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Assimilated into the Roman Republic during the 4th century BCE, the Etruscans were an early wealthy and powerful civilization that existed in ancient Italy in the area corresponding today to Tuscany (south of the Arno river), western Umbria, and northern and central Lazio. A major element in their art was vase painting, which was strongly influenced by Greek vase painting (see my blog of January 23, 2018). The rare antique Etruscan mug pictured here would cost you about $17,500 today. It’s upper register features an armed warrior between two boars; the lower, five geese, their wings outspread.

In THE DEADLIEST LIE, we learn that Miriam’s father collected Etruscan vases like this until her brother Binyamin, in a fit of rage, smashed the collection. Let’s listen with Miriam as she overhears them arguing about Binyamin’s intention to become a gladiator:

“Don’t you realize, Binyamin, I’ve given you the best of everything, in this, the most splendid city in the world? That you’re on a path to ruin? That once you sign a contract and take the oath, you relinquish everything: your citizenship, your freedom, the ownership of your very life? You’ll be branded like the lowliest animal and subject to every humiliation. You’ll long for the days when your body belonged only to you. And you’ll be corralled to breathe the stench and share the lice of the Empire’s most wretched criminals, slaves, and prisoners of war.”

“No, Papa, you’re wrong.” Binyamin hammered out his words in a cold, brittle staccato, but then his voice took on a zealous tone. “There are more free gladiators than ever in Alexandria, and that’s because gladiators are heroes, showered in every city of the empire with fame, fortune, and the company of eager women.”

I heard two claps in rapid succession, each followed by the clatter of shattering pottery and the tinkle of showering smithereens. That racket could mean only one thing, that my brother had hurled his leather sandals at my father’s collection of antique Etruscan vases.

But the smashing of Etruscan vases was only the beginning of a tumultuous but all too common conflict between an overprotective father and a rebellious son. For more on their struggle, click here.

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