Cato's 'De Agricultura': Ritual for purifying land

Translated into English by Quinta Claudia Lucentia Aprica

Cato, De Agricultura 141

A ritual for purifying land

Cato unfortunately gives no indication as to whether this ritual is intended to be performed only when land has become impure for some reason, and needs to be purified, or whether it is to be performed regularly, and if so, at what times. However, the wording of the prayer suggests a very general application to all aspects of a farm, and refers in particular to the hope that the land will yield good crops. This would certainly make it a suitable ritual for performing yearly in the spring, either on a farm as Cato intended, or perhaps with some adaptation to a family house, a workroom, a study or any business premises. The word suovitaurilia which Cato uses is made up of sus (pig) + ovis (sheep) + taurus (bull), and is used frequently in Latin to describe a group consisting of one of each of these animals. The name 'Manius' appears to be a generic name, along the lines of our 'Joe Bloggs' or 'John Smith', whilst the word fertum refers to a type of cake used for religious offerings. No recipe for it survives, but recipes given by Cato for two other types of offering-cakes may be found here.

Latin text:
'Agrum lustrare sic oportet. Impera suovitaurilia circumagi: "Cum divis volentibus quodque bene eveniat, mando tibi, Mani, uti illace suovitaurilia fundum agrum terramque meam quota ex parte sive circumagi sive circumferenda censeas, uti cures lustrare." Ianum Iovemque vino praefamino, sic dicito: "Mars pater, te precor quaesoque uti sies volens propitius mihi domo familiaeque nostrae, quoius rei ergo agrum terram fundumque meum suovitaurilia circumagi iussi, uti tu morbos visos invisosque, viduertatem vastitudinemque, calamitates intemperiasque prohibessis defendas averruncesque; utique tu fruges, frumenta, vineta virgultaque grandire beneque evenire siris, pastores pecuaque salva servassis duisque bonam salutem valetudinemque mihi domo familiaeque nostrae; harumce rerum ergo, fundi terrae agrique mei lustrandi lustrique faciendi ergo, sicuti dixi, macte hisce suovitaurilibus lactentibus inmolandis esto; Mars pater, eiusdem rei ergo macte hisce suovitaurilibus lactientibus esto." Item cultro facito struem et fertum uti adsiet, inde obmoveto. Ubi porcum inmolabis, agnum vitulumque, sic oportet: "Eiusque rei ergo macte suovitaurilibus inmolandis esto." Nominare vetat Martem neque porcum agnum vitulumque. Si minus in omnis litabit, sic verba concipito: "Mars pater, siquid tibi in illisce suovitaurilibus lactentibus neque satisfactum est, te hisce suovitaurilibus piaculo." Si in uno duobusve dubitabit, sic verba concipito: "Mars pater, quod tibi illoc porco neque satisfactum est, te hoc porco piaculo."'

English translation:
'It is proper to purify land in this way. Order the suovitaurilia to be led around: "Since with the gods being favourable, each thing may turn out well, I entrust to you, Manius, that you may decide whether to lead or to carry this suovitaurilia around the estate, the field and my land, outside as large an area as you may care to purify." Speak before Janus and Jupiter with wine, say this: "Father Mars, I pray to you and ask of you, that you may be favourable and gracious to me, to me, to the house and to our household, for the sake of which I have ordered the suovitaurilia to be led around the field, the land and my estate, in order that you may prevent, repel and divert seen and unseen diseases, deprivation and desolation, misfortunes and extremes; and in order that you may allow the fruits, the grain, the vineyards and the orchards to grow and to turn out well, that you may keep well the shepherds and cattle, and give good health and well-being to me, to the house and to our household; for the sake of these things, for the sake of the purifiying of the estate, the land and my field and the making pure, as I have said, may you be honoured by the sacrificing of this suckling suovitaurilia; Father Mars, for the sake of the same thing may you be honoured by this suckling suovitaurilia." In the same way make with a knife the heap of cakes and the fertum in order that it is ready, then sacrifice. When you will have offered the pig, the lamb and the calf, this is the correct form: "And for the sake of this thing, may you be honoured by the sacrificing of the suovitaurilia." It is forbidden to name Mars and also the pig, lamb and calf. If less than all will be sacrificed successfully, recite words in this way: "Father Mars, if something in this suckling suovitaurilia was not pleasing to you, this suovetaurilia to you as atonement." If there will be doubt about one or two, recite these words: "Father Mars, because this pig was not pleasing to you, this pig to you as atonement."'

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