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Literature / The Etruscan

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Turms Immortal (or The Etruscan in some editions) is a historical novel written by Mika Waltari in 1956. Set in 500s BC, it follows the adventures of Turms, a refugee of seemingly unknown origins as he embarks on a journey that will lead to his transformation, both mundane and spiritual.

As with The Egyptian, the story is told via a framing device of Turms remembering his past life from the story's end-point where the protagonist recounts his many journeys across the ancient world, whilst undergoing a psychological (or in this case, spiritual) change.


The story of Turms begins as he makes his way to the Oracle Delphi to be judged for a crime against the gods, namely setting fire the temple of Cybele and thus inciting the uprising of Ionian greeks against the Persian Empire. From then on Turms embarks on a journey across the world of the ancient mediterranean. Visiting Anatolia, Magna Graecia (modern-day south italy and Sicily) and the budding city of Rome, before arriving at the land of the mysterious Etruscan civilization.

The novel is one of Waltari's more notable works, though unlike The Egyptian which is down to earth, Turms Immortal is notable for having significantly more supernatural elements and fittingly so as it's main focus is mankind's relation with spirituality, fate, the divine and one's own inner potential.


This work provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Turms's actually Dorirei's son Hiuls becomes the leader of the Sicani due to a prohepcy as a supposed descendant of Heracles.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Due to being struck by lightning, Turms can't remember anything from his early childhood.
  • Ancient Rome: Part of the story takes place in the budding Roman Republic (at the time still just the city of Rome itself though).
  • Aura Vision: [[spoiler: Turms develops this early in the book.]
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Sicani, ancient natives of Sicily. Turms spends some time living among them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: After wandering for fourty years (both physically and spiritually), Turms finally returns to his home city of Clusium and recognises himself/is recognised as a Lucumo. While he rules for many decades and brings great peace and prosperity to his city, the time of the Etruscans is comming to an end and even his powers cannot prevent it.
    • The mystical powers that are present across the world are slowly dissapearing, and what will follow them is described as monstrosities born of the underworld.
    • ¨You will return again Turms, but your people - never¨.
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  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: As per usual, Waltari does not shy away from depicting ancient mediterranean cultures with all their customs that would today at best be considered morally wrong.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: An old and respected oracle in a cave tells Turms how she had visions of: a great battle being fought there (Greco-Punic Wars), a great king arising in Greece who will conquer all of it, persia and many more lands to the east of the east (you get one guess for this one). She also tells him of the icarii who fly through the heavens with thunderous roar and leave destruction and fire where they fall...
  • End of an Age: The Etruscan civilisation is slowly ending while Rome is gaining influence. On a larger scale it is implied that various mystical and divine elements in the world are waning as well.
  • Epic Ship-on-Ship Action: Ancient naval warfare is featured prominently througout the book. Since naval rams were invented by that time, ship ramming is a valued and devastitng tactic, often sending the whole crew, not to mention the ship itslef to the bottom of the sea.
  • Femme Fatale: Arsionia, though she's more self-centered that malicious or dangerous and does love Turms on some level.
  • Freudian Trio: Turms, Dorirei and Mikon
    • Ego: Turms - Level-headed most of the times, friendly, the most balanced.
    • Id: Dorirei - Impulsive, determined, assertive and the most martial of the trio.
    • Superego: Mikon: - Aloft, mysterious, ethereal, the most intellectual of the three.
  • Fridge Brilliance: Why does Turms collect simple pebbles at certain moments in his life to eventually store them in his tomb? Because they will help him remember his past life in the future and since they are worthless and simple, they are all but guaranteed to be spared the ravages of time.
  • Guardian Angel: Turms sees visions of a spirit taking the form of a beautyful woman. Later on it's all but coonfirmed that she is his personal guardian angel.
    • Also, all the Lucumoi seem to have one.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The Etruscans treat their slaves well and with kindness, even going so far as to free old ones. Horriffyingly averted with the Romans who outright kill their slaves once they are no longer usefull to them.
  • Human Sacrifice: Present, though it is no longer tolerated on land and is relegated to the high seas, and even then it is considered somewhat distastefull.
    • Dyonysus is the main culprit of this one, sacrificing prisoners at war with allmost gleefull abbadon.
  • Jerkass Gods: Aphrodite and Artemis just can't leave poor Turms alone, constantly battling over him for influence.
  • Lost Orphaned Royalty: Turms is actually the son of the famous Etruscan king Lars Porsena.
  • Lovable Rogue: Although he becomes a ruthless pirate and even performs human sacrifices on the high sea, Dionysus still treats his crew and friends well and he and Turms part ways on amicable terms.
  • Mad Oracle: Averted. Most oracles Turms meets during his journeys are spot on, although they still speak in riddles and are vague.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: At first the various supernatural happenings are dismissed as just random coincidences, but as the story progresses...
  • Powers That Be: The gods and goddesses are described as this, and they do intervene subtly in woldly affairs.
    • The Etruscan ¨Hidden Gods¨ are above and beyond the regular gods, can dispatch the equivalnet of guardian angels to protect mortals from the gods and are essentially unknowable to mortals AND gods alike...that is, untill they choose to reveal themselves.
  • Seers: Present in many places and in many forms. You have your standard Oracle of Delphy, fortune tellers, seers, haruspices, auspices, augury, tribal shamans and minor oracles. ,many of the prophecies and fortunes are mostly correct, though they are presented vaguely and are only later confiremd.
  • Past-Life Memories: Though a spiritual being, Turms is forced to forget his past human and divine lives. However he collects small pebbles when he feels that a stage of his life is at an end, planning to use them as mementos for his future incarnation to find and remember his life.
  • Pirate: Dionysus quickly takes the liking to the pirate's life, though he justifies it by claiming that he's meely continuing the war against the Persians that way.
  • Portent of Doom: Played with, since various occurrences (such as a finding a bird's feather or weather patterns)can mean both good or ill, though accurately interpreting weather they foretell the former or the latter is another matter.
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Greeks and Phoenicians/Carthaginians are described as skilfull merchants and seafarers, as per their historical background.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Dorirei naturally, he is a spartan after all.
  • Psychic Powers: Not mental, although Turms can seemingly increase his charisma and persuasiveness to sway even the most determined people. He also develops a sort of ¨sixth sense¨ whith which he can find unmarked sacred places of power and also sense where a slaughter occured years ago.
  • Rightful King Returns: After spending the better part of his life wandering the ancient world, Turms finally returns to his home city of Clusium, recognises himself and is recognized as an etruscan Lucumo and the son of Lars Porsena, and becomes it's ruler.
  • Reincarnation: Turms is subject to this. When he's not being...something else, he is reincarnated in a human form throughout centuries or even millenia.
  • Sandal Punk: The story is set roughly during the Greco-Persian Wars.
  • Shapeshifting: Arsimoia's face can change into that of other women, which is supposedly a gift from the goddess Aphrodite. The power appears to be limited to the face only.
  • The Empire: The Persian Empire. Carthage also has shades of this.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: Turms, Dorirei and Mikon.
    • Turms corresponds to The Hunter who slowly finds himself and eventually his life's purpose while wandering the world.
    • Doriei is The Lord, albeit as the story progresses he comes to represent the dark side of the archetype.
    • Mikon is The Prophet, a doctor acquainted and interested with divine matters.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Not exactly magic, but various mystical elements and overt divine intervention. Turms realises that they are fading and will be replaced by vile spirits and monstrosities of the underworld.
  • Weather Manipulation: Turms as per his nature as an etruscan Lucumo and an immortal can call upon storms, which comes quite in handy in a few situations.

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