Roselle: in front of the acropolis lies the sea that rendered the Etruscan people legendary. That powerful, impervious, silent city is still up there, a sentinel clinging to the stone, dug into the sides by cyclopean fortifications that rise toward the sky, and by darkened tombs overlooking the winding road that Gorge Dennis traveled when he described his visit to this abandoned place in The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria.
I climbed up the hill and followed the route set out by walls erected along the edge, walls made up of enormous massed blocks. I felt a sort of solitary wildness, with the stones and shrubs around me; the dens of foxes and wild boars, of snakes and lizards, seemingly visited only by herdsmen and shepherds.
But it wasn’t just this, because in the largely silent nights, beaten by the southwest winds—here, in the near-darkness, someone was digging.
They were scavengers set on a continual hunt for treasures that time had kept hidden away. Murky, shifty traffickers who lived in the dark, among the stone fragments spread all over the place.
Here, at the apex of Etruscan-Roman power, among the walls and throughout squares that opened onto the plain, among the tabernae, the amphitheatre and the temple ruins, where the statue of Agrippina slept, growing weary of her son Nerone—here, once, say the grave robbers who hung around here in the stormiest nights, underneath the stones that have seen it all, an incredible, sparkling being was discovered. It came from the nearby Vetulonia, where sophisticated artisans worked on fine metals and after rapid minting; it suddenly appeared, sending furious lightning flashes among the dirt clumps that the wind had dried up.
A hybrid beast, a celestial being that roared between its hands: it might have had the head of a monkey, or two heads of a lion, but it most certainly had the tail of a hissing snake, which would crop up above its back and spit fire, ready to release its fury.
Under the glare of the moon, the word Tinscvil, red and flaming, appeared on the leg of an infernal creature. Was it a gift to Tinia, the supreme Etruscan god, whose distinctive attribute was a thunderbolt? Was it a dream or a delusion? Was it gold or bronze? Who knows! It was as precious as a treasure, but ferocious like a demon, and the terrified grave robbers let it fall, escaping hastily from the space and its arcane mysteries.
They say that this mythical, infernal animal is still there, that it’s a personification of lightning with a thunder-esque voice; that, still quivering in rage, he lies in his Mundus, ready to protect the worship space and the secrets of his city on the hill.
There are legends and stories that some men believe blindly; then there are numerous Indiana Jones type characters who aren’t all that inclined to get recognized.
Indeed, this story itself is misunderstood, whispered like a secret. It was a local veteran who revealed it to us: he was present on that terrifying night, when the wind howled and blew like a terrifying dragon, and down in the plain the lights shone brightly, flickering.