Story by Brandon L. Parsons (2016)
Etruscan Art.jpg
The Etruscans; the rulers of Italy before Rome!
Long before the Roman Empire held sway over the majority of ancient Europe (heck, long before they controlled any of Italy!) there existed a ruling culture that spread out throughout much of northern and southern Italy called the Etruscans. Though they may not have ever admitted it, the early Romans owed quite a bit to this culture, even if those early Romans found themselves under the iron heel of the Etruscans. Art, architecture, style and even gods and goddesses were transmitted to Roman culture and carried on long after the Romans gave them the boot and eventually wiped out their descendants. Unfortunately, they don't get a ton of recognition in history classes, which is certainly sad, because they had a lot going for them! The Etruscan gods in particular are of interest, because there isn’t much known about them save for whatever the Romans might have written about them, as well as some pottery shards, tomb paintings and that kind of thing. One of the most well-preserved of the ancient Etruscan deities was ALPAN, the Etruscan goddess of the underworld, love and the springtime, as well as a guardian of the dead. Quite a multitasking gal she was!

Alpan-Etruscan.jpgALPAN was an interesting character, though not too much is known about her due to lack of information. Anything we DO know about her (or the rest of the Etruscan gods for that matter) is based on ancient, dusty Roman records, many of which have become spotty over the long centuries. She was often depicted as going around in the nude, and she was also shown sporting a large pair of feathery wings. Her name meant "Gift" or "Offering", with "Willingness" implied; which is why she was believed to have been a love goddess on top of her regular duties as the queen of the underworld. Alpan is sometimes shown carrying an alabastron, or perfume-jar, which adds to that idea. Others insist that she was also a Goddess of Springtime, who brought about the rebirth of green and lush plants every year, and in some depictions she is shown holding bouquets of flowers or leaves.

She was apparently seen as the leader of a group of otherworldly maidens called the LASAS, young women who guarded and protected the graves of the dead. The Lasas are associated with personal destiny in some way and were said to nudge and guide you along your allotted path in life, then protect you after you had passed on. Just like their leader, Alpan, they had wings and wreaths, but in the rare artwork that they show up in, they also were shown to carry mirrors, which is a bit mystifying. Was it to check that the inhabitants of their realm really are dead? You know, hold a mirror to the lips for any sign of a breath misting the glass? A true mystery that perhaps may someday get solved if archaeologists make the "big find" that tells more about them.

Alpan seems to have survived into 19th century Tuscany (Italy) as the fairy Alpena, who was also called La Bellaria (which probably translates to "Beautiful One of the Air"), a sprite of the air and light who is the goddess of flowers, spring and beauty, associated with the sky, clouds, and rainbow. That's far better than other contemporary gods and goddesses of the Etruscans can say. She's one of the lucky ones that remains in the long-term historical memory thanks to the dedicated monks, historians and mythology lovers throughout time, enough for us to pay her some respect!

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