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An Etruscan Marriage : The Game Of Pentalitha

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

The plate which accompanies this is from the " Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis," copied from the Memoirs of the Etruscan Academy of Cortona, and explained by General Vallancey to represent a marriage. In the front is a sorceress casting the five stones. The writer of the memoir justly thinks she is divining: the figure exactly corresponds with the first and principal cast of the Irish purin; all five are cast up, and_ the first catch is on the back of the hand : on the back of the hand stands one, and the remaining four on the ground opposite. The sorceress is the matron attentive to the success of the cast. In the royal edition of the "Antichi Monumenti di Erculano,"* vol. ii., is the copy of another marriage, and by the same hand Alexandros Athanaios. The attitudes of the figures differ from the former, and the sorceress is casting five small bones ; one is on the back of the hand, two in the action of falling, and two on the ground (pl. iii.). The author informs us the Etruscans named this kind of divination " Alleosso," and " Talloni ;" in the Ail-asse stones of divination, Tall-on or. Dall-on has the same meaning. This had dwindled into a game with the Grecian women, and a description of it by Julius Pollux in his "Onomasticon," under the name of "Pentalitha ;" but from Valerius we may learn it was a species of divination. No marriage ceremony was performed without consulting the Druidess and her Purin. Now without following the train of deduction from Irish to Grecian customs, or affirming that the suitors of Penelope amusing themselves with playing before the door of the house, or rather in the porch, merely to kill the time, had the smallest reference to marriage ceremonies, the other antient painting here referred to is engraved in your vol. xlvii., p. 216, and represents perhaps the game of pentalitha, played by five young females, one of whom joins hands with a woman, who in the Etruscan painting appears to be a man, and therefore suggested the idea of a marriage. Your correspondent [see note 38] mistakes when he says two of the names of the ladies point to one person, for each has her distinct name. Leto, Niobe, and Phoebe belong to the three standing; Aglaia and Ilearia to the two sitting figures ; all of them nearly of an age ; so that it would be difficult to find a witch among them, if witches were old and ugly. Pollux expressly calls a woman's game ; five little stones, pebbles, or bones were thrown up in the air from the palm of the hand and caught on the back, and those which missed were picked up off the ground as here. But where once a favourite hypothesis occupies a writer's mind, it bewitches him, and vague conjecture is supported by vague citation as in the instance before us.

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