Foundering Foundation Myths

Foundering Foundation Myths June 2, 2016
Capitoline wolf
If Constantine hadn’t converted, would we be arguing over whether Romulus and Remus were actually suckled by a she-wolf? Image credit.

Rome was founded by a refugee of the Trojan war. Really? Kind of sounds like The Odyssey to me. Okay, okay, put down that sword!

Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea so he could lead the Jews from their enslavement by those nasty pharaohs. Except, not so much, as biblical scholar will attest. The direction-challenged Moses led the Israelites to wander forty years in the desert on the way to the Promised Land? Uh uh. Evidence that Moses existed at all? Bupkis. Exodus is a just-so story explaining how a splinter group of Canaanites came be known as Jews. (Let the bullshit storm commence.)

America was settled by Europeans fleeing persecution, who turned around and imposed religious discrimination the minute they reached their new land? Oh, wait, that really happened. (Note to the Religious Right: That’s why our Founding Fathers–many of whom were deists, not Christians in their mold–wrote separation of church and state into the Constitution.)

At any rate, an origin story of, we just kind of wandered over from Central Europe, or we packed up and moved to a different region of Canaan, hardly makes for great campfire entertainment. That calls for, shall we say, a bit of embellishment. Or maybe a shitload of codswallop.

This seems to have held true for a Greek version of the origin of the Etruscans. (It appears that the Etruscans themselves thought, uh, no, we were already here, thank you very much. Though the DNA evidence suggests that they were indeed immigrants, only slightly earlier and from Europe.)

Anytime you see the word mysterious or enigmatic in a historical title you know that not much is known about its subject. That is most certainly true of the Teaching Company series we just finished watching. It’s called “The Mysterious Etruscans,” and we were drawn to it precisely because we knew next to nothing about them. The previous historical lecture series we watched mentioned the Etruscans in passing, piquing our curiosity to learn more.

The professor teaching the course, Steven L. Tuck, seemed almost to plead to his unseen audience to care about this vanquished and vanished culture. Because he often appeared to be leading the Etruscan cheering squad, it’s hard to gauge from the outside, with little background information, how much of what Professor Tuck presents is mainstream scholarly thought verses his personal opinion.

However, Professor Tuck makes it quite clear that he sides with the faction who agree with the Etruscans that they were autochthonous, meaning they sprang from the land, and not from a distant Lydian homeland (Anatolia in modern day Turkey). The latest mitochondrial DNA evidence seems to back that up, though earlier studies pointed to an Anatolian origin, backing up the claims of the Greek historian Herodotus. (Further studies may resolve whether Lydia had any tattooed ladies.)

As I said, I don’t really know enough about the subject to say who is right, but my suspicion lies with Professor Tuck’s hypothesis. The Greeks were hardly dispassionate observers of their Etruscan rivals. And who can even pronounce autochthonous in the first place? It sound like you’re choking on a bone or something.

Much of what we know about the Etruscans is drawn from excavations of their tombs and on the biased reporting of Greek and Roman writers. But if the Greek and Etruscan cultures survived until the present day, sure as God didn’t make green apples they would be saying something along the lines of what one theist opined in my Secular Spectrum post, Holy Moses.

If King Tyrsenos didn’t lead the Etruscans from Lydia, why are there Etruscans in Etruria?

I imagine if there were still holdouts to the Roman religion, there would be people posting specious videos proving beyond a shadow of doubt that Aeneas really did found Rome after he fled the Trojan War. And, see, here’s the spot where Romulus killed Remus. (No, the Romulans did not kill Remus Lupin.)

At least when Trekkers and Harry Potter fans debate cannon, they realize they’re arguing over fiction.

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