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.

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