- Artistic representation, often with identifying inscriptions, is the richest source of mythology, making this a detailed source of understanding of religion. Painted pottery, incised bronze mirrors, cinerary urns, and painted tombs contain numerous narrative representations of mythological scenes. Bronzework, coins, carved gemstones, and terracottas have representations of numerous individual divinities. A major challenge is to understand Etruscan mythology in its own right, without constant reference to the literary world of the Greeks. Some of the represented scenes broadly follow the themes of the Greek world, known from literary sources such as the Judgment of Paris and the suicide of Ajax in the Trojan War and the several-generation family tragedy of the Theban cycle, but often with subtle selections and emphases (interpreted by some scholars as misunderstandings) to fit the particular Etruscan context. For instance, a terracotta relief at Pyrgi shows the eating of the brains of the still-living Melanippos by the Tydeus. The myths of other prominent heroes such as Hercle and These are also depicted. Many other mythological scenes are linked to death and the underworld, and again can be broadly traced in parallel to the literary sources of the Greeks. A fourth-century BC tomb such as that of Orcus at Tarquinia is populated with figures of the underworld. The Tomb of the Reliefs at Caere appears to take the form of a house until one notices the presence of the fish-tailed Scylla and the threeheaded dog Cerberus guarding access to the underworld. Many other tombs contain the more distinctively Etruscan underworld demons of Charun and Vanth, who often guard the door to the other life, as in the fourth-century BC tomb of Anina at Tarquinia.Some myths are located at the boundary of oral history and have a purely Etruscan flavor. For instance, the Vibenna (Vipena) brothers are legendary figures that appear in a prophetic scene on one thirdcentury BC mirror and in narrative scenes from the Francois tomb at Vulci. A distinctive feature of Etruscan mythology is the prominence of female deities, divine couples, the mothers and children of a family, and more generally the key issue of gender (including gender fluidity in some deities). In this respect, the she-wolf, the gorgon, and the sphinx appear to have important feminine qualities that might have protected against evil. Another emphasis is on cruelty, violence, and death, particularly in the later periods of Etruscan iconography, as in themes such as the sacrifice of Iphigeneia and Trojan prisoners from the wider repertoire of mythology.See also DIVINITIES.
Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans. Simon K. F. Stoddart.