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A. Richard Diebold Center for Indo-European Language and Culture

Indo-European Texts

Old Latin

Jonathan Slocum and Carol Justus

Cato's Mars Prayer

The famous Mars prayer, De Agri Cultura 141, tells how a field should be blessed before plowing; it preserves Old Latin syntax, morphology, vocabulary, and sentiments.

De Agri Cultura CXLI
Mars pater, te precor quaesoque
Mars father you I-pray and-I-beseech
'Mars, father, I pray and I beseech you'
 
uti sies volens propitius mihi domo familiaeque nostrae,
so-that you-be well-disposed propitious to-me house and-family our
'that you be well-disposed (and) propitious to me, to our house and family,'
 
quoius rei ergo agrum terram fundumque meum
for-which thing therefore field land and-farm my
'to which end therefore (around) my field, land, and farm'
 
suovitaurilia circumagi iussi,
pig-sheep-bull-group to-be-led-around I-have-ordered
'I have ordered a pig, sheep, (and) bull to be led around,'
 
uti tu morbos visos invisosque, viduertatem vastitudinemque,
so-that you sicknesses seen and-unseen barrenness and-destruction
 
calamitates intemperiasque prohibessis defendas averruncesque;
calamities and-storms you-may-prohibit you-may-ward-off and-you-may-avert
'so that you may prohibit sicknesses seen and unseen, ward off barrenness and destruction, and avert calamities and storms;'
 
utique tu fruges, frumenta, vineta virgultaque grandire beneque evenire siris,
and-so-that you harvests grain vineyards and-plantations to-grow and-well to-come-out permit
'and so that you permit (my) harvests, grain, vineyards and plantations to grow and turn out well,'
 
pastores pecuaque salva servassis
shepherds and-cattle healthy keep
'keep (my) shepherds and cattle healthy'
 
duisque bonam salutem valetudinemque mihi domo familiaeque nostrae;
and-you-give good health and-strength to-me house and-family our
'and give good health and strength to me, to our house and family;'
 
harunce rerum ergo, fundi terrae agrique mei lustrandi lustrique faciendi ergo,
for-this-here thing/intent therefore farm lands and-fields my for-purifying and-expiation to-be-made thus
'for the sake of these things therefore, for purifying (my) farm, lands, and fields, and thus (for) expiation to be made,'
 
sicuti dixi, macte hisce suovitaurilibus lactentibus inmolandis esto;
thus-as I-have-said honored by-this-here pig-sheep-bull-group suckling may-you be
'therefore, as I have said, may you be honored by this suckling pig, sheep, (and) bull;'
 
Mars pater, eiusdem rei ergo macte hisce suovitaurilibus lactentibus esto.
Mars father for-this thing thus honored by-this-here pig-sheep-bull-group suckling let-you-be
'Mars, father, for (the sake of) this thing may you therefore be honored by this suckling pig, sheep, (and) bull.'

While Latin authors had a lot of freedom as to where to place the verb due to the syntactic information conveyed by endings on nouns and verbs, there was a tendency in simple prose for the word order to be Subject-Object-Verb, as here. Along with that word order, the enclitic particle -que 'and' (or its corresponding -ve 'or') was often suffixed to the last member in a conjoined series of words. The Latin stand-alone word for 'and', et, was already competing with the older inherited Indo-European form -que when Cato was writing, cf. for example De Agri Cultura 124, and et would eventually replace -que in the Romance languages just as the word aut 'or' replaced the suffix -ve.

Returning to the SOV word order theme, verbs that follow their objects in this text include iussi 'I have ordered' in the 4th line, and the series prohibessis, defendas, averruncesque 'you prohibit, ward-off, and-avert' in the 6th line. The objects suovitaurilia and the series beginning with morbos 'sicknesses' and ending with intemperiasque 'storms-and' precede these verbs.

For a poetic analysis of Cato's Mars Prayer, see our sketch from Calvert Watkins. We gloss shorter quotations from De Agri Cultura on a separate page.