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Pyramids in Italy April 29, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback

The pyramids of the Etruscan king Porsenna (fl c. 500 BC) are one of the great mysteries of antiquity. What does this passage ‘mean’? What did they really look like (try and visualise them)? Where were they? Hell, did they ever really exist?

[Porsenna] was buried below the city of Clusium in the place where he had built a square monument of dressed stones. Each side was three hundred feet in length and fifty in height, and beneath the base there was an inextricable labyrinth, into which, if any-body entered without a clue of thread, he could never discover his way out. Above this square building there stand five pyramids, one at each corner and one in the centre, seventy-five feet broad at the base and one hundred and fifty feet high. These pyramids so taper in shape that upon the top of all of them together there is supported a brazen globe, and upon that again a petasus from which bells are suspended by chains. These make a tinkling sound when blown about by the wind, as was done in bygone times at Dodona. Upon this globe there are four more pyramids, each a hundred feet in height, and above them is a platform on which are five more pyramids.

Sepultus sub urbe Clusio, in quo loco monimentum reliquit lapide quadrato quadratum, singula latera pedum tricenum, alta quinquagenum. in qua basi quadrata intus labyrinthum inextricabile, quo si quis introierit sine glomere lini, exitum invenire nequeat. Supra id quadratum pyramides stant quinque, quattuor in angulis et in medio una, imae latae pedum quinum septuagenum, altae centenum quinquagenum, ita fastigatae, ut in summo orbis aeneus et petasus unus omnibus sit inpositus, ex quo pendeant exapta catenis tintinabula, quae vento agitata longe sonitus referant, ut Dodonae olim factum.Supra quem orbem quattuor pyramides insuper singulae stant altae pedum centenum. supra quas uno solo quinque pyramides.

This text appears in Pliny (obit 79: NH 36) who claims that he is quoting here Marcus Varro (obit 27 BC) perhaps his Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum, a lost work. Where Varro got it from is anyone’s guess. Talk of ‘Etruscan sources’ among Classicists seems optimistic, but this is the first century B.C.: so it is perhaps just possible.

Chiusi (Clusium of the ancients) has been excavated and there is absolutely no sign of what must have been – again granting that it once existed – an architectural monstrosity. The closest is what is sometimes called Porsenna’s Labyrinth, a series of tunnels under the city whose purpose is still not understood: several other Etruscan cities including Perugia have similar subterranean passages.

Twentieth-century digs at Chiusi have made Varro into a liar or more probably a naïf. But budding Indiana Jones are unwilling to give up such fabulous material and have decided that perhaps there was more than one Clusium. There has even been a mini Atlantis style hunt with archaeologists and desperados identifying other possible locations up and down the peninsula. A present favourite is the hill of or around Florence. Any other locations: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

Oh and Beach cannot leave this without quoting von Humboldt on Porsenna

‘The story formerly current in Germany, and reported on the testimony of Father Angelo Cortenovis, that the tomb described by Varro of the hero of Clusium, Lars Porsena, ornamented with a bronze bat and bronze pendant chains, was an apparatus for collecting atmospherical electricity, or for conducting lightning (as were also, according to Miehaelis, the metal points on Solomon’s temple), was related at a time when men were inclined to attribute to the ancients the remains of a supernaturally-revealed primitive knowledge of physics, which was; however, soon again obscured.’