Volterra in Art: D. H. Lawrence, “Etruscan Places”

The book is a collection of travel essays by D.H Lawrence published for the first time posthumously in 1932. D.H Lawrence traveled to Tuscany with his friend Earl Brewster during the spring of 1927. The last chapter of the book is dedicated to Volterra. Other chapters talk about Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci.

The cover of the first edition of the “Etruscan Places” and D.H. Lawrence

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

“… The modern town (Volterra) is not very large. We went down a long, stony street, and out of the Porta dell’Arco, the famous old Etruscan gate. It is a deep old gateway, almost a tunnel, with the outer arch facing the desolate country on the skew, built at an angle to the old road, to catch the approaching enemy on his right side, where the shield did not cover him. Up handsome and round goes the arch, at a good height, and with that peculiar weighty richness of ancient things; and three dark heads, now worn featureless, reach out curiously and inquiringly, one from the keystone of the arch, one from each of the arch bases, to gaze from the city and into the steep hollow of the world beyond.

Strange, dark old Etruscan heads of the city gate, even now they are featureless they still have a peculiar, out-reaching life of their own. Ducati says they represented the heads of slain enemies hung at the city gate. But they don’t hang. They stretch with curious eagerness forward. Nonsense about dead heads. They were city deities of some sort.

And the archaeologists say that only the doorposts of the outer arch, and the inner walls, are Etruscan work. The Romans restored the arch, and set the heads back in their old positions. (Unlike the Romans to set anything back in its old position!) While the wall above the arch is merely medieval.

But we’ll call it Etruscan still. The roots of the gate, and the dark heads, these they cannot take away from the Etruscans. And the heads are still on the watch.

The land falls away steeply, across the road in front of the arch. The road itself turns east, under the walls of the modern city, above the world: and the sides of the road, as usual outside the gates, are dump-heaps, dump-heaps of plaster and rubble, dump-heaps of the white powder from the alabaster works, the waste edge of the town.”  (D.H. Lawrence, “Etruscan Places” 1932)

The great hilltop or headland on which Etruscan ‘Volterra’, Velathri, Vlathri, once stood spreads out jaggedly, with deep-cleft valleys in between, more or less in view, spreading two or three miles away. It is something like a hand, the bluff steep of the palm sweeping in a great curve on the east and south, to seawards, the peninsulas of fingers running jaggedly inland. And the great wall of the Etruscan city swept round the south and eastern bluff, on the crest of steeps and cliffs, turned north and crossed the first finger, or peninsula, then started up hill and down dale over the fingers and into the declivities, a wild and fierce sort of way, hemming in the great crest. The modern town occupies merely the highest bit of the Etruscan city site. ” (D.H. Lawrence, “Etruscan Places” 1932)

You can reed the entire book online here thanks to the Project Gutenberg Australia