Friday, 12 June 2015

Cato: a ritual for a successful harvest.

Religious language has a preference for archaisms and obsolete phrases, as if such a language gives a greater sanctity and is more effective. I, for instance, prefer the King James Version or the Dutch Statenvertaling (1637) of the Bible above later translations, let alone translations with a limited and easy vocabulary for people with hardly any reading experience. Vade retro Satanas! Let’s state this for once and for all: in order to be taken seriously, religious language - and especially spells and incantations - must have some difficult or incomprehensible elements.  
The only work having come down to us by Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) is his De Agri Cultura. Cato was a conservative Roman politician, who devoted himself to agriculture whenever he could. This was in compliance with his conservative political views, as he wanted to return to the old mentality of Rome as a community of farmers. He detested the use of Greek by his fellow Romans and started writing Latin prose and so became the first Latin writer doing so.
Agriculture is not just a matter of ploughing, seeding and harvesting, but also of religious ceremonies as a successful harvest is in the hands of the gods. For this reason Cato has inserted a couple of rituals and incantations in his work on agriculture. One of these is the suovitaurilia (or suovetaurilia), the sacrifice of a pig, a sheep and a bull – all still young, for lustrating the farm and the land. It must have been a very old ritual as kindred rituals are known from Indo-European speaking peoples.
It may come as a surprise that the god Mars is the object of this agricultural ritual, but this god has a longstanding connection with fertility.

Cato, De Agri Cultura, 141.

Agrum lustrare sic oportet. Impera suovitaurilia circumagi: "Cum divis volentibus quodque bene eveniat, mando tibi, Mani, uti illace suovitaurilia fundum agrum terramque meam quota ex parte sive circumagi sive circumferenda censeas, uti cures lustrare." Ianum Iovemque vino praefamino, sic dicito:

" Mars pater te precor quaesoque
uti sies volens propitius
mihi domo familiaeque nostrae;
quoius rei ergo
agrum terram fundumque meum
suovitaurilia circum agi iussi:
uti tu morbos visos invisosque
viduertatem vastitudinemque,
calamitates intemperiasque
prohibessis defendas averruncesque;
uti tu fruges frumenta vineta virgultaque
grandire dueneque evenire siris,
pastores pecuaque salva servassis;
duisque duonam salutem valetudinemque
mihi domo familiaeque nostrae:
harunce rerum ergo
fundi terrae agrique mei
lustrandi lustrique faciundi ergo,
sic ut dixi,
macte hisce suovitaurilibus
lactentibus immolandis esto:
Mars pater,
eiusdem rei ergo
macte hisce suovitaurilibus
lactentibus immolandis esto."

Item cultro facito struem et fertum uti adsiet, inde obmoveto. Ubi porcum inmolabis, agnum vitulumque, sic oportet:

"eiusdem rei ergo
macte hisce suovitaurilibus
immolandis esto."

Nominare vetat Martem neque agnum vitulumque. Si minus in omnis litabit, sic verba concipito:

"Mars pater, quod tibi illoc porco neque satisfactum est, te hoc porco piaculo".

circumago: to lead around
uti = ut
illace: illa with a strengthening  suffix (also harunce and hisce.)
quota ex parte: from whatever part (i.e. wherever the suovitaurilia go, from that part the whole farm is lustrated)
circumferenda: not every animal was apparently willing to walk
vino: with a libation of wine
praefor: to pray to (praefamino is an archaic 2 sg imp)
sies = sis
quoius = cuius
viduertas, atis (f.): lack of fruits of the earth
vastitudo –inis (f.): destruction
intemperiae: bad weather
averrunco: to avert evil
vinetum: vineyard
virgultum: a bush
grandio: to make great, increase
duene =  bene (cf. bellum and duellum: the forms with du are archaic.  Also duonum = bonum.)
siris = siveris (sino)
duis = des (duis is an archaic form)
ergo = causā
lustrandi lustrique faciundi: synonyms
macte hisce suovitaurilibus lactentibus immolandis est : be honoured witith this suavitauria, sucking and to be slaughtered (a combination of  an imperative and a vocative.)
Item cultro facito struem et fertum uti adsiet, inde obmoveto: also make a heap of sacrificial cake (fertum) with a knife (cultrum), so that it is present and move it away  (to the place where the animals are sacrificed.
vitulus: male-calf
Nominare vetat Martem neque agnum vitulumque: a part of this sentence is missing and the meaning can only be guessed.
lito: to obtain favourable omens
piaculo: to appease

This site also contains a translation in archaic English:

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