Monday, 21 December 2015

An incantation for effective herbs.

By chance I came upon this text as I was going through the Latin texts under `The miscellany’ at the Latin Library. It has been put under this heading as almost nothing is known about this text.
Attempts to identify the author have failed and as of its date, it must be post-Augustan due to lexical features like Maiestas tua, which has no record in Augustan literature. The earliest manuscript is from the 6th century, so the date of composition is somewhere between these two periods.
But whatever date, the sentiments expressed in this poem are ancient and widespread:  the earth is revered as mother, origin and sustainer of life. This concept of the earth is clearly connected with the rise of agriculture and is best represented with the idea of the Great Goddess in Near Eastern religions, of which Demeter is also a representative.  The Rigveda for instance, representing the outlook of a semi-nomadic, pastoral society, has no counterpart of the Great Goddess. There is a goddess Earth, Pṛthivī (the broad one), but she is always mentioned together with her husband Dyaus (heaven) and both play a minor role, just like Gaia and Uranus.
The text of the Precatio Terrae has come down in a bad shape: originally it must have composed been in the iambic senarius, but many lines don’t fit into that meter. From line 25 it is prose, though printed below as if metric. More interesting is the content: it is an incantation (precatio) for providing medical or magic herbs – the same in ancient thought. The incantation starts with calling Mother Earth the greatest of all gods and enumerating her powers. This is a well-known trick to make a god willing to provide what is asked for. Finally the question is asked: provide me with herbs and make them effective.  
I wouldn’t be surprised when this text has found its way into modern paganism, though I doubt its effectiveness.
For now I wish you all in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.

Precatio Terrae (Text from the Latin Library, it differs from the Loeb edition in a few points and from the text in the link below.)

Dea sancta Tellus, rerum naturae parens,
quae cuncta generas et regeneras in dies,
quod sola praestas gentibus vitalia,
coeli ac maris diva arbitra rerumque omnium,
5             per quam silet natura et somnos concipit,
itemque lucem reparas et noctem fugas:
tu Ditis umbras tegis et immensum chaos
ventosque et imbres tempestatesque attines
et, cum libet, dimittis et misces freta
10           fugasque soles et procellas concitas,
itemque, cum vis, hilarem promittis diem.
Tu alimenta vitae tribuis perpetua fide,
et, cum recesserit anima, in tete refugimus:
ita, quicquid tribuis, in te cuncta recidunt.
15           Merito vocaris Magna tu Mater Deum,
pietate quia vicisti divom numina;
tuque illa vera es gentium et divom parens,
sine qua nil maturatur nec nasci potest;
tu es Magna tuque divom regina es, dea.
20           Te, diva, adoro tuumque ego numen invoco,
facilisque praestes hoc mihi quod te rogo;
referamque grates, diva, tibi merita fide.
Exaudi me, quaeso, et fave coeptis meis;
hoc quod peto a te, diva, mihi praesta volens.
25           Herbas, quascumque generat maiestas tua,
salutis causa tribuis cunctis gentibus:
hanc nunc mihi permittas medicinam tuam.
Veniat medicina cum tuis virtutibus:
quidque ex his fecero, habeat eventum bonum,
25           cuique easdem dedero quique easdem a me acceperint,
sanos eos praestes. Denique nunc, diva, hoc mihi
maiestas praestes tua, quod te supplex rogo.  

tellus telluris (f.): earth
in dies: every day (v.l. indidem:  from the same place, i.e. womb. The manuscripts give sidus, but this impossible.)
praesto: to provide (with certainty)
vitale: means of life, subsistence
arbitra: female arbiter
item: also
reparo: to restore
Dis, Ditis (f.): Pluto
tego texi tectum: to cover
imber, imbris (m.): heavy rain
attineo attinui: to hold back
dimittis:  ventos etc.
misces freta: you stir up the seas
soles: poetic plural
procellum: storm
promitto promisi promissum: to bring forth
tribuo tribui tributum: to bestow
cum recesserit anima: when the soul shall have withdrawn (from the body)
tete: emphatic te                                                      
Deum = Deorum
vicisti divom numina: you have surpassed the godly powers of the gods (divom = divorum)
grates: thanks (almost only in plural)
coeptum: undertaking

For further study:

Translation by J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff (1934)

Goddess revered, O Earth, of all nature Mother, engendering all things and re-engendering them from the same womb, because thou only dost supply each species with living force, thou divine controller of sky and sea and of all things, through thee is nature hushed and lays hold on sleep, and thou likewise renewest the day and dost banish night. Thou coverest Pluto's shades and chaos immeasurable: winds, rains and tempests thou dost detain, and, at thy will, let loose, and so convulse the sea, banishing sunshine, stirring gales to fury, and likewise, when thou wilt, thou speedest forth the joyous day. Thou dost bestow life's nourishment with never-failing faithfulness, and, when our breath has gone, in thee we find our refuge: so, whatsoe'er thou bestowest, all falls back to thee. Deservedly art thou called Mighty Mother of Gods, since in duteous service thou hast surpassed the divinities of heaven, and thou art that true parent of living species and of gods, without which nothing is ripened or can be born. Thou art the Mighty Being and thou art queen of divinities, O Goddess. Thee, divine one, I adore and thy godhead I invoke: graciously vouchsafe me this which I ask of thee: and with due fealty, Goddess, I will repay thee thanks. Give ear to me, I pray, and favour my undertakings: this which I seek of p345thee, Goddess, vouchsafe to me willingly. All herbs soever which thy majesty4 engendereth, for health's sake thou bestowest upon every race: entrust to me now this healing virtue of thine: let healing come with thy powers: whate'er I do in consonance therewith, let it have favourable issue: to whomso I give those same powers or whoso shall receive the same from me, all such do thou make whole. Finally now, O Goddess, let thy majesty vouchsafe to me what I ask of thee in prayer.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Caesar: war atrocities.

This week it became known that Dutch archaeologists claimed to have found the location where in 55 BC Caesar massacred two Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and the Usipetes, at the confluence of Meuse and Rhine. Both rivers had a different course than nowadays, but by chance, while dredging the Meuse near modern Kessel, a large amount of Germanic weaponry and a number of skeletons clearly killed by violence were found. 
Caesar wanted to cross the Rhine there, this to the dismay of Germanic tribes living there and they built a fortification to prevent Caesar from crossing the Rhine.  There were some skirmishes, but a truce was agreed. Despite this truce, Germanic troops suddenly attacked a Roman force, putting them to flight. When the following morning a body of old men and leaders of the Germanic tribes came to Caesar’s camp, claiming they had nothing to do with the attack, they were taken prisoner and Caesar decided to act quickly.
The result was a massacre in which women and children were indiscriminately killed.
Nowadays the International Criminal Court is based at The Hague. Caesar would have been their first target, were he still alive…

Caesar, De Bello Gallico IV, 14-15

[14] 1 Acie triplici instituta et celeriter VIII milium itinere confecto, prius ad hostium castra pervenit quam quid ageretur Germani sentire possent. 2 Qui omnibus rebus subito perterriti et celeritate adventus nostri et discessu suorum, neque consilii habendi neque arma capiendi spatio dato perturbantur, copiasne adversus hostem ducere an castra defendere an fuga salutem petere praestaret. 3 Quorum timor cum fremitu et concursu significaretur, milites nostri pristini diei perfidia incitati in castra inruperunt. 4 Quo loco qui celeriter arma capere potuerunt paulisper nostris restiterunt atque inter carros impedimentaque proelium commiserunt; 5 at reliqua multitudo puerorum mulierumque (nam cum omnibus suis domo excesserant Rhenum transierant) passim fugere coepit, ad quos consectandos Caesar equitatum misit.
[15] 1 Germani post tergum clamore audito, cum suos interfici viderent, armis abiectis signis militaribus relictis se ex castris eiecerunt, 2 et cum ad confluentem Mosae et Rheni pervenissent, , magno numero interfecto, reliqui se in flumen praecipitaverunt atque ibi timore, lassitudine, vi fluminis oppressi perierunt. 3 Nostri ad unum omnes incolumes, perpaucis vulneratis, ex tanti belli timore, cum hostium numerus capitum CCCCXXX milium fuisset, se in castra receperunt. 4 Caesar iis quos in castris retinuerat discedendi potestatem fecit. 5 Illi supplicia cruciatusque Gallorum veriti, quorum agros vexaverant, remanere se apud eum velle dixerunt. His Caesar libertatem concessit.

acie triplici: a threefold battle –array
milium (passuum)
iter conficio: to traverse a route
quid ageretur Germani sentire possent = Germani sentire possent, quid ageretur
omnibus rebus: i.e. by celeritate adventus nostri and discessu suorum (the leaders taken by Caesar)
spatio: time, opportunity
pertubantur, ne…an…an… praestaret:  confused whether...or…or …would be preferred
Quorum timor cum = Cum eorum timor (cum is here not a preposition!)
fremitus fremitus (m.): loud noise
pristini diei perfidia: the treachery of the day before
inrumpo inrupi inruptum:  to break into
quo loco = in castris
paulisper: for a short moment
impedimentum: baggage of an army (including animals)
proelium committo:  to engage in a fight
(ex) domo excesserant (et) Rhenum transierant (probably they didn’t want their wives and children leave unprotected at their villages.)
ad quos consectandos: to have them persecuted
Germani: i.e. those who had been able to get hold of their weapon
interfici interfeci interfectum: to kill
armis abiectis (et) signis militaribus relictis (signum militare:  standard)
se ex castris eiecerunt: they threw themselves uot of the camp
reliqua fuga desperata: despairing of further flight
praecipito: to throw headlong
lassidudo lassitudinis (f.): weariness
pereo perii: to vanish, be lost
ad unum omnes incolumes: all till the last one safe
perpaucus: very few
ex (because of) tanti belli…fuisset: Caesarean exaggeration and propaganda!
iis: the Germanic old men and leaders
discedendi potestatem:  allowance for leaving (He could have sold them as slaves.)
Illi supplicia cruciatusque Gallorum veriti: they fearing punishment and torture from the Gauls
vexo: to harass (Germanic tribes were invading Gallic tribes living south of the Rhine.)

 Site of the massacre (note that this is a modern map.)


Swords found at Kessel

Translation by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn (18869)

Chapter 14

Having marshalled his army in three lines, and in a short time performed a march of eight miles, he arrived at the camp of the enemy before the Germans could perceive what was going on; who being suddenly alarmed by all the circumstances, both by the speediness of our arrival and the absence of their own officers, as time was afforded neither for concerting measures nor for seizing their arms, are perplexed as to whether it would be better to lead out their forces against the enemy, or to defend their camp, or seek their safety by flight. Their consternation being made apparent by their noise and tumult, our soldiers, excited by the treachery of the preceding day, rushed into the camp: such of them as could readily get their arms, for a short time withstood our men, and gave battle among their carts and baggage wagons; but the rest of the people, [consisting] of boys and women (for they had left their country and crossed the Rhine with all their families) began to fly in all directions; in pursuit of whom Caesar sent the cavalry.

Chapter 15

The Germans when, upon hearing a noise behind them, [they looked and] saw that their families were being slain, throwing away their arms and abandoning their standards, fled out of the camp, and when they had arrived at the confluence of the Meuse and the Rhine, the survivors despairing of further escape, as a great number of their countrymen had been killed, threw themselves into the river and there perished, overcome by fear, fatigue, and the violence of the stream. Our soldiers, after the alarm of so great a war, for the number of the enemy amounted to 430,000, returned to their camp, all safe to a man, very few being even wounded. Caesar granted those whom he had detained in the camp liberty of departing. They however, dreading revenge and torture from the Gauls, whose lands they had harassed, said that they desired to remain with him. Caesar granted them permission.