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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 2: Life Among the Etruscans

Synopsis of Chapter 2: Life Among the Etruscans

Marcus travels with Demaratus and Cneve from Caere to their home in Tarquinii, the oldest city in Etruria. We meet Ramtha Zertna, Demaratus' wife, and his son Arruns, and are given a glimpse of daily life in an Etruscan family. They recline while having dinner and Marcus tastes wine for the first time. The next morning the boys take Marcus for a tour of the city, but Marcus is first taken aback by their unusual clothing: Cneve is dressed in a toga, and Arruns is wearing the traditional Greek garb of chlamys and slippers. In the company of the beautiful next door neighbor, Tanaquil, they look over the wares in the plaza, nibble on buns, and look over the shining sea from the high city walls. At the end of the day Marcus is invited to join a group of men for a traditional Greek drinking party, as described below...

Excerpt from Chapter 2: Life Among the Etruscans

Dinner over, Demaratus invited Cneve and Marcus to join him in the andron, a room reserved just for men. "For indeed you are men, and you are welcome here tonight," he said. Larth the old steward escorted half a dozen men into the atrium, some of the same leading citizens Demaratus had visited earlier that day. It was sundown, the traditional time for a party of this type to begin. Introductions were made all around, garlands were given to each guest to wear around their brow, and Demaratus led the party into the andron. The room was tiled on all sides, with the floor sloped gently towards a drain set in the middle, and raised platforms lined all four walls, with couches placed upon the platforms all around the room. There were footstools scattered around the room, and tables ladled with snack foods. But standing near one of the two couches on the far wall was a huge amphora supported by a metal stand. The amphora had two handles and tapered to a point at the bottom; it was made of terracotta and stood almost four feet tall. It was dripping wet, having been pulled recently from a bath of cold water.

"My friends, please make yourselves comfortable. Eat, while I prepare the first crater. If you don't mind, I shall explain what I am doing for the benefit of our guest from the Tiber." The guests, all dressed in tunics of fine material and rich color, smiled and nodded, and otherwise displayed good cheer.

"Marcus," he said, switching from Etruscan to Latin, "this large mixing bowl is called a crater." He held up a large bell-shaped vessel by its two handles. He poured cold wine from the amphora into the crater. The metal stand counter-balanced the weight of the amphora and made pouring easy. Then Demaratus added water to the crater, poured from a three handled vessel called a hydria. The crater was very large, and now full of liquid, it was too heavy to lift. He used a jug to ladle the mixture into individual drinking cups. As each man came forward to hold out his cup, Demaratus continued.

"This is called the kantharos. You drink from the cup here, and hold on to these large handles on either side. As the evening gets late and the wine flows, you'll be glad you have two large handles to hold on to." A chorus of laughter followed that remark. "Who wants to say aloud the traditional invocation?"

"Ah ha, I will!" said one of the men who understood Latin. He continued, each line delivered first in Latin, then in Etruscan. "The first crater is for health, thus says the God of Wine! The second crater is for love and pleasure. And the third crater, he says ..."

"Is for sleep!" roared the chorus.

"And wise men go home! Ah, but there is more! The fourth crater, says the God of Wine, is not mine anymore, it belongs to bad behavior. The fifth crater is for shouting; the sixth for rudeness; the seventh for fights, and the eighth crater is for the breaking of furniture! And the ninth?"


"And after that?"


"So says the God of Wine! Let's drink to him!" And with that each man raised his kantharos and drained it, then approached Demaratus at the crater for a refill.

The men broke into song, a tune they all knew in Etruscan, and Marcus took that opportunity to leave the andron and return to his cella. He had no head for wine.


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