Etruscan Mirror Showing a Foot Symbolically Placed upon a Rock

Living on the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans were an ancient people who faded into the Roman culture by the first century BC.  Discovery of Etruscan artifacts have exposed some of their beliefs and influences onto the early Roman people.  One of the items which have provided researchers with a wealth of information are the Etruscan mirrors.

Many of the mirrors are decorated with scenes from their daily life, include inscriptions, and convey spiritual beliefs.  The Etruscans were well known to rely heavily on divination in their making of decisions. One such Etruscan mirror shares this ancient practice, and may hold clues to how the will of the gods or the Divine can be understood even yet today.

The fifth century BC bronze mirror shows a man leaning over a table performing haruspicy.  Haruspicy is the examination of a liver which is used to determine the will of the gods.  The selection of a liver (usually of a sheep) was commonly chosen for divination because it was thought to be the seat of the soul or life source.  Upon sacrifice, the soul of the god’s and the animal were believed to combine.  Looking into one, a seer saw the other.  In many written accounts describing haruspicy, the liver is said to still quiver.  This detail expresses the quickness in which the divination was performed.  The point of death, with the point of the god receiving the sacrifice, was a crucial aspect of the ritual.

The man’s name depicted on the Etruscan mirror is given as Chalchas; a mythical Greek seer.   Along with being a wonderful illustration of Etruscan art, a most interesting feature is shared on the engraving; the pose of the seer.  In order for Chalchas to make an interpretation from the liver, he places his foot on a rock.  This was an important action for diviners, as it was believed to establish a connection to the Earth and complete the circuit.  The wings on Chalchas indicate his intercession between Heaven and Earth.  The point of mediation is achieved as he examines the liver (looks into the soul of the god), while having his foot placed on the rock.

One may wonder if Nicolas Poussin’s painting of The Arcadia Shepherds may imply some of this meaning, since a shepherd is shown with his foot placed on a rock.  The scene shows the examination of a tomb with the inscription, Et in Arcadia Ego, etched on the side.  Mentioned in the article, The History of Anagrams, anagrams were widely known and employed at the time of Poussin’s painting.  The translation for I Tego Arcana Dei (the anagram of Et in Arcadia Ego and most likely known), is Begone, I conceal God’s secrets.

God’s secrets?  The Will of God, maybe?  Could Nicolas Poussin have painted the shepherd with his foot placed on the rock in relation to the above ancient practice and belief?  In order to ‘learn the Will of God’ or ‘learn Divine secrets’, one must form a connection.  It is the shepherd, with his foot on the rock, which seems to have come to an understanding.  Could a connection have been made which revealed the Will of God to him?

Assuming he too had been examining the tomb and the inscription, it would seem the point of balance between Heaven and Earth and realizing God’s Will, was made by looking at it.  As suggested in The Secret Meaning of Et in Arcadia Ego and I Tego Arcana Dei, could it be related to a change of a man’s heart?  That the change required by man is what conceals God’s secrets?

A woman stands behind the shepherd with her hand placed between his shoulders or placed atop his heart.  Does she represent the Spirit of Wisdom?

Luke 10:27 states “Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  One gives his all, his ‘life’ to God.  At the point of this sacrifice, this death(rebirth), an union could have been made which revealed an intimate wisdom between God and the Shepherd.

The epitaph of Rumi, mentioned in the previous post; “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men” creates a question to be asked.  The parallel of tomb and heart in the quote may have one wonder if the shepherds are actually examining a tomb.  Maybe, they are examining one’s own heart; for it is known, it is the Wellspring of Life (Proverbs 4:23).

Many other questions can be asked.  Meaning is not forced upon the viewer and it would seem to suggest, upon examination of one’s heart, each person finds their own ‘Arcadia.’


Please feel free to discuss.



Etruscan Mirrors, British Museum, reviewed June 2012

Mirror with engraving of Chalchas, Vatican Museums, reviewed June 2012

Hunt, Patrick, Haurspicy, reviewed June 2012

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9 Responses

  1. Glenn Read says:

    Hepatologist? Eisoptrophobia.

  2. horatio says:

    Isn’t the woman’s hand either ‘hovering’ or on top of the tunic going over the shepherds’ right shoulder?

  3. Glenn Read says:

    The “Liver of Piacenza”, an artefact over 2000 years old, is a bronze model of a sheep liver. It is a tool, made to help Estruscan priests correctly interpret “signs” seen in the shiny surface of a freshly excised liver. This bronze of a liver has been described as “a kind of compass, a map to guide the Haruspex in watching the surface of the organ in search of divine signs.” The upper surface of the model is almost “entirely occupied by inscriptions in Etruscan language, comprised in 38 boxes of different shapes.” The inscriptions are said to be the names of Estrucan gods written in the various boxes, which partition the sky to locate the exact position of its divine inhabitants.
    This bronze model is an ancient device used to help Estrucan priests correctly “read” the liver. It is an aid to master this lost art. Perhaps, Jenny wishes to remind us of a conceptual operational similarity between this bronze artefact, and the “ancient secret device” mentioned in the Maranatha Book, which will allow masters to read the Maranatha book.

    Or perhaps Jenny hopes to encourage us to use an internal organ to find God?

  4. Glenn Read says:

    At the “Kaaba”, a cuboid-shaped building, revered by the Muslims at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, is a sacred Black Stone, set into the eastern corner, which Muslims believe “fell from Heaven”. Once pure white, a common tradition of the Black Stone is that it once shone so brightly that had God not darkened it, it would have illuminated everything between the east and the west. The Koran says that Muhammad stood upon this stone when he was taken to Heaven on a “ladder of light”, by the angel Gabriel.

  5. Mark says:

    We have to be Careful in our understanding of such a Mystery. Try to keep in mind the fact that the Scribes represented a group of preists who worshipped the Oracle too. The very fact that some Ancient Civilazation often rests on a peninsula represents the clue that these might represent “The Fallen Ones.” When we hear the word “Rock,” it is supposed to sound like “Ruach.” Sheppards don’t lead their flocks to Rocks. Rather, like
    Goats, they lead their flocks to Flowers, representing the Wolf, only to discover later that some New “Fresh Hell” is about to break loose from the understanding of such a Secret. If you really want to know what was in those “vials of wrath” that the Angels poured out in The Book of Revelations, try studying the History of the Ancient Cities of Pompey and Herculanium, and brush up on your Latin. Sodom and Gomora are actually Pompai and Herculaneum. These Romans committed acts of fortification by bathing in flower water.

  6. Mark says:

    Yes, this is precisely what is meant by VIOLS (VILES). These passages will help to clarify the meaning:

    ISAIAH 14:09 – 14:20

    “HELL from BENEETH is MOVED for thee to MEET THEE (a reference to Tourists) at thy COMING. It STIRRETH UP the DEAD for thee, even all of the chief ones (Kings) of the Earth. It hath RAISED UP from their THRONES (THROWNS) all of the Kings of the Nations. 

    And they shall speak and say “art thou also become WEAK (a reference to HERCULANEUM) as WE? Art thou become Like unto us?

    The POMP (a reference to Pompei) is brought DOWN to the GRAVE, and the NOISE (Howls/Moans) of thy VIOLS (Viles). The WORMS (Hebrew Hmmr/Hammers) are Spread, the WORMS (Hammers) Cover.” 

    How thou Art FALLEN (THROWN)  from HEAVEN O LUCIFER (Reference to SATYR), O SON (WOLF) of the MORNING (MOURNING/Howling). How thou art CUT DOWN to the GROUND, which didst Weaken the Nations. 

    For thou hadst said in thy Heart, I will ASCEND into HEAVEN. I will EXAULT my THRONE (THROWN) ABOVE the STARS (STAIRS) of GOD. I will SIT also upon the MOUNT (A reference to OLYMPUS) of the CONGREGATION (of the Gods) in the sides of the North.
    I will ASCEND above the HEIGHTS of the CLOUDS (Volcanic Clouds) and be like the MOST HIGH.

    Yet, THOU shalt be BROUGHT DOWN to HELl, To the SIDES of the PITT.

    They that SEE THEE (The TOURISTS) shall. Narrowly look upon thee, and Consider thee saying WAS IT (really) the MAN (a reference to Adam?) that MADE the EARTH to TREMBLE, that did SHAKE the KINGDOMS?

    That Made the World as a WILDERNESS and DESTROYED the CITIES thereof, that OPENED UP the HOUSE of PRISONERS. 

    All of the KINGS of the NATIONS, LIE in GLORY, every One in his own HOUSE.

    But THOU art CAST OUT of thy GRAVE like. An ABOMINAL BRANCH, and as a RAIMENT (of Stone) that are SLAIN, thrust through with the SWORD, that go DOWN to the STONES of the PITT as a CARCASS TRODDEN UNDER FEET.”

    JOIN with them in BURIEL because they have DESTROYED the LAND and SLAIN THY PEOPLE. The SEED of EVILDOERS shall never be Renowned!

  7. Mark says:

    … ALSO, Glenn, I almost missed it. Your comment (No 4) in regards to the KABAA (and the black stone) is a
    Very “Intriguing” One. Thank you for sharing that information. I also agree that it is an idea that is worthy of further research.

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