Cato's 'De Agricultura': Offering to Mars Silvanus

Translated into English by Quinta Claudia Lucentia Aprica

Cato, De Agricultura 83

An offering to Mars Silvanus for the health of cattle.

This description of a ritual to be performed for the health of cattle does not include an suggestions for appropriate words to be spoken, but simply describes the offering itself. However, since Cato states in his last sentence that his reader may vow or pray (vovere) the vow or prayer every year, some kind of spoken dedication does seem to be assumed.

Following the format of Cato's other prayers, it is likely that he would consider a fairly simple prayer to be appropriate, in which the god is called upon, the offering is verbally dedicated to the god, and the worshipper makes a humble request for the health of his cattle.

The ceremony can of course be adapted to a number of modern uses, such as a prayer for the health of employees, for the smooth running of machinery or for domestic pets. As for Cato's statement that a woman may not see or take part in the ceremony, it is of course a matter for individual worshippers as to whether they interpret this as a religious rule, or simply a recommendation which reflects the beliefs of Cato's time, and can therefore be altered without causing offence to the gods (I personally fall into the latter camp).

Latin text:
'Votum pro bubus, uti valeant, sic facito. Marti Silvani in silva interdius in capita singula boum votum facito. Farris L. III et lardi P. IIII S et pulpae P. IIII S, vini S. III, id in unum vas liceto coicere, et vinum item in unum vas liceto coicere. Eam rem divinam vel servus vel liber licebit faciat. Ubi res divina facta erit, statim ibidem consumito. Mulier ad eam rem divinam ne adsit neve videat quo modo fiat. Hoc votum in annos singulos, is voles, licebit vovere.'

English translation:
'Make the vow for the cattle, that they may be well, in this way. Make the vow to Mars Silvanus by day in the woods for each head of cattle. Three pounds of spelt and four and a half pounds of bacon fat and four and a half pounds of meat, three sextarii [each about one pint, or 0.568 litres] of wine; it must be placed together in one vessel, and in the same way the wine must be placed together in one vessel. It will be allowed that either a slave or a freedman may perform this offering to the gods. When the offering to the gods will have been made, consume it straight away in that very place. A woman may not be present at this offering to the gods, and nor may she see in what way it is done. It will be allowed to vow this vow each year, if you wish.'

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