Larissa Bonfante

Larissa Bonfante

Larissa Bonfante, archaeologist, longtime New York University classicist, and noted Etruscologist who threw new light on the stubbornly mysterious language of the Etruscans, died on August 23 in New York. Her family said the cause was lung cancer. She was 88.

The preeminent American scholar in the field of Etruscan studies, Bonfante’s many publications reflect the wide scope of her expertise, with topics ranging from the history of costume to the barbarian civilizations of pagan Europe. Colleagues were quick to recognize her as responsible for creating a scholarly community of Etruscan scholars in the United States and as a leading influence on a new generation of American scholars who gave the field a new vigor and prominence in the past 30 years.

Some of Bonfante’s own publications on the Etruscans broke new ground about that artistically evolved pre-Roman civilization of central Italy. The Etruscan Language, co-authored with her father, Giuliano Bonfante, a noted professor of linguistics at Princeton, broke some of the code of what had long been regarded as an undecipherable language. Bonfante also teased out the significance of archaeological discoveries such as the Piacenza Liver, a bronze template for soothsaying, which, she pointed out, provided a systematic nomenclature of Etruscan deities, and the Cerveteri Gold Medals, which duplicated citations in both Etruscan and Phoenician, serving as a kind of Rosetta Stone for some of the Etruscan alphabet.

Bonfante was the recipient of a Great Teacher award at NYU, and the Archaeological Institute of America”s Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement. She was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2009. 

Born in Naples of Italian parents, she grew up in Princeton N.J., attended Radcliffe College and earned her B.A. from Barnard College; her M.A. from the University of Cincinnati; and her Ph.D. from Columbia University. She is survived by a daughter, Alexandra Bonfante-Warren; a son Sebastian Bonfante Raditsa; and a brother, Jordan Bonfante. A memorial will take place in the late Fall. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the Calvary Hospital in New York. 

10 Comments

  • Laurel Sparks Posted August 29, 2019 10:11 am

    Larissa Bonfante was a great scholar and wonderful person. Besides receiving the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal, she also held our Norton Lectureship–two of the highest honors the AIA can bestow. Having worked with her regarding her lectures, I know how generous she was with her time, how dedicated she was to her field of research, and what a delightful individual she was. I will very much miss seeing her at conferences, bearing her armful of “Etruscan Times”!

  • Donald Sprague Posted August 29, 2019 1:09 pm

    Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers sends its condolences to Professor Bonfante’s family and is honored to have worked with her on The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1986) and of The Plays of Hrotswitha of Gandersheim: Bilingual Edition (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2013), for which she served as translator. Her daughter, Alexandra Bonfante-Warren, worked with her on the first edition.

  • Judy Hallett Posted August 30, 2019 9:06 am

    There never has been nor will there ever be anyone like her…

  • Sarah Buchanan Posted September 2, 2019 6:50 pm

    So saddened to speak of Larissa Bonfante in the past; she was a friend to me and to classics librarians in the FCLSC group. So encouraging, supportive, and generous, and she will be missed!

  • Ili Nagy Posted September 3, 2019 2:41 pm

    While I mourn my dear friend Larissa with great sadness, memories of her lovely smile and brilliant nature will always bring me joy. She was an amazing scholar, a generous colleague and a dedicated friend.

  • Emily Reid Posted September 6, 2019 2:19 pm

    So saddened to hear of Larissa’s passing. While I only knew her a short while, she made a strong impact not only as a brilliant scholar, but a warm and caring friend with a delightful sense of humor and wit. She will be remembered fondly. My deepest condolences to her family, whom she often spoke of with such love.

  • John Dobbins Posted September 7, 2019 8:43 pm

    The comments of Ili Nagy, above, are perfect. Larissa was not a close friend, as she was for Ili, but I enjoyed every minute in her presence because she combined academic brilliance with down-to earth friendliness, and a keen desire to understand the Etruscans and share her knowledge with all who might be her students. I extend my condolences to her family, close friends, and students.

  • Lisa Pieraccini Posted September 7, 2019 11:10 pm

    Larissa was one of the great pioneers of Etruscan studies in the US. She opened the door for the study of Etruscan women, nudity and so much more. She was an encouraging mentor to so many and the founding figure behind important publications dedicated to the Etruscans, such as Etruscan News. To say she will be missed by is an understatement. I will miss the scholar, but I will miss her friendship even more.

  • Flor and Gerald Bunker Posted September 9, 2019 6:24 pm

    Farewell to a great scholar and to a gracious and generous friend
    Flor and Gerald

  • Andrew Lear Posted September 14, 2019 11:13 am

    Larissa’s scholarship was far-reaching and imaginative. She was influential in areas as diverse as Herodotus studies and vase-painting. She was as far as I know the first, for instance, to say that nudity in Greek art is a kind of costume–an idea that is fundamental to studies of Greek art today. She was also a person of great generosity and graciousness–and she had a great sense of fun. Many of us will miss her.

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