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Chapter Three

Etruscan, South Italian and Roman Dancing. Illustrations from the Grotta dei Vasi, the Grotta della Scimia, and the Grotta del Triclinio, Corneto. Funeral Dances from Albanella, Capua, &c. Pompeii and the Baths of Constantino. The Dances of the Etruscans and South Italians. The Roman, Dance of the Salii. The Bellicrepa. The social position of Dancing. The Chorus.

Page One

One of the most important nations of antiquity was the Etruscan, inhabiting, according to some authorities, a dominion from Lombardy to the Alps, and from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic.
Etruria gave a dynasty to Rome in Servius Tullius, who originally was Masterna, an Etruscan. It is, however, with the dancing that we are dealing. There is little doubt that they were dancers in every sense; there are many ancient sepulchres in Etruria, with dancing painted on their walls. Other description than that of the pictures we do not possess, for as yet the language is a dead letter.

Etruscan bronze
Fig. 19: Etruscan bronze dancer
with eyes of diamonds,
found at Verona.
Now in the British Museum.

There is no doubt, as Gerhardt [1] suggests, that they considered dancing as one of the emblems of joy in a future state, and that the dead were received with dancing and music in their new home.

They danced to the music of the pipes, the lyre, the castanets of wood, steel, or brass, as is shown in the illustrations taken from the monuments.
That the Phoenicians and Greeks had at certain times immense influence on the Etruscans is evident from their relics which we possess (fig. 20). A characteristic illustration of the dancer is from a painting in the tomb of the Vasi dipinti, Corneto, which, according to Mr. Dennis, [2] belongs to the archaic period, and is perhaps as early as 600 B.C. It exhibits a stronger Greek influence than some of the paintings.
Fig. 21, showing a military dance to pipes, with other sports, comes from the Grotta della Scimia, also at Corneto; these show a more purely Etruscan character. The pretty dancing scene from the Grotta del Triclinio at Corneto is taken from a full-sized copy in the British Museum, and is of the greatest interest. It is considered to be of the Greco-Etruscan period, and later than the previous examples (fig. 22).

Etruscan dancer
Fig. 20: Etruscan dancer. From a painting in the Grotta dei Vasi dipinti—Corneto.

There is a peculiarity in the attitude of the hands, and of the fingers being kept flat and close together; it is not a little curious that the modern Japanese dance, as exhibited by Mme. Sadi Yacca, has this peculiarity, whether the result of ancient tradition or of modern revival, the writer cannot say.

Etruscan dancing and performances
Fig. 21: Etruscan dancing and performances
from about 500 B.C.

Almost as interesting as the Etruscan are the illustrations of dancing found in the painted tombs of the Campagna and Southern Italy, once part of "Magna Grecia"; the figure of a funeral dance, with the double pipe accompaniments, from a painted tomb near Albanella (fig. 23) may be as late as 300 B.C., and those in figs. 24, 25 from a tomb near Capua are probably of about the same period.
These Samnite dances appear essentially different from the Etruscan; although both Greek and Etruscan influence are very evident, they are more solemn and stately. This may, however, arise from a different national custom.

That the Etruscan, Sabellian, Oscan, Samnite, and other national dances of the country had some influence on the art in Rome is highly probable, but the paucity of early Roman examples renders the evidence difficult.
Rome as a conquering imperial power represented nearly the whole world of its day, and its dances accordingly were most numerous. Amongst the illustrations already given we have many that were preserved in Rome.

Etruscan Dancing
Fig. 22: Etruscan Dancing.
From the Grotta del Triclinio.

In the beginning of its existence as a power only religious dances were practised, and many of these were of Etruscan origin, such as the Lupercalia, the Ambarvalia, &c. In the former the dancers were demi-nude, and probably originally shepherds; the latter was a serious dancing procession through fields and villages.
A great dance of a severe kind was executed by the Salii, priests of Mars, an ecclesiastical corporation of twelve chosen patricians. In their procession and dance, on March 1, and succeeding days, carrying the Ancilia, they sang songs and hymns, and afterwards retired to a great banquet in the Temple of Mars. That the practice was originally Etruscan may be gathered from the circumstance that on a gem showing the armed priests carrying the shields there are Etruscan letters.
There were also an order of female Salii. Another military dance was the Saltatio bellicrepa, said to have been instituted by Romulus in commemoration of the Rape of the Sabines.

Funeral dance in the obsequies of a female
Fig. 23: Funeral dance in the obsequies of a female. From a painted tomb near Albanella.

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