The archetypes of ancient world are versatile due to the fantasy and personal beliefs of ancient people. In Etruscan reality the role of deities and polytheism itself was of great significance owing to the religious and philosophical background of Etruscans and its development. Moreover, the similarities of Etruscan mythology are particular in comparison with further beliefs and religions. Here the point on the god of underworld among other deities is rather significant in its archetypal role for the whole civilization of Etruscans. Thus, the paper is dedicated toward the reasoning about Aita – Etruscan god of underworld and his place in the sphere of mythology and beliefs of the people. The role of this deity cannot be judged categorically but in its relation to other deities of the time and afterwards. Aita is a mere representation of ancient archetype of proper beliefs and culture.
First of all, it is vital to mention that Aita can be seen on the tomb paintings. His appearance is implemented in the tradition of Etruscan to relate wolves to the messengers of death and everything which this concept comprises. In this respect the god of underworld wears the cap of wolf (De Grummond and Simon 57). The image of Aita is considered in the myths which lead their heroes to the situations concerned with life or death. The relevant independence of Aita in contrast to his analogs in Greek and Roman mythology is obvious due to the logical division of the real world and underworld by ancient people. The reality in that time seemed to be absorbed by gods, and each situation or terrible event could lead to death which believed to be an endeavor of Aita. His consort is Phersipnei – a creature similar to woman but with serpents instead of her hair (De Grummond and Simon 57). Aita and Phersipnei appear on the tomb paintings of ancient Etruscans as authoritative and inevitable guests on leach so-called banquet. Here lies a similarity to the deity of Hades. Moreover, Aita is depicted in rather strict and almost horrific manner, and in most cases it appears in the same foreshortening with a manner to make a gesture of invitation:
Aita never appears on mirrors, though he has been recognized in vase painting, while his consort appears on a mirror found in an Etruscan tonb (Orbetello), but lettered in Latin with the names of Proserpina, Venus and Jupiter (contest over the child Adonis) (De Grummond 229).
Thereupon, the role of this deity predicts also the further use of the same characters in Greek mythology, in particular. Specific archetype of Aita is presupposed, however, with the direct relation to followed Greek mythology and culture. In this respect Aita was not the only death figure of the Etruscan mythology. He was accompanied with Etruscan death-god Charun, and genius of death, goddess Vanth (Poulsen 52). Nevertheless, the death-spirits were ‘also represents in the archetypal depiction of death and the reality of the underworld. In this respect the theme of the horrific and cruel evaluation of death-deities is outlined in the paintings of Michelangelo and the novel by Dante (Hastings 536). The main destination of theses characters in Etruscan mythology was applied in the scenes when someone should be taken away from the circle of beloved people. The point of mere extent of sadness was also highlighted with definite martyrdom if a person followed the wrong way in life and its moral aspect, to be precise. Described with distorted faces these gruesome figures, these figures reflected a terrifying implementation of the reality which believed to be in another world.
Etruscans seem not to have been so impressive about the mythological and mystical side of the understanding of deities. It is necessary to admit that the underworld in ancient times was depicted in the one-sided aspect. It was concerned with solely fearsome and evil estimation of essence “outside physical life”. This is why the life for Etruscans was the main value, and they might have been aware of the fact that life in a correct implementation gives more years to have in it. They depicted life and death as controversial concepts of existence, but, nonetheless, they attempted not to go deeper in their reasoning of life beyond reality: “The gorgeous displays seen in the cemeteries of Southern Etruria present, not the glorified scenery of a celestial paradise, but the reminiscences rather – and often indeed, very realistic reminiscences – of earthly splendors” (Hastings 536).
Turning to the image and destination of Aita prescribed by the ancient people of Etruria, it is possible to make parallels with archetype of contemporary image of sovereign of hell, devil or Lucifer. In this case the main similarity lies in the particular depiction of them in the image of wild animal. In devil’s depiction it is true to promote an assumption of his beast nature with horns. An image of goat can be highlighted in terms of devil’s outlook. In fact the picture of hell which is related to the beliefs of contemporary religions presupposes the space where everything is depicted in dark and red colors, so that to mention the power of fire for provision of martyrdom and pain within sinners. The underworld of Aita seems to have such common idea as well.
It is also vital to mention that both religious conceptions were established far long ago. Though, the reliability to say that modern perception of religious understanding of underworld and hell is too different from the notion of Etruscan mystical features is rather unconcerned. Aita and Lucifer are similar in their areas of straightforward destination. However, Lucifer is also depicted as one who wants to commit more deaths for people. Aita is known to solely reign in the kingdom of the underworld along with Phersipnei. In other words, Etruscan creatures for death were outlined with more diversity in characters and their destination in hell. On the other hand, Lucifer is known to be the only sovereign for the underworld, and he is supported only with beasts and demons without their names. Here lies the difference between monotheism and polytheism. This feature is attributive for Etruscan in contrast to contemporary Christian beliefs.
To sum up, the underworld in Etruscan model for mythology presupposed the figure of Aita and his consort Phersipnei. Terrific description of him was related to the wolf, as the animal being directly considered with death by Etruscans. In modern religion, Christianity, the image of Lucifer has the destined feature common with Aita. However, the image of Lucifer differs in its characteristic feature to cause more pain and martyrdom than just wait for the moment when a man dies. Aita is supposed to be accompanied with other creatures related to death, but he solely represents general assumption of ancient Etruscans about underworld.
De Grummond, Nancy Thomson. Etruscan myth, sacred history, and legend. Philadelphia: UPenn Museum of Archaeology, 2006.
De Grummond, Nancy Thomson and Simon, Erika. The religion of the Etruscans. Houston: University of Texas Press, 2006.
Hastings, James. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. 10. Whitehouse Station, New Jersey: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.
Poulsen, Frederik. Etruscan Tomb Paintings – Their Subjects and Significance. New York: READ BOOKS, 2007.