- The Scarith of Scornello: A Tale of Renaissance Forgery
There is a tradition of antiquarian quackery in Etruscan studies that begins in ancient Rome and continues down to the near present. Splendid artifacts and an absence of substantial texts have made this a playground for eccentric scholars, many of them fantasists or outright forgers. The Scarith of Scornello is Ingrid Rowland's play-date with one of the latter. Her book is about one of the more outrageous episodes in Etruscology: the 1634 "discovery," near the Tuscan city of Volterra, of a series of capsule-like vessels containing the segments of a faked history, written in both a pseudo-Etruscan script and in Latin, which stated that it had been composed and buried by one "Prospero of Fiesole" in an attempt to preserve for posterity the learning of the Etruscans. The manuscript used an invented Etruscan-sounding name, "scarith" (both singular and plural), to refer to the capsules that protected it, and in ensuing excavations 209 of these scarith (by the count of their discoverer) were unearthed in a wooded area of an estate called Scornello, which belonged to a minor branch of the noble Inghirami family of Volterra.
The finder of the scarith and the forger of the history, Curzio Inghirami, was only nineteen years old in 1634, but he was not unlearned and he had the backing of his powerful family. He presented and defended his discovery in Florence and Pisa, and in 1636 he published a sumptuous folio volume describing the scarith and their contents. Rowland's elegant book recounts the controversy that ensued in vivid detail. Despite the objections of several scholars, Curzio's faked history received the official endorsement of a Tuscan Grand Duchy that was culturally on the defensive over the contemporary Galileo affair. Although experts elsewhere greeted Curzio's volume with derision, the fact that several of them, including the Vatican librarian Leone Allacci, devoted whole books of their own to debunking it, leads Rowland to the plausible suggestion that Curzio was really playing ajoke — a Tuscan beffa — in grand style. As she tells Curzio's story, Rowland artfully weaves in discussions of what we really know about the Etruscans, of the role of forgeries in early modern culture, the nature of scholars' academies, and the increasing provincialism of seventeenth-century Tuscany.
Tuscan specialists will here and there find mistakes and omissions. The Grand Duchy's two universities were not Florence and Pisa (25, 30, 113, 126) but Siena and Pisa, with the teaching done in Florence an extension of the Pisan studio's activity. Volterra came under Florentine control in 1361, not 1472 (6), and it was not the "siege" (6, 26, 103, 141) following a rebellion in the latter year that Volterrans remembered as "horrific" (6), but the criminal sack that followed the city's surrender on terms. Annius of Viterbo is described nicely, but the humanist Antonio Ivani is not mentioned, although he was both a chancellor and a historian of Volterra and he was quite interested in the Etruscans. A quick check in the Grand Duchy's legislation (La legislazione medicea sull'ambiente, I , 325–44, [End Page 903] esp. 333–34) reveals that in 1592 the wood at Scornello where Curzio Inghirami later found his scarith was proclaimed a protected area, preventing the Inghirami from cutting down the trees and converting the land to profitable cattle raising, as had been happening for many years throughout the Volterrano. This might permit one to wonder whether scarith-excavation provided an excuse for having the wood cut down, which might in turn explain the family's support of Curzio. Today, at any rate, Scornello, which is still owned by the Inghirami, is a "working ranch" (153) — as Rowland informs us in an amusing closing anecdote.
This is above all a story about the world of seventeenth-century learning. Galileo and Allacci, but also the Bollandists (for whom Curzio wrote!) andAthanasius Kircher...