Vocabula Mira: “Melos”

The Greek word “melos” underwent an interesting evolution before it entered the Latin language. It originally meant “limb”, although in the earlier writers, it only occurs in the plural. From this it came to mean a “musical member or phrase” and thence “a song”, a use which first occurs in roughly the 6th century B.C., […]

Vocabula Mira: “Pascha” and “Phase”

Between roughly 250 and 130 B.C., Greek-speaking Jews in the diaspora communities of the Eastern Mediterranean produced the translations of the Sacred Scriptures collectively known as the Septuagint, which are still used by many of the Eastern churches to this day. These translations seem to have been made mostly in Egypt, but were not the […]

Vocabula Mira: “Encaeniare”

In the traditional Mass lectionary of the Roman Rite, the Gospel for today is St John 10, 22-38, which begins as follows: “In illo tempore: Facta sunt Encaenia in Jerosolymis, et hiems erat. Et ambulabat Jesus in templo, in porticu Salomonis. – At that time: it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem; and […]

Vocabula Mira: “Tubilustrium” and “Quinquatrus”

On the Roman calendar of religious observances, March 23rd sees the convergence of two different festivals, although it seems that not very much is known about either of them. One was called the “tubilustrium – the purification of trumpets”, a ritual that was repeated on May 23rd. The trumpets in question were either war-trumpet used […]

Vocabula Mira: “Statio” and “Collecta”

From time immemorial, it has been the custom of the church of Rome not to fast on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, even in Lent and Holy Week. The Roman Lent was originally six weeks long, and therefore comprised forty-two days, but only thirty-six days of fasting, which St Gregory the Great (590-604) describes […]

Vocabula Mira: “Mercedonius” and “Intercalare”

In beginners’ Latin, we recently did our first lesson on Roman numbers, and a student asked me why the names of the last four months, the ninth to twelfth, derive from the words “septem – seven”, “octo – eight”, etc. This comes from the ancient calendar which the Romans themselves attributed to their founder Romulus, […]

Vocabula Mira: “Monialis”

The final meeting between Ss Benedict and Scholastica, depicted in a 14th-century fresco in the Sacro Speco of Subiaco.  The English noun “sanctimony”, meaning “a show of being superior to others”, and the adjective “sanctimonious”, did not always have the highly negative meanings which they have now. When they first entered the language, they had […]

Vocabula Mira: “Indigetes” and “Novensiles”

In our first Vocabula Mira post, we saw the word “indigitamenta”, for the collections of names of the many gods to be invoked in public acts of propitiation. Related to this is the noun “indigetes”, meaning “heroes elevated to the rank of gods after their death, and regarded as the patron deities of their country.” […]

Vocabula Mira: “Averrunco” and “Indigitamenta”

This is the first in an occasional series of posts on unusual Latin words. Like most cultures, the ancient Romans had a number of words which were used exclusively or primarily in a religious context. One of these is the verb “averrunco, averruncare”, which means “to avert” or “to remove.” This may sound like it […]