Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ancient Etruscans too were Monica Belluccis   posted by agnostic @ 4/04/2007 10:46:00 AM

Nick Wade has a good article in the NYT on the origins of the Etruscans, which if you've been following Razib's coverage of the topic (here, here, and here) will sound pretty familiar. However, the following ancient account of their women caught my eye:
"Sharing wives is an established Etruscan custom," wrote the Greek historian Theopompos of Chios in the fourth century B.C. "Etruscan women take particular care of their bodies and exercise often. It is not a disgrace for them to be seen naked. Further, they dine not with their own husbands, but with any men who happen to be present."

He added that Etruscan women "are also expert drinkers and are very good looking."

Judging physical attractiveness is pretty easy -- you don't need to subject the person to a gauntlet of cognitive tasks like you do to gauge their intelligence, or see them behave in diverse situations to discern their level of extraversion. It's also a quality that males are apt to pay particular attention to, especially if it is so pop-out-of-the-background that a person emphasizes that a woman is very good looking. So, I think it's safe to say this ancient historian's remark is at least in the ballpark.

Moreover, it's hard to believe that within the past two or three thousand years the selective advantage for good looks would have diminished within an environment that's pretty pathogen-infested -- while Italy is no Nigeria, it's bad enough to have spawned local responses to malaria. We must also bear in mind that, compared to 21st-century Italy, environmental conditions back then were surely much less favorable to developing good looks, so that judging the appearance of Etruscan females from statues and frescoes from our modern lens might be a bit unfair.

Bearing that in mind, who among the moderns can we look to in order to investigate whether Etruscan women tend to be good-looking? My first thought was my third-year Italian professor, who hailed from Perugia and was still quite fetching even in her 50's (and I may have been deceiving myself; my female classmates said she was probably 60). After searching around for more well known individuals, I couldn't believe the felicitous end-result: Monica Bellucci herself comes from an Umbrian town of under 40,000 people (and that's as of 2001, not 1964 when she was born). What better proof do you need? Etruscan women were, and are, hotties.