Faustian Latin VIII – Faustus’ Oath

It seems best to divide the text (I.2.230-34) into convenient pieces, number them for easy reference (and speaking), and interleave text and translation, with all the notes below:

1. Sint míhi déi Acheróntis propítii!

May the gods of Acheron be favorable to me!

2. Váleat númen tríplex Jehóvae!

Goodbye, threefold power of Jehovah!

3. Ígnei, aérii, aquátici, terréni spíritus, salvéte!

Fiery, airy, watery, earthy spirits, all hail!

4. Oriéntis prínceps Lúcifer,

Lucifer, Prince of the East,

5. Beélzebub, inférni ardéntis monárcha,

Beelzebub, monarch of burning Hell,

6. et Demogórgon, pròpitiámus vos,

and Demogorgon, we ask your favor,

7. ut appáreat et súrgat Mephistóphilés! Quid tu moráris?

that Mephistophiles may appear and rise up! Why do you delay?

8. Per Jehóvam, Gehénnam, et consecrátam áquam quam nunc spárgo,

By Jehovah, Gehenna, and the consecrated water which I now sprinkle,

9. signúmque crúcis quod nunc fácio,

and the sign of the cross which I now make,

10. et per vóta nóstra,

and by our vows,

11. ípse nunc súrgat nóbis dicátus Mephistóphilés!

May Mephistophiles himself now rise up, dedicated to us!

My voice-recording (such as it is) is in three parts: 1-3, 4-7, 8-11. I need to find out how to link them from the page so readers can read and hear simultaneously. But that will have to wait a few hours, since it’s almost time for The Devil’s Charter, another Jacobethan play about selling one’s soul for power (in this case, the Papacy), performed by the same troupe that is doing Doctor Faustus in two weeks, and asked me for advice on the Latin.


  1. Acheron is one of the rivers of the Underworld, so ‘the gods of Acheron’ are either Pagan underworld gods or Christian devils or (most likely) a bit of each. I believe some Christian theologians identified the two.
  2. Rather like ‘fare well’ in English, Valeat means both ‘be strong’ and ‘goodbye’, and it’s hard to decide between the two here. It can hardly mean both, since ‘be strong’ is a compliment, ‘goodbye’ a mild insult – almost ‘go away’. I prefer ‘goodbye’ because he says ‘hello’ (salvete) to the spirits of the Four Elements in the very next line. God’s ‘threefold’ power obviously refers to the Trinity.
  3. The early editions have garbled a lot of the Latin. Aquatani is not good Latin for ‘watery’. Tucker Booke changed it to aquatici and Greg added terreni ‘earthy’ so all four elements would be present. It looks to me like Aquatani merged the beginning of aquatici with the end of terreni.
  4. Lucifer was inserted by Greg, since he is called ‘Prince of the East’ in the Bible, and Lucifer and Beelzebub are different characters later on in this play, at least in the stage direction in II.iii, though I don’t think Beelzebub actually speaks there.
  5. Without Lucifer in the previous line, it would be very difficult to tell whether this is all in apposition or not.
  6. I assume Demogorgon is a third devil, to make a mocking Satanic anti-Trinity. I don’t think Demogorgon is another name for Mephistophiles, who seems to be of lower rank, a mere captain or colonel in the Army of Darkness. ‘Your’ is plural, but I didn’t think anyone would want ‘y’all’s’ even in the subtitles of an Elizabethan play
  7. The reading of the early editions is nonsense, and quid tu moraris? is Bullen’s plausible conjecture for quod tumeraris. Here the ‘you’ is singular, so he’s speaking to Mephistophiles alone. There should be a pause before the question, as he waits for Mephistophiles to appear. More colloquially: ‘What are you waiting for?’
  8. This is an odd mixture of holy (Jehovah, holy water) and unholy (Gehenna is more or less Hell). I suppose Faustus is as confused about magic as he is about philosophy.
  9. I suspect this is some kind of backwards or twisted Sign of the Anti-Cross: a normal one would hardly be appropriate here. Then again, see previous note: maybe Faustus makes a normal Sign of the Cross unthinkingly, from habit.
  10. Here and in the next line ‘our’ and ‘us’ mean ‘my’ and ‘me’: Latin uses the ‘royal We’ all the time, without any royal or pretentious implications. The vota are vows, promises, wishes, all wrapped up in one word.
  11. ‘Himself’ (ipse) means ‘in person’: Faustus wants Mephistophiles, not some go-between messenger devil with no power to deal – not that Mephistophiles has that power, as it turns out. The meaning of dicatus is difficult: ‘dedicated to us (=me)’ must mean something like ‘at my command’ plus ‘to serve me’.

Anything else?

This entry was posted in Blackfriars, English Literature and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Faustian Latin VIII – Faustus’ Oath

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *