I'm looking to find the translation of devom. I have looked for a translation online and in dictionaries and come up empty.

In Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan he quotes an inscription:


and translated it as

"To the great god Nodens [..], Flavius Senilis has erected this pillar on account of the marriage which he saw beneath the shade."

The inscription appears to have been based on an actual Lydney Park inscription which uses "Devo".

However, I can't find a translation for devom, or a cognate, except as devomo, which doesn't really make sense in context. Google Translate won't translate it either. I suppose it could be a form of deorum, but that still begs the question of why it isn't linked as an alternate form.

I found some other usages:

Aeole namue tibi Devom pater

Deinde ego clamare debeo siquod video devom atque hominum [..]

  • If I am seeing this, I ought to shout ‘of gods and men.’

-- Letter, from Suneros to Chios (Oxyrhynchus, 297-308 CE)

  • Changed the classical-latin tag to old-latin, because this isn't a standard Classical form and the answer goes back to Old Latin sound changes. Perhaps we should have a tag for dialects (latina rustica)? The current "dialects" tag seems intended for Greek. – Draconis Aug 14 at 17:43
  • 1
    Devom sounds like tamil தெய்வம் - Deivam*/*Dheivam which means God/Goddess. According to Douglas Harper, the etymological roots of Deva mean "a shining one," from div- "to shine," and it is a cognate with Greek dios "divine" and Zeus, and Latin deus "god" (Old Latin deivos). Deva is masculine, and the related feminine equivalent is devi. Etymologically, Devi is cognate Latin dea. – muralee_maddy Aug 15 at 20:25

Short answer, dēvom is a pre-Classical and non-standard form; the standard Classical version would be dīvum.

In Old Latin, there were three different long front vowels: a low-mid /ɛː/, written ē, a high-mid /eː/, written ei, and a high /iː/, written ī (*). The second-declension genitive singular ending, for example, was , while the nominative plural was -ei—this is important for the meter of Plautus, where filiī and deei are two syllables (by contraction), but filiei and deī are three.

In the standard variety of Classical Latin (as spoken in Rome), ei merged into ī, hence "of the man" and "the men" both became virī. But in other varieties, the vowels developed differently: ē and ei merged into /eː/, while ae (Classical /aj/) became /ɛː/. Varro and Cicero both describe this as a "rustic" or "provincial" feature, avoided by the educated urban elite. But it was certainly common, and it persisted all the way to Romance times.

Separately, the genitive plural ending for the second declension used to be -ōm (compare Greek -ων). This eventually changed to -om, then to -um (or -ōrum under the influence of the first declension). But the sequence vu is generally avoided in Latin, so the change of final o to u was slower after a v: we still see forms like servos and volt (for Classical servus and vult) until the early Empire.

So dēvom is a rural descendant of Old Latin deivōm "of the gods", equivalent to Classical dīvum or dīvōrum. Or possibly a descendant of deivom, "the god [acc]" (also Classical dīvum), but that makes less sense.

As for what it's doing here? Frankly, I think it's an error—either on the part of the real-world author, or the fictional inscriber. I would expect instead dēvō, the dative singular: "to the god". But a literal translation of the inscription as written would be "to Nodens of the gods".

EDIT: As Ilmari Karonen notes in his answer, it could also be dēvō m[agnō]: "to the great god". This also fits the given translation better.

(*) Ei started as a diphthong, but turned into a monophthong somewhere around the third century BCE; compare Ancient Greek's monophthongs η ει ῑ. The Romans didn't actually write the macrons, of course, but they're helpful for discussing the phonology (since the distinction between short and long was an important one).

| improve this answer | |
  • +1 Hmm when was ει a monophthong? I'll admit my Greek pronunciation is rusty... – Cerberus Aug 17 at 22:35
  • 2
    @Cerberus My understanding is that the high-mid long monophthongs and mid-to-high diphthongs merged pretty early, which is why the result of two epsilons next to each other, or an epsilon that goes through compensatory lengthening, is written ει (and likewise for omicron and ου). – Draconis Aug 17 at 22:47
  • Hmm that is interesting, about those contractions (which is what we called it) and lengthenings. It would make sense. So this would have happened, around the time of Homer, perhaps? – Cerberus Aug 17 at 22:53
  • @Cerberus Not sure, actually; I might ask a new question about that. I only know that it happened at some point, not when. – Draconis Aug 17 at 22:57

I'm hardly a Latin scholar but I'm going to hazard a guess, based on the given translation and the propensity on classical writers to abbreviate things, that the first line of the inscription should actually be parsed as "DEVO M NODENTi", where the "M" is an abbreviation for magnō, "(to) the great".

Addendum: Indeed, that's the reading given on page 9 of John Rateliff's "Art of Nodens" PDF*, which I happened across while searching for examples of such abbreviations, and which also features (on page 3) this even more abbreviated example:

Drawing of tablet

Figure 3: The Second Tablet
To the great god Nodons, Flavius Blandinus the drill-instructor, willingly and deservedly fulfills his vow.

*) I assume the figures in this PDF are intended to accompany a scholarly commentary in a separate document, of which I alas have not yet been able to locate a copy.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    In the Wikipedia entry on Nodens, the M is supposed to translate as "Marti", possibly citing a 1932 paper. However see also. The PDF is art from an essay in A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger. – Aaron Gullison Aug 14 at 20:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.