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Watkins Mars Prayer

Jonathan Slocum and Carol Justus

Poetic Analysis of Cato's Mars Prayer

In chapter 17 of How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 & 2001, pp. 199 ff.), Calvert Watkins analyzes Cato's Mars Prayer as an old form of Indo-European poetic language; as an old IE poem, this text would fall into four strophes, held together with synonymous doubling, repetition, and nesting conventions. His translation and spacing emphasize this:

1 I   Mars pater te precor quaesoque
2            uti sies uolens propitius
3     mihi domo familiaeque nostrae:
4   quoius rei ergo
5     agrum terram fundumque meum
6            suouitaurilia circumagi iussi
7 II uti tu  
8     morbos uisos inuisosque
9     uiduertatem uastitudinemque
10     calamitates intemperiasque
11            prohibessis defendas auerruncesque
12 III   utique tu
13     fruges frumenta uineta uirgultaque
14            grandire        (du)eneque euenire siris
15     pastores pecuaque salua seruassis
16     duisque (du)onam salutem ualetudinemque
17            mihi domo familiaeque nostrae
18 IV harunce rerum ergo
19            fundi terrae agrique mei
20            lustrandi lustrique faciendi ergo
21   sicuti dixi
22            macte hisce suouitaurilibus lactentibus inmolandis esto
23            Mars pater eiusdem rei ergo
24              macte hisce suouitaurilibus lactentibus esto

N.B. Watkins restores Old Latin 'u' for instances of the more modern letter 'v'; also, in (du)ene [line 14] and (du)onam [line 16], Watkins restores "the Old Latin form of later bene, bonam."

Watkins' English translation, as he formats it, is:

1 I   Father Mars, I pray and beseech you
2            that you befavorable (and) propitious
3     to me, my house, and our household:
4   to which end
5     I have ordered the suouitaurilia to be driven around
6            my field, land, and farm;
7 II that you  
8     forbid, ward off, and brush aside
9     diseases seen and unseen,
10     depopulation and devastation,
11     storms and tempests;
12 III   and that you
13         let grow tall         and turn out well
14         grains (and) corn     and vineyards (and) shrubwork
15         and keep safe     shepherds (and) cattle
16         and give good health     and soundness
17         to me, my house, and our household.
18 IV To these ends,
19         to purify and perform the purification
20         of my farm, land, and field
21   so as I spoke
22     be magnified by these suckling suouitaurilia to be sacrificed;
23                Father Mars, to that same end,
24           be magnified by these suckling suouitaurilia.

Watkins cites numerous poetic devices, including the doubling or tripling of figures (A and B, or A and B and C); the reader is referred to How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics for extensive discussion.</p

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