Vegoia

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Vegoia (Etruscan: Vecu) is a nymph and/or sibyl in the Etruscan religious framework who is vested with the responsibility of writing some parts of their large and complex set of sacred books, of initiating the Etruscan people to the arts, rules and rituals of land marking, and of presiding to the observance, respect and preservation of boundaries.

Vegoia is also known as Vecu, Vecui, Vecuvia,[1] Vegoe or else Begoe or even Bigois as it sometimes appears. (see: List of Etruscan mythological figures).

In the Etruscan religious framework[edit]

The actual Etruscan religious system remains mostly obscure. The Etruscan language is only slightly understood, due to the lack of many bi-lingual documents which would be comparable to the Rosetta stone. Therefore the ancient Etruscan documents (8th, 7th, 6th centuries BC) that would reflect their own proper conceptions do not yield much. Moreover during the later period (5th through 1st century BC), the Etruscan civilization heavily incorporated elements of Greek civilization and eventually diluted itself in the Greco-Roman mixture of their powerful Roman neighbours. Last, while in a unique way they formalized their religious concepts and practices in a series of "sacred books", most of them are actually non-extant and known only through commentaries or quotes from Roman authors of the late 1st century [2] and hence are suspect of being extremely slanted.

Two mythological figures have been set by the Etruscans as presiding to the production of their sacred books: a female figure, Vegoia, and a monstrous childlike figure gifted with the knowledge and prescience of some ancient sage, Tages. Those books are known from Latin authors under a classification pertaining to their content or under a classification pertaining as to their mythological author (whether delivered through speeches or lectures, such as Tages, or inspiration).[3]

The attributes of Vegoia[edit]

The revelations of the prophetess Vegoia are designated as the Libri Vegoici, which included the Libri Fulgurales and part of the Libri Rituales, especially the Libri Fatales.

While some legendary portraying of Tages was handed down the centuries, probably due to the “fantastic” aspects of his personality, the figure of Vegoia is almost entirely blurred in the mists of the past. Vegoia is mostly known in traditions issuing from the Etruscan city of Chiusi (Latin: Clusium; Etruscan: Clevsin; Umbrian: Camars)(nowadays in the province of Siena).

She is barely designated as a “nymph”, as the actual writer of the Libri Fulgurales,[4] which give the keys to interpreting the meaning of lightning strokes sent by the deities (using a cartography of the sky, which, as a sort of property division, was attributed to Vegoia;[5] this assignment of sectors of the horizon to various deities is paralleled in the microcosm that is the liver of a sacrificed animal. The sacred divisions seem also to have a correspondence in the measurement and division of land, which since the very dawn of Etruscan history obeyed religious rules[6]), as teaching the correct methods of measuring space [7] in the Libri Rituales, and as lording over their observation under threat of some dire woe or malediction,[8] thus establishing her as a power presiding over land property and land property rights, laws and contracts (as distinct of commercial contracts laws).

She is also indicated as having revealed the laws relative to hydraulic works,[9] thus having a special relationship to "tamed" water.

Such an imposing system of "revealing" and "sacred texts" would be expected to have left some imprint on the neighboring italic peoples. Indeed, there is ample evidence of the Etruscan culture having heavily permeated their less-advanced Latin and Sabine neighbours' communities. This is for instance reflected in the Etruscan alphabet, itself derived from the Greek one, being solidly established as having inspired the Latin one (see: Etruscan alphabet). Also, the principles and architecture rules of their decimal numerals system are likewise at the origin of the Roman one, actually a simplified version (see: Etruscan numerals). Plus the symbols of supreme power (see Etruscan civilization), or the structure of the calendar in Rome (“itis” or “itus”, the Etruscan notion for the middle of the lunar month has given the Roman “Ides”, “Kalendae” the Etruscan word for calendar, has given “calendae” the first day of the month; the Etruscan “Craeci” has given the word “Greeks” while those people named themselves “Hellenes” etc.[10]).

While the Roman religion has precious little written bases, they nonetheless had a kind of very abstruse set of texts known as "Libri sibbylini", which were under the exclusive control of special 'priests' (duumviri, then decemviri) and were solely resorted to in times of ultimate crisis; the devolution of these 'books' to the Romans was, through some rocambolesque scene, attributed to Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the legendary kings of Rome, himself an Etruscan. Likewise, one may suspect that the legend of Egeria, the nymph that inspired king Numa Pompilius (the second legendary king of Rome that succeeded its founder Romulus; Latin "numen" designates "the expressed will of a deity"[11]) the establishment of the original framework of laws and rituals of Rome, also associated with "sacred books". Numa is reputed to have written down the teachings of Egeria in "sacred books" that he made bury with him. When some chance accident brought them back to light some 400 years later, they were deemed by the Senate inappropriate for disclosure to the people and destroyed by their order.[12] What made them inappropriate was certainly of "political" nature but apparently has not been handed down by Valerius Antias, the source that Plutarch was using. They were the same that interpreted for him the abstruse omens of gods (episode of the omen from Faunus[13]), and also associated to beneficial water, would have some link[14] with the figure of Vegoia.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ The Etruscan language: an introduction, Giuliano Bonfante, Larissa Bonfante, 2002, 253 pages, p.210, webpage: Books-Google-VW.
  2. ^ Granius Flaccus ("De indigitamentis", dedicated to Caesar), Nigidius Figulus (a friend of Cicero, exiled by Caesar, from whom a brontoscopic calendar has been handed down through the works of a certain Lydus), Herennius («De sacris Saliaribus Tiburtium», lost) , Messala («De auspiciis»), Trebatius («De religionibus»), Veranius («De libri auspiciorum», «Pontificales quaestiones», of which only fragments are known), Varro («Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum», lost) and also some Etruscan-originating authors but of the late 1st century BC period, trying to salvage bits and pieces of their native culture, such as Tarquitius Priscus (given as a contemporary of Cicero, originated from Tarquinia, author of «Ostentarium Tuscum», «Ostentarium arborium» known through some quotes by Macrobius), Aulus Caecina (originated from Volterra, a friend of Cicero, whose works are the basis of the lengthy exposés relative to the interpretation of lightning strokes by Seneca and Plinius ), Cornelius Labeo (vaguely identified in-between the 1st and 3rd century AD), Marcianus Minneus Felix Capella even much later (5th century AD). (source: Georges Dumézil, La religion romaine archaïque, Bibliothèque historique Payot, ISBN 2-228-89297-1, 1974, 2000, appendice sur la religion des Etrusques, p.670)
  3. ^ Massimo Pallottino, Etruscologia. Milan,Hoepli, 1942 (English ed., The Etruscans. David Ridgway, editor. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1975, p. 154. Massimo Pallottino summarizes the known (but non-extant) scriptures as the Libri Haruspicini, stating the theory and rules of divination from animal entrails, the Libri Fulgurales, of which the topic was divination from lightning strikes and the Libri Rituales. The latter were composed of the Libri Fatales, expressing the religiously correct methods of founding cities and shrines, draining fields, formulating laws and ordinances, measuring space and dividing time; the Libri Acherontici, dealing with the hereafter; and the Libri Ostentaria, rules for interpreting prodigies. The revelations of the prophet Tages were given in the Libri Tagetici, which included the Libri Haruspicini and the Acherontici, and those of the prophetess Vegoia in the Libri Vegoici, which included the Libri Fulgurales and part of the Libri Rituales, especially the Libri Fatales.
  4. ^ Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentarii in Virgilium, Aen, 6,72 "libri...Begoes nymphae, quae artem scripserat fulguritarum apud Tuscos"
  5. ^ "Religion in ancient Etruria", by Jean-René Jannot, The University of Wisconsin Press,translated by Jane.K.Whitehead, 2005, p25
  6. ^ "Religion in ancient Etruria", by Jean-René Jannot, The University of Wisconsin Press,translated by Jane.K.Whitehead, 2005, p13
  7. ^ She teaches a certain Arrunti Veltimno(« Die Schriften der römischer Feldmesser", by Friedrich Bluhme,edited K.Lachmann, printed by G.Reimer-Berlin,I, 1848, p350, mentioned by G.Dumézil in, La religion romaine archaïque, Bibliothèque historique Payot, ISBN 2-228-89297-1, 1974, 2000, appendice sur la religion des Etrusques, p623, or elsewhere written as Arruns Veltymnus, "Religion in ancient Etruria", by Jean-René Jannot, The University of Wisconsin Press,translated by Jane.K.Whitehead, 2005, p4
  8. ^ Jean-René Jannot, La Religion dans l'ancienne Étrurie[1]; on-line digitalized (English) English version of the French original Devins, Dieux et Démons published by Picard in 1998.
  9. ^ "Religion in ancient Etruria", by Jean-René Jannot, The University of Wisconsin Press, translated by Jane K. Whitehead, 2005, p.4.
  10. ^ "Langue étrusque" (in French Wikipedia)
  11. ^ Georges Dumézil, La religion romaine archaïque, Bibliothèque historique Payot, ISBN 2-228-89297-1, 1974, 2000, appendice sur la religion des Etrusques, p.47.
  12. ^ Plutarch, The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius.
  13. ^ Georges Dumézil, La religion romaine archaïque, Bibliothèque historique Payot, ISBN 2-228-89297-1, 1974, 2000, appendice sur la religion des Etrusques, p.377.
  14. ^ Vegoia and Egeria