who in the world is stupid enough to believe that anybody ever ploughed up — which shall I say — a god or a man? If a god, why did he, contrary to his nature, hide himself in the ground to be uncovered and brought to the light of day by a plough? Could not this so‑called god have delivered this art to mankind from a more exalted station? But if this fellow Tages was a man, pray, how could he have lived covered with earth? Finally, where had he himself learned the things he taught others? But really in spending so much time in refuting such stuff I am more absurd than the very people who believe it.
posted by Iridic at 1:01 PM on March 6 [22 favorites]


Ancient prophecies are a lot more entertaining than anything we're currently getting from the Prophetic-Industrial Complex.
posted by Flexagon at 1:12 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


See? God damn it, this is what I'm talking about! Why is this shit always like three thousand years ago? Why doesn't a wizened little prophet kid pop up out of a cornfield in Iowa today, when we could use one?

Perhaps he did, and was promptly swallowed up by a John Deere combine harvester. Didja see that one coming, wizened little prophet kid?
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:16 PM on March 6 [11 favorites]


I predict thunder.
posted by Wizened Little Prophet Kid at 1:38 PM on March 6 [10 favorites]


Perhaps he did, and was promptly swallowed up by a John Deere combine harvester.

Highfructosecornoscopy, the future read in grocery stores. Except Whole Foods.
posted by The Bellman at 1:48 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later 17 on life down through all christian minstrelsy.
posted by ersatz at 2:21 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


That Cicero quote reminds me of Monty Python and farcical aquatic ceremonies.

Also, how often did it thunderstorm in the Etruscan lands? If it's like the SC lowcountry they would have wars being won, lost, people maimed, livestock dead, giant floods bringing huge lizards, great abundance, loss of progeny and poisoned lizards like every day for six months.

Did it t-storm less in the winter, thus bringing fewer prophecies? Did nobody question basing their quantity of prophecies on events with such high seasonality? "Starting to feel like fall again, pretty soon we won't know if we're going to war or encountering reptiles..."
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 2:21 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later 17 on life down through all christian minstrelsy.

what
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:32 PM on March 6


Luminiferous Ether - I don't know, but it's worth noting that the page for June has a lot of "everyone will get sick and the fruit will rot", which seems pretty apt.
posted by Sara C. at 2:59 PM on March 6


of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later 17 on life down through all christian minstrelsy.

what


It means there's never a spambotator or butttextspex around when you really need one.
posted by otherchaz at 3:04 PM on March 6


Oh my goodness. I'm kind of unable to write something coherent because I am so excited stuff that Dr Turfa wrote about is on MeFi. She is an amazing scholar who always gave me the sense that she was imparting some secret knowledge to you. Also she had us make incense from an ancient recipe for class once and we tried to set it off and...well, we tried. She loved the prophecies about women rising up, but, well, she was speaking to us at a women's college.

Luminiferous Ether - eponysterical that you're asking about thunder and, well, lightning in Italy. I did some poking around and there's definitely a summer-fall prevalence for lightning, and likely thunder as well, with December looking like the least, but I don't read Italian well and Italian weather terms even less so. This article about Rome from the (UK) Met office has the best graphic showing historical lightning prevalence.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:48 PM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I couldn't fit it into my post, but the Etruscans seem to have been just generally enthusiastic for thunderbolts. As a summation of Pliny's attempt to reconcile their disciplines with the Roman pantheon, "nine gods [the mysterious Novensiles] can send thunderbolts, of which there are eleven different types; Jupiter alone wields three different bolts. Jupiter can throw lightning bolts in the daytime, but at night they come from the god Summanus." (The names of the seven remaining gods "are mostly forgotten.")

Seneca has it that the three bolts in Jupiter's quiver were:
1. mild, or "perforating" lightning;
2. harmful or "crushing" lightning, which is sent on the advice of the twelve Di Consentes and occasionally does some good;
3. destructive or "burning" lightning, which is sent on the advice of the di superiores et involuti (hidden gods of the "higher" sphere) and changes the state of public and private affairs.
(This post came about because I stumbled on the "Jupiter" link on Wikipedia and then spent far too much time trying to parse the bit about "lightning of different sorts" before I finally lucked upon the inestimable Dr. Turfa and her exhaustive notes.)
posted by Iridic at 4:00 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


the Etruscans seem to have been just generally enthusiastic for thunderbolts.

Who doesn't like a good thunderbolt? (I've been wishing for a nice thunderstorm for a while now, stupid winter hasn't provided much. I'd be happier about snow if it was thundersnow.)
posted by Foosnark at 4:17 PM on March 6


I was about to say that clearly there must not have been that many thunderstorms in central Italy 3000 years ago, but then I remembered the complex mythology and taxonomy of thunder and lightning my friends and I had growing up in Louisiana.

So maybe the weather was especially thunderous.
posted by Sara C. at 4:20 PM on March 6


the Etruscans seem to have been just generally enthusiastic for thunderbolts

We are also very fond of Lightfoot.
posted by Wizened Little Prophet Kid at 5:01 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


what

or you coulda googled it, or possibly figured it out from the context (I did the former, not gonna front)
posted by hap_hazard at 5:11 PM on March 6


Or I could have not gotten it as any kind of reference to anything at all, therefore did not imagine googling it, and was genuinely curious as to what the word salad meant. But, y'know, thanks for something I guess.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:15 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


It also never occurred to me to google the word salad. So as I'm cutting and pasting it into google I think to myself, I bet this is James Joyce. And lo, it is.

I post this to save others the trouble.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 5:39 PM on March 6


Turns out "Bababadalgharaghtakamminar​ronnkonnbronntonnerronn​tuonnthunntrovarrhouna​wnsk​awntoohoohoordenenthurnuk" is also from Finnegans Wake.
posted by citizenoftheworld at 5:44 PM on March 6


It also never occurred to me to google the word salad.

I suppose you could also have just asked the thunder.
posted by hap_hazard at 5:48 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Sadly it's not raining so I went out into the fields in search of a boy with the wizened face of an old man and the gift of prophecy but I didn't find any. I went to the butcher but they were out of liver. So after that I gave up. Turns out that google is easier to use than ancient etruscan prophecies. I think I'll consult google first next time. :-)
posted by citizenoftheworld at 6:04 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Extremely disappointed that a brontoscopy is not a medical procedure involving an extremely long, flexible, periscope-like tube, and a brontosaurus.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:20 PM on March 6


you could also have just asked the thunder.

I ran it by the thunder, but it only mumbled something about "the boat responding gaily to the hand expert with sail and oar," or some such nonsense.
posted by Iridic at 6:22 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I want to hear more about the lightnings and thunders taxonomies of Louisiana? Please?
posted by aramaic at 6:25 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to second that Jean Turfa is a lovely individual who researches wonderful things. She's now at the University of Pennsylvania*, which has one of the more robust collections of Etruscan objects in America, and her latest book, mentioned in Lawrence's post is indeed all about divination. If you are interested in reading part of this book for the purposes of this scholarly discussion, please let me know. One of her articles from 2007 on the brontoscopic calendar is available for free here. There are also a bunch of Etruscan sources online in this AskMe question and I apparently went crazy with linking more of them here. Anyway, there are a lot of awesome Etruscan resources online if you want to go more into divination and Etruscan rituals, which is good, because the Etruscans are awesome.


*where I volunteer
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:17 PM on March 6 [5 favorites]


It's not that exciting. We just had different ways of referring to different types of storms, lightning, thunder, etc. The big one I remember is "heat lightning", which, is that even a thing? There was also this whole thing where we'd watch for lightning, then count the seconds until the sound of the thunder in order to calculate how far away the lightning was. All of these things were highly related to whether it was still safe to be in the pool.

Oh, and we also sacrificed goats to the Old Gods during the first thunderstorm after the solstice in exchange for a good shrimp harvest. No big.
posted by Sara C. at 8:36 PM on March 6


This is really neat! And also hella creepily timed - someone just brought this up in my seminar this morning. Thanks!
posted by undue influence at 6:44 AM on March 7


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