The Living Past

The Living Past

The Living Past

The Living Past

Excerpt

Now the first men, since none of the things useful for life had yet been discovered, led a wretched existence, having no clothing to cover them, not knowing the use of dwelling and fire, and being totally ignorant of cultivated food. And though the sounds which they made were at first unintelligible and indistinct, yet gradually they came to lend articulation to their speech. Diodorus Siculus (c. 25 B.C.), Universal History

"There's a whole city down there," the fisherman said. He was right: you would only have had to step out of the boat into the water to find yourself standing on broad slabs of marble, the remnants of balconies, walls, and houses. The old man told me that on clear nights he had often seen the dim outlines of the submerged city below the surface.

We were off Comacchio, where the calm waters of the Valle del Mezzano lagoon cover the ruins of the ancient metropolis of Spina. Legends thousands of years old tell us about this important Etruscan city, which reached its prime five hundred years before the birth of Christ and once dominated the Adriatic. The low-lying area at the mouth of the Po, a land of endless marshes and lagoons, has already yielded up vast quantities of Etruscan-made articles: vases, mirrors, candlesticks, clay figurines, bronze vessels, jewelry, examples of goldsmith's work, and a Greco-Etruscan cemetery of some thousand graves. All these things can be seen in the Museo di Spina at Ferrara, yet the city of Spina itself still lies buried, its site guessed-at but as yet unexcavated.

I had a strange feeling, standing there above the ruins of this once highly developed and pampered civilization. How many of the Etruscans' cities still lay hidden and undiscovered? Where exactly in Asia Minor was Tyrsa, their legendary city of origin? Where had they come from, these men who called themselves Tyrseni or Tyrrheni, after the name of their city? A whole sea, the Tyrrhenian, bears their name; yet Tyrsa itself still remains lost to us.

The Etruscans or Tyrrhenians who emigrated from Lydia in Asia Minor and settled in Italy have provided us with a clear indication . . .

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