Prayers of the Imperial Era
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
Here are prayers found among various Latin authors of the Imperial Period:
Arnobius (c. 295 CE)
Adversus Nationes III 43
Come, Dii Penates, come Apollo and Neptune and all You Gods, and by Your powers may You mercifully turn aside this ill disease that violently twists, scorches and burns our city with fever.
Titus Calpurnius Siculus (mid first century CE)
Eclogae II 52
O if only someone would carry off a god to Crocalen.
Claudius Claudianus (c. 370-408 CE)
In Rufinum 1.334-9:
Mars, whether you rush down from the cloud-capped Balkans, whether on the frosty white mountains of Thrace, whether stirring on Monte Santo in Macedonia with the black boots of soldiers stationed on all the lands they hold, to make ready with me, and defend your Thrace, if it is made happy, the campaign coming into glory, the sacred oak will be dressed with an offering of spolia.
In Olybii et Probini fratres Consules Panegyricus
O Sol, whose light embraces the world, you orbit inexhaustible, forever returning, your face glowing on each day, your horses harnessed as a team to drive your chariot, with manes braided pleasantly they rise high, passing over rose-red clouds as you rein their frothing fires. Already yet another year begins, measured by the footsteps of brothers, who as new consuls gladly offer their prayers and vows.
To you I pray, Apollo of Mount Parnassus, that you may inspire the pythia with so important knowledge, as to whom between us, O God, you will reward with authority.
Aulus Gellius (c. 130-170 CE)
Noctes Atticae XIII.23.13:
When Titus Tatius spoke in favor of peace, among his words was this prayer, "Neria, wife of Mars, I appeal to you, give peace. May you use your own favored position with your husband; counsel Him to partake in this plan. In the same way as we reconcile ourselves to those who carried off our daughters, may you now join with Him for all times in favoring His."
Holy Vulcan, foremost of this place, to You we pray. Grant peace to the exhausted fire brigades and to those who service the fountains. If none are harmed so very much, if the flames You permit to assault only a few deplorable souls, Holy One, then at each of your altars they will sing your praises, three times, three times they will pour libations and make thick with incense Your altar fires piled high with fruitful boughs.
Juvenal (c. 47-130 CE)
Muses, speak forth, you maidens of Pieria, and let it profit me that I have called you maidens.
Grant, O Gods, that the earth may lie soft and light upon the shades of our forefathers, may the sweet scented crocus and perpetual spring bloom over their ashes.
Grant me a great length of life, O Jupiter, give to me many years.
Mercurius Cyllenius, principle author of all sacred knowledge, at times within Heaven, at other times travelling within the starry signs to open the celestial paths to the highest parts above and the lowest paths beneath the earth. You stitch together the stars in the empty void of space into constellations, name them and determine their course; may it have been for us to reverently use the greater powers of the universe that You make, pondering them, not in all matters, but in the potential of things in themselves, and to learn of the divine plan set for the greatest nations.
Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Late third, early fourth centuries CE)
Vita Probi c. 12.7
Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno Regina, and You virtuous dancer, Minerva, Concordia of the bereaved, Victoria of the Romans, grant this meeting of the Senate of the Roman people, grant these Roman soldiers, and those soldiers of our allies and of friendly foreign nations as well, that they will serve as he commands.
Tacitus (c. 54-117 CE)
Annales XVI. 35
Thrasea speaks to his son Helvidius after he has opened the veins of his wrists: "We pour out a libation to Jupiter the Liberator. Observe, discover, and may the Gods avert the omen from you, my son, but you are born into a time when it is expedient to fortify your spirit with examples of courage and firmness of mind in the face of adversity."
Historiae IV 58
I implore and entreat you, Jupiter Optimus Maximus, to whom for eight hundred and twenty years we have paid the highest honors in so many triumphs, and I pray and venerate You Quirinus, Father of the City of Rome, if You would not be pleased to see this camp remain pure, preserved and inviolate under my command, may You at least not allow it to be polluted and defiled by a Tutor and a Calssicus. Grant that the soldiers of Rome may either be innocent of a crime, or at least may they be granted a speedy repentance without punishment.
Your love, O Moon, is with you; why then am I not also with mine? O Moon, you know what grief is; pity one who grieves. (Endymion) who caresses You, O Phoebus, celebrates love with a laurel, and what procession has not told the story to the Gods, or when has fame not told it to the forest?
Valerius Maximus (c. 32 CE)
VI 1, praef. De Pudicitia
From whence should I invoke You, Pudicitia, mainstay of both men and women? You inhabit the hearth that ancient religion consecrated to Vesta. You care over the wedding bed of Juno Capitolina. At the height of the Palatine, that most holy of residences, You remain as one of the household gods of Augustus Caesar and by his daughter Julia?s wedding bed. You preside over the insignia of boyhood, and in respect for Your divine power is the flower of youth protected. You safeguard the maiden and by You is a matron?s stola judged. Come, therefore, and recognize what things You yourself have ordained.
(Vestal Virgin Tuccia prayed for proof of her innocence:) O Vesta, if I have always brought pure hands to your secret services, make it so now that with this sieve I shall be able to draw water from the Tiber and bring it to Your temple.
Vellius Paterculus (19 BCE - c. 39 CE)
Jupiter Capitolinus, Mars Gradivus called progenitor and aide of the Romans, Vesta, perpetual guardian of fire, and whatever divine powers in this greatness of Roman sovereignty, the largest empire on earth, exulted to the highest dignity, to You the public voice calls to witness and to pray: guard, preserve, and protect this state, this peace, this prince, and those who succeed to the Senate, by their long standing, determined worthy to consider the most grave matters among mortals.
This little prayer has been adopted and reworked by many over the centuries. There is a version that has come to us from the twelfth century. But the original seems to have been written by the physician to Augustus Caesar.
Holy Goddess, Tellus, Mother of all Nature, engendering all things and regenerating them each day, as You alone bring forth from Your womb all things into life.
Heavenly Goddess, overseeing all things on earth and throughout the seas, in whatever by silent nature is restored in sleep and in death, in the same way that You put to flight the Night with the Light You restore each day.
Earth, Enricher of Life, You dispel the dark shadow of death and the disorder of vast endless Chaos. You hold back the winds and storms, the rain showers and tempests. You alone regulate the weather cycles, either bestirring or putting to flight the storm, interspersing them with cheerful days.
You give the Food of Life unfailingly, in fidelity, and when the soul by necessity departs, in You alone do we find refuge. Thus, whatever You give, in You all will be returned. Deservedly are You called Great Mother of the Gods. Piously then are all the celestial powers distilled in You. The One and True parent of all living things, human and divine. Without You nothing could be born, nothing could grow, and nothing mature.
You are the Great Goddess, the Queen of Heaven, You, Goddess, I adore. I call upon Your power, come. Make what I ask to be readily and easily accomplished, and draw my thanks, Mother Earth, that, in fidelity, You do rightly merit
Hear me, please, and favor me. This I ask of You, Holy Mother, and may You willingly give answer to me: May whatever herbs grow by Your providence bring health to all humankind. May You now send these forth to me as Your medicines. May they be filled with Your healing virtues. May everything that I prepare from these herbs have good result, each and every one in the same way. As I shall receive these herbs from You, so too shall I willingly give them out to others, so that their health too may be ensured through Your good graces. Finally, Mother Earth, ensure Your healing powers for me as well. This I humbly ask.
Aulus Persius Flaccus (24-62 CE)
Satura II. 8-12:
"Give a sound mind, a fair name," such prayers a man utters aloud in earshot of strangers, the rest he mutters beneath his breath, "Oh if only my uncle would drop dead, what a fine funeral I could give him." Or else he says, "Oh, if only Hercules would favor me by making an urn filled with silver rattle beneath my hoe."
Satura II 45:
Lusting for wealth you slay an ox and call to Mercury, "Grant that my Penates may fortunately prosper. Grant that my flocks and herds may be fertile."
Satura III 35-38:
O Mighty Father of the Gods, may it be your will to punish those cruel tyrants who are moved by an impetuous character steeped in dread desires, that they may look upon Virtue and melt away because they have abandoned Her.
Satura IV. 34-5:
Speak forthwith, You Maiden Nymphs of Pierides, and may it benefit me that I have called You maidens.
Satura VII 207-8:
Grant, O Gods, that the earth may lie soft and gently upon the shades of our ancestors, and may their urns be filled with a perpetual springtime blooming with the sweet scents of crocus.
Satura X. 185:
Grant me long life, O Jupiter, give me many years.
Petronius Arbiter (20-66 CE)
94 P. L. M.
If, Delia, You are the sister of Apollo, then I entrust my cause into Your care that You may deliver to Your brother the words of my prayer:
"God of Delphi, I have dedicated to You a temple made of fine Sicilian marble, spoken allowed Your praises while accompanied by the sweet sounds of the calamus reeds. If ever You hear our prayers, Apollo, and if indeed You are divine, tell me now, by what means does a man without money seek to find it?"
May Juno?s anger fall on me if ever I can remember being a virgin.
You gods and goddesses, o what a night. The bed so soft! Our souls had lost their way - we lay so warm and tight - goodbye to cares; I?ve said my last good night.
Dear Venus, if I may kiss this boy without his knowing, a pair of doves I'll give tomorrow.
O eternal Gods, if I can get the full satisfaction of my desires from him, for this happiness tomorrow I shall give the finest Macedonian steed to the boy, but with this one proviso, he must notice nothing.
God bless you, Giton.
In You, dearest Father, in Your hands do we place our safekeeping.
May Gods and mankind not suffer this from happening that you should end your lives in so vile a fashion.
O Gods, help us! Who takes up arms and beckons death amid the waves, or inadequate to suffer one death? The sea's savagery is enough, send no fresh floods to swell the savage waves.
Satyricon 120, 76-84
And here Dis Pater raised up His head, His hair lit with the flame of funeral pyres and flecked with white ash, and He called out to Fortuna, "O You who rules over the fortunes of gods and men, O Fortuna, You who hates for any power to grow secure, but who instead ever loves something new to come along, and who spurns what She already possesses, does not the triumphs of Rome now weigh upon You? Can You bear to endure any further that tottering tower of doom? No longer in times of peace have the young men of Rome any use of their prowess in war. Therefore arouse, O Fortuna, Rome from a peaceful country and change over its placid face into the continence of war, and grant our realm in Hades receive more dead."
Satyricon 121, 103-6
Father, Dis Pater, whose obedient realms are penetrated by the River Cocytus, in truth, by divine law the wicked and profane are vowed over to You, for no less in my heart than in Yours does the anger swell, and the flame burning deep within my marrow no less rises.
Satyricon 122, 156-8
Jupiter Almighty and Tellus, daughter of Saturnus, I, who willingly have borne arms in Your defense and who in the past has honored You with my triumphs, I swear, that it is by Your will that I am now invited to raise my hand in anger, and not by my will that Mars the God of War now inspires this army with His avenging fury.
What has happened, Jove, to make You throw down Your arms, to become an old story in heaven, to disdain these terrestrial charms? Here now was a worthy occasion to beetle your brows and put on the horns of a bull, or else to don the feathers and beak of a swan. Here is a real Danae, she would kindle Your lust even higher. One touch, one mere touch of her body would melt Your limbs in the fires of desire.
Companion of Nymphs, companion of Bacchus, Priapus, Whom Dione appointed God of lush forests, honoured in Lesbos and verdant Thasos, worshipped by the Lydians whose land is crossed by seven rivers and who built a temple to You in Your Hypaepan homeland, come to me, protector of Bacchus, beloved of Dryads, and hear my humble prayers.
I come before you confessing, yet unrepentant of my blood-soaked hands.
When I robbed that temple, I did not act irreligiously, but rather it was need and poverty that was the cause; not my true self. A man who commits a crime through the necessity brought on by poverty commits only a venial offense.
My prayer is this: Relieve me of a guilty conscious, forgive my venial offense and when Fortuna next smiles on me, praises and thanksgiving I shall offer You. A goat with gilt horns, the finest of his herd, I shall bring to Your altars. The suckling piglet of a sow I shall bring to Your altars. Foaming new wine, borne by young men I shall bring to Your altars. All these offering in procession shall I order to pass three times around Your shrine.
Ask the Gods that They may forgive what you have done.
Satyricon fr. 31
Healer of Delphi, dismiss Your swans, O Apollo, for here is a (parrot's) voice more worthy to dwell within Your temple precinct.