In this article (in Dutch) it is claimed that an ancient Roman drinking mug found during an archaeological dig in the town of Mortsel in Belgium, contains the only known instance of the Latin inscription avoca te, translated as enjoy yourself. Similar mugs have apparently been found in Germany, some of which had inscriptions using the verb avocare, such as avoco te, but the imperative phrase avoca te is claimed to be "unique in the history of Latin".

I find the claim that this phrase has never before been found in any Latin text to be somewhat suspect, and probably misinterpreted or exaggerated by the journalist who wrote the article (even though she claims to be paraphrasing a professor of ancient history).

Is there a linguistic reason why this phrase would not have been in general use? Was the now more famous phrase carpe diem already ubiquitous in ancient times, to the extent where no one would think of expressing the sentiment any other way?

  • Did this journalist explain what the uniqueness indicated?
    – cmw
    Aug 23 at 17:53

2 Answers 2


A search through the PHI corpus reveals that the exact phrase avoca te was never used in any surviving work of classical literature. I don't know of an easy way to search through the corpus of inscriptions, but I believe the author of the article here.

Why isn't this surprising? Well, it's not necessarily an obvious way to express "enjoy yourself"; āvocāre is more like "separate" or "divert" than "enjoy". So while this phrase makes sense, it's not (as far as I know) an established idiom that we'd expect to see all over the place.

For a metaphor, "divert yourself with drink" is a phrase that makes perfect sense to me as an English-speaker, but searching it (with quotes) returns no results in Google. It's just not the most common way of expressing that sentiment; there are plenty of other options out there, and it just so happens that this one goes unused.

  • I should have guessed that there is an online repository of ancient Latin texts :-)
    – Latino
    Aug 22 at 1:51
  • 1
    @Latino Freely available, too!
    – Draconis
    Aug 22 at 2:11

Broadening the search a little bit, I found an almost identical phrase in Sermon 261 of St. Augustine (AD 354-430):

Prius ergo cogita de corde mundando: hoc habeto negotium, ad hoc te avoca, insta huic operi.

My (non-literal) translation:

First then, think about cleansing your heart. Make this your business; turn your attention to this; be intent on this work.

The word order doesn't matter, so it's not correct to say that this is a "unique phrase" in Latin unless you're making a very circumscribed claim about word order (in which case, I'm sure there are thousands of other two-word phrases that are "hapax legomena"). It should be noted, though, that Augustine is using the more usual meaning of avoco, something like "withdraw one's attention." I don't think this is semantically much different from "divert yourself": even in English, "divert" just means "turn aside."

Is it the only inscription found so far that has the specific motto: "Avoca te"? Apparently. But the existence of other cups with variations (e.g. "Avoco te"; "Avoco me") shows that the specific phrase with the imperative was readily understood--just not formulaic.

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