Thinking Out Loud About That ‘Etruscan Pyramid’

As I was driving in this a.m. after posting about that recent Etruscan pyramid find (Etruscan ‘Pyramids’ Beneath Orvieto?  ), it struck me (and coincidentally, one of my twitter correspondents A.M. Christensen) that the structure sounded like a rather ‘fantastic’ structure we read about in Pliny’s Natural History (36.19 ), namely, the tomb of Lars Porsena at Clusium. Here’s the Perseus version:

As to this last, which Porsena, King of Etruria, erected as his intended sepulchre, it is only proper that I should make some mention of it, if only to show that the vanity displayed by foreign monarchs, great as it is, has been surpassed. But as the fabulousness of the story connected with it quite exceeds all bounds, I shall employ the words given by M. Varro himself in his account of it:—”Porsena was buried,” says he, “beneath the city of Clusium;17 in the spot where he had had constructed a square monument, built of squared stone. Each side of this monument was three hundred feet in length and fifty in height, and beneath the base, which was also square, there was an inextricable labyrinth, into which if any one entered without a clew of thread, he could never find his way out. Above this square building there stand five pyramids, one at each corner, and one in the middle, seventy-five feet broad at the base, and one hundred and fifty feet in height. These pyramids are so tapering in their form, that upon the summit of all of them united there rests a brazen globe, and upon that a petasus;18 from which there hang, suspended by chains, bells, which make a tinkling when agitated by the wind, like what was done at Dodona19 in former times. Upon this globe there are four other pyramids, each one hundred feet in height; and above them is a single platform, on which there are five more pyramids,”20—the height of which Varro has evidently felt ashamed to add; but, according to the Etruscan fables, it was equal to that of the rest of the building. What downright madness this, to attempt to seek glory at an outlay which can never be of utility to any one; to say nothing of exhausting the resources of the kingdom, and after all, that the artist may reap the greater share of the praise!

As folks might be aware, most modern scholars associate Clusium with modern day Chiusi and in regards to the tomb of Lars Porsena, it is assumed it was destroyed when Sulla sacked Clusium in 89 B.C.. But like most things associated with Lars Porsena, there is a bit of controversy about this. Indeed, as ‘recently’ as 2004, back when rogueclassicism was still a baby, we mentioned the work of Giuseppe Centauro, who was looking for Lars Porsena a bit closer to Florence (Searching for Lars Porsena). So here’s where I got to thinking out loud … Orvieto is merely a development of Urbs Vetus (Old City), but, as might be imagined, there is a debate on what it was called in antiquity. What if the ‘Old City’ is actually the Clusium that Sulla destroyed and what we call Chiusi is a relocated version? Is it possible Dr George and crew have found the remains of the tomb of Lars Porsena? Or have I caught the ‘sensationalism’ bug from all these other reports I read every day?

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