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De Agri Cultura

Jonathan Slocum and Carol Justus

Cato's De Agri Cultura

Marcus Porcius Cato (the Elder, 234-149 BC) was the first significant Latin prose writer; he was a contemporary of the historian Ennius (239-169 BC), who wrote his Annals in dactylic hexameter in imitation of Homer. Most of Cato's writings on law, war, and history have been lost; yet some fragments survive, quoted by other authors, though few are extensive. His manual "On Farming," the only work surviving in its entirety, contains tidbits of wisdom such as this:

De Agri Cultura CXXIV
Canes interdiu clausos esse oportet,
Dogs during-the-day chained-up to-be it-is-necessary
ut noctu acriores et vigilantiores sint.
so-that by-night keener and more-watchful they-be
'Dogs should be chained during the day, so that they are keener and more watchful at night.'

More important in Cato's De Agri Cultura are prayers that suggest an accompanying ritual for success, as in this petition to Jupiter:

De Agri Cultura CXXXII
Iuppiter dapalis, quod tibi fieri oportet
Jupiter Dapalis to-the-extent-that to-you it-is-necessary to-be-done
in domo familia mea culignam vini dapi,
in house family my cup of-wine be-offered
eius rei ergo macte
for-this thing thus honored
hac illace dape pollucenda esto.
by-this this-here offering sacrificial-meal let-you-be
'(O) Jupiter Dapalis, to the extent that it is necessary (that) in my house (and) family (a) cup of wine be offered to you, for this may you be honored by this offering (of a) sacrificial meal.'

We gloss Cato's longer Mars Prayer on a separate page.

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