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Artemide-Selene, protettrice di Giannutri

History of Giannutri

by Andrea Carapellucci

Etymology: the Artemis’ Island

The peculiar shape of Giannutri, resembling a crescent moon facing east, did not go unnoticed by the first navigators of the Tyrrhenian Sea: spontaneous was the association with the figure of Artemis, Diana for the Latins, goddess of hunting and wild nature, of the arch and of the crescent Moon, an element that often characterizes her also on an iconographic level. In fact, in the classical age Artemis / Diana appears commonly assimilated to Selene, goddess of the Moon, and therefore represented adorned on her head with a diadem decorated by a crescent Moon.

Speaking of the Mediterranean islands in his Naturalis historia Pliny the Elder informs us that today’s Giannutri, for this reason, was called Artemisia by the Greeks and Dianium by the Romans; the Latin toponym is confirmed by the geographer Pomponio Mela (1st century AD) and still by Marziano Capella (5th century). An alternative form of the name seems attested in the VI century AD, when the geographer Stephanus of Byzantium refers to an island of the Tyrrhenian by the Byzantines called Artemita, a toponym dependent on the same root but with a different derivative suffix. In the mid-thirteenth century a bull of Pope Alexander IV cites the island in Latin but already with its current name (Insula Iannutri); a century later an act of the Abbey of the Three Fountains on Via Laurentina defines it in the Italian vulgar Isola di Giannutri. The parallel form Giannuti, devoid of the R and less widespread, seems for the first time attested in the letters of Claudio Tolomei published in 1547 and disappears during the first decades of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century the few scholars of antiquity who were interested in the history of the island identified in its modern name a curious corruption, through unclear passages, of the Latin name Dianium, recognizing in the letters IAN a clear reference to the ancient toponym. I point out, thanks to the baggage of archaeological knowledge acquired during my university studies, that the goddess Diana is also known and attested in Latin sources with the name of Iana, which according to linguists would be its original name, become Diana over time by contraction of Diva Iana, in English “Goddess Giana”. If the root of the current name still seems to refer to Artemis / Diana (in the less known and more ancient form Iana), it is more complex to understand the formation of the suffix -utri. An interesting insight of Onofrio Boni, who dedicated a short essay to Giannutri’s antiquities in 1809, recalls that the same suffix appears in other toponyms of Tuscany of Etruscan origin, as in the name of the city of Volterra, from the Etruscans called Velathri and from the Romans Volaterrae. Having been proven by archaeologists that the survival of names of Etruscan origin in contemporary toponymy (such as Mantua from the Etruscan god of the underworld Manth, from which also derives Manziana and several others) is a common phenomenon throughout central Italy, here Boni’s thesis acquires some likelihood: in other words *Ianathri could represent the name of the island in the Etruscan language, formed by the name of the goddess Iana to which is added the suffix -thri, already elsewhere attested; we would thus have the third missing name, the Etruscan one, which is flanked by the Greek Artemisia and the Latin Dianium, known from ancient sources, which in fact are nothing more than the translation in the respective languages of the same name, formed by the name of the goddess associated to the crescent Moon and a derivation suffix; it is credible that after the end of the Empire the “official” denomination of Dianium has fallen into disuse, supplanted by the name always used by the surrounding population to refer to the island, name then transferred (as in many other cases) in Italian toponymy.

Continue – The first human presences at Giannutri


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