on 5 September 2011
Two or three years before his death, in 1930, the novelist, DH Lawrence and a friend spent a few days exploring the ancient tombs of the Etrsucans, beginning at Cerveteri and ending up at Volterra. Etruscan Places, an evocative account of their trip, was published posthumously.
From 800 until 500BC, the Etruscans ruled much of central Italy, the most powerful nation in Pre-Roman Italy. Compared with the latter (about whom Lawrence is scathing), not very much is known about them. This was even more the case when Lawrence wrote the book. The relative lack of information, however, suited Lawrence perfectly, for he was able to give free reign to his own ideas about the nature and philosophy of the Etruscans. In the end, the book probably says much more about Lawrence than it does the Etruscans. But the book is also about travelling through an area of Italy, which even today is still not as well known as it ought to be.
A months ago I, too, was at Cerveteri and I was surprised to see copies of Etruscan Places prominently displayed and for sale at the entrance to the tombs. I saw it again at Tarquinia and at Volterra. There are better introductions to the Etruscans, but there is only one DH Lawrence.
on 1 May 2012
Lawrence, his own man as a novelist, is his own man even more so as a travel writer. The Etruscans (whom he "sides with" as though he had to make a choice between them and their successors, the Romans - and given the political bent of his thinking, I guess he must) he paints in colours as warm as those of the tomb-paintings he finds; the Italians, on the other hand, he paints much as the English always have - a bit lazy, a bit detached, a bit mysterious, a bit shifty. The difficulty of the journey becomes a tale in itself, but it's the story woven to make up for lack of solid information about the missing Etruscan people that really catches the imagination. This book survives not because its facts are straight, but because its heart and "fire in the mind" are engaged. Romantic? Certainly. But persuasively so. Don't expect a guide, but a fine insight into Lawrence's way of seeing and an intriguing piece of the social history of travel.