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How to beg for mercy in Latin

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How to beg for mercy in Latin

What do you do when you have committed a sacrilege, when the Emperor has overheard your snide remark,[1] when you handed in your essay late, or you forgot to attend a meeting with your superior? You may have offended a higher power, who would rightly chastise you for your misdeeds. You must now avail yourself of this person’s mercy and hope to quickly mend the breach in your friendship.

If that is the case, you’ll want to apologise for your mistake. But what better language to ask for mercy in than Latin?

The example apologies I write could serve as templates for your situation, but never feel constrained to mimic these lines exactly. It’s the thought that counts, and the more you can tailor your apology to fit the situation, the better.

Firstly, let’s address the person we are asking for forgiveness. The standard opening for letters among Romans, even in the most personal kinds of letters, was this:

(your name)  (addressee’s name in dative case) salutat.
Rufus Caesari salutat.
Rufus sends greetings to Caesar.

However, if you wish to capture the English idiom “Hi (name)” which may be more appropriate for the start of an email, the closest rendering in Latin would be this:

salve, (addressee’s name in vocative case),
salve, Caesar,
Hello Caesar,

Next, you’ll want to explain yourself and apologise for what happened.  There’s a fine difference between trying to explain the cause of what happened, while acknowledging your own fault, and trying to make excuses. Let’s not beat around the bush – you did something culpable, and you want to show your addressee that you understand that what you did was wrong.

mihi ignosce, Caesar praestantissime. servus meus mihi narravit ut inter cenam potus nimis quaedam verba dixissem quae numquam credidi etiam in mentem venire posse. quod certe indecorum erat et ingratissimum.
I’m sorry, most eminent Caesar. My slave has informed me that at your dinner I had drunk far too much, and said certain things which I never believed could even occur to my mind. This was certainly inappropriate and most unacceptable.

mihi ignosce. libellum reddidi postquam 3pm. neglegens putavi hora ubi debitus erat, erat 5pm. sed certe me decet antea inspexisse.
I’m sorry. I handed the essay in after 3pm. I was careless and thought that the time it was due was 5pm, but in any case I should have checked beforehand.

mihi ignosce. omnino oblita sum conventus quem hodie instituimus. mea culpa.
I’m sorry. I completely forgot the meeting we had planned today. That was my fault.

Then you may wish to promise a change in behaviour for the better, express your concern for the impact of your actions, and/or promise to somehow make amends:

vero confirmo, non ego sed vinum loquabatur. magis cavebo ne futuris cenis bibam nimium. mihi dolet quod fortasse, optime Caesar, te offendi.
I assure you, the wine was talking and not myself. I will be more careful to avoid drinking to excess at future dinners. It pains me that I might have offended you, most excellent Caesar.

spero seritatem libelli mei opus tuum non tardare.
I hope that the lateness of my essay hasn’t disrupted your work.

si licet, aliud tempus ad conveniendum iterum instituamus. illa tempora commoda sunt mihi.
If it’s possible, let us reschedule another time for a meeting. These times are suitable for me.

No need to make the apology overlong, since everyone is busy these days. A short and sweet message is good for us. Now all that’s left is to finish off the letter.

et iterum, mihi ignosce. opto ut in gratiam mecum redires. gratias tibi ago, quia patiens es mihi.
Once again, I’m sorry. I implore that you would take me back in your good graces. Thank you for being patient with me.

And there you have it. You’ve learned how to apologise to your boss in Latin. Use your powers wisely.

[1] Seneca, On Benefits 3.27 relates a story of how a man named Rufus had accidentally insulted the Emperor while drunk, and didn’t even remember it in the morning. But his slave told him as soon as he’d woken up, and thanks to the slave’s quick thinking, he apologised promptly to the Emperor and even received a large sum of money in kindness. The slave was freed.


About Carla Hurt

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child." - Cicero, Ad Brutum. Carla is a secondary school Latin teacher. In 2013, she finished first-class Honours in Classics, writing a thesis on accusations of impiety among philosophers in Greece and Republican Rome. She loves ancient art, ancient history, theology and pretty much anything to do with the Romans.

2 responses »

  1. This is fantastic Carla. I shall be sure to remember this when I have to submit my Classics essay to Caesar after the due date!


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