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Forum Antiquum Lecture Fall 2021: 'Tyrrhenus fato profugus. Neo-Latin Panegyrics and the Humanist Appropriation of Etruscan Foundational Myths'

Thursday 4 November 2021
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Heinsius Room

Where do the ancient Etruscans originate from? While present-day scholarship proposes many nuanced answers to this question, the way the matter has been dealt with in the past has very often been influenced by ideology. In 15th-century Italy, it became a powerful instrument in the hands of the humanists, who almost univocally recurred to Herodotus’ opinion that said the Etruscans to be Lydian migrants. Humanists adopted this Etruscan origin myth into Neo-Latin verse panegyrics in their intent to provide their patrons – from the Medici in Florence to the Gonzaga in Mantua – with an old and noble past.

In my paper, I focus on three Neo-Latin poets (Domenico da Corella, Ugolino Verino, and Battista Spagnoli) to show the challenges humanists were faced with when appropriating the earliest beginnings of Etruscan civilization. Herodotus’ story of the Lydian prince Tyrrhenus leaving his homeland and arriving in Italy was eagerly combined by these poets with other classical myths and with medieval legends into (more or less) coherent stories about Florence’s and Mantua’s earliest origins. Thus, the eastern origins of the Etruscans served for the Florentines and the Mantuans as a way to compete with other cities, who could not link themselves to ancient Etruria.

With my talk I challenge the view currently held in scholarship that, for Quattrocento Italy, political uses of the Etruscans can only be found in the works of just a handful of (prose) writers like Leonardo Bruni and Annio of Viterbo. By proposing Latin verse panegyrics as a suitable corpus for a study into the Renaissance (re)discovery of the Etruscans, I reconstruct a very little known, yet fascinating chapter in the longue durée reception of the Etruscan civilization.

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