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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXXXVII

October 15, 2010

I love this time of year. This morning, I tried to brave the chill in the air with nothing between it and my tender, pallid flesh but a long-sleeved shirt and an undershirt. I couldn't do it. I love the wearing of the fleece, the drinking of the warm coffee, the curling and frosting of my breath on the crisp morning air. I definitely love October.

While there were attestations of witchcraft in the Roman Empire, there are even more tales of ghosts roaming the realms of the living. Ghosts, most likely, have been in the human conscious since man became self-aware and wondered what happened to his friends and kinsmen upon their death. The notion of the walking dead is an ancient imagining, but it is not always nearly as frightful as what we imagine in modern times.

One kind of ghost was the Manes (mah-naize), which were the souls of family members. They became something of a kind, household god that, like any other deity, needed to be venerated and celebrated. Upon the founding of a new town, a hole would be dug in the foundations and into it was set a round stone. This was to represent a gateway to the underworld. Remember, all souls went to the underworld (which makes sense, given that we bury the bodies) where Pluto would rule over their shades for all eternity. This is not to be confused with Hell, which is a mixture of the Norse realm of the dead and the Latin Orcus, which was filled with torture, fire, brimstone and the gnashing of teeth.

Manes were friendly ghosts, the kind that you would pray to for luck or for good health. In fact, it was thought that spells and incantations were communications with the Manes who hung around the household after their spiritual departure. They were, in a sense, a Roman version of Caspar. A lot of grave markers in ancient Rome (and surviving into the Christian era) featured the abbreviation "D.M." which stood for dis manibus, which means "for the Manes". Honoring and venerating the ancestors was very important in Roman culture.

Along the same lines, the Penates (Pay-nah-taize) were deified spirits that lived in the home and took care of the food in the store room and watched over the family. In order to satisfy the Penates, the family would throw a little bit of their daily food on the fire to serve as sacrifice for the spirits. Like the Manes, the Penates were usually considered to be spirits of dead ancestors; the difference here is that the Penates took an active role in protecting and ensuring the safety of the domus, or the "little universe" of the household.

There other protective spirits, known as Genii ("Gay-nee-ee") and Lares ("Lahr-aize"), but these were more like aspects of the gods and not so much ghostly spirits. They were specific protectors of things like gates, fields, doorways, etc...and were venerated as needed.

But not all Roman ghosts were good. There were the Lemures ("Lay-myoor-aize") and the Larvae ("Lahr-why"), which were restless, malignant spirits that wandered the Earth. Unlike our modern interpretations of ghosts, Lemures were not attached to one area, but could freely wander the world of the living, haunting whomever they pleased. Lemures could be driven out during a festival in May called the Lemuria, in which a lot of banging of pots, throwing of beans, and walking around houses was done.

Lemures were the closest to what we think of today as ghosts: evil, angry spirits that delight in the terrorizing of the living from beyond the grave. Ovid, famed Roman poet, interpreted the Lemures as Manes who had not been properly venerated and celebrated by their living descendants. Lemures could also have been the restless spirits of just plain evil men and women...who probably would not have been much venerated anyway due to their terrible nature and vile acts while still living. While the Manes were the ghosts who answered hopeful prayers and spells, Lemures were the spirits that answered the spells and incantations of the strigae (witches). Larvae were connected more with demons, devils and other vile spirits. Both Lemures and Larvae were nocturnal in nature; Manes and Penates could be invoked during the day or night.

With that in mind, let's learn some Latin!

Larvis non timeo!

Pronounced: "Lahr-weese nohn tee-may-oh!"

Translation, as always, in the hovertext!

And, to keep with the same theme, here's another Latin phrase that should you absolutely cannot live without, I'm certain:

Radie, in limo me texit...

Pronounced: "Rah-dee-ay, in lee-moh may takes-eet..."

Sometimes I make myself chuckle with these translations...

So, because of their spooky night sounds and the way their eyes glow in the dark, Linnaeus decided to call the prosimians found on the island of Madagascar. We now refer to King Julian et. al. as "lemurs".

Larva is the Latin word for "mask", and was given to the stage of insects before they fully matured, but only in the case of grubs, caterpillars, maggots and the like. When the larvae pupate and become adults (or nymphs, if they go through that intermediary step), the insects are "taking off their horrific masks" to reveal their true identities. This is how Larvae went from being demons to grubs.

Though, I'd argue, there's not much difference...


Sara said...

I was JUST needing the translations for those two statements yesterday.

Go figure.

MJenks said...

See! I identified a need, and then I fulfilled it.

...although, I'm a day late and several inches short.


SkylersDad said...

Why Bill Murray was cast over that girl for Ghostbusters is a question for the ages.

Scope said...

Crossing the streams is bad. Especially if you pay the ferryman in advance.

Nej said...

Pretty sure that larvae are still demons. Ick! :-)

I used to work at a zoo....and we had this lemur that was an escape artist. She got so good at it, that they stopped trying to find where she was getting out. :-)