The Sarcophagus of the Spouses: everlasting Etruscan love
In 1881, an ancient terracotta sarcophagus from the 6th century BC was found in Cerveteri, Lazio. Now displayed at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, Rome, it represents an Etruscan husband and wife, reclining together at a banquet in the afterlife.
The spouses’ countenance is serene, with the so-called “archaic smile” that was used in Greek sculpture at the time. The ends of the mouth turn up flatly, as if there was no third dimension.
Perhaps they are pouring ointments on their hands, or perhaps they are drinking from cups that have vanished in time.
Proud and confident, the husband wraps his arm around her shoulder; she allows him to, aware of her beauty and virtues. They have been there together for 2,500 years.
Many authors have discussed the nature of love and marriage in Etruscan society – including the Greek historian Theopompus in the 4th century, and the Romans Catullus and Virgil approximately 300 years later, who were quite unsympathetic of the obscenity and corruption they ascribed to this ancient people.
The spouses pay no heed to them. They are so calm in their love, no words could ever cut into their happiness.