I am reading the Exultet, an ancient Christian chant.

The first two lines are:

Exultet iam angelica turba caelorum,
exultent divina mysteria

In the Spanish translation, these two lines are:

Exulten por fin los coros de los ángeles,
Exulten las jerarquías del cielo,

Regardless of whether you know Spanish or not, notice that the "Exulten" (3rd person, plural, active) is the same in both lines.

Now, if I am correct, exultet is the 3rd person, singular, active of exultare (1st conjugation), whereas exultent is the 3rd person, plural, active. In effect, turba is feminine, and angelica can only be feminine and singular, in agreement with singular exultet. Is this correct?

The main question is, then: would a direct translation of the Latin text into Spanish use singular and plural persons respectively, so that the first line would be something like "Exulta por fin el coro celestial angelical?" where "angelical" is (as in English) an adjective, instead of a noun, like "angel"?

This would be an indication that I should not read both texts as a direct translation, but more of an adaptation, and as such, is not a very useful methodological tool to learn Latin.

1 Answer 1


You are correct to say that this is not a 'literal' translation. Turba is a feminine singular noun, and exultet is rightly singular. I'm not sure coro is the right word, though. Interestingly, turba made it into Spanish, but apparently with a decidedly negative connotation. In Classical Latin, turba also meant "mob", but could be used more neutrally, such as when Cicero talks about the turba ignotorum deorum, the "throng of unknown gods." There's still a sense that there are too many of them, that they're undifferentiated, that they create a clamor in their togetherness, but it's not like either Cicero or the Exultet are against them. Perhaps la multitud is the better word?

The reason, I suspect, for the plural, was to emphasize that great clamor. One chorus is nice and pleasant enough, but now imagine dozens of them at once. It can be deafening, and it shows the power and majesty of the angelic host. It's not literal, so reading it won't help you understand lingua Latina any better, but it will help the Spanish reader picture what is going on.

The other line is also not literal. The phrase divina mysteria does not mean las jerarquías del cielo, but instead misterios divinos, as you could guess, though that would be misleading, since the mysteria are not "puzzles" but rather secret religious rites. To be fully accepted within an ancient cult, you had to undergo its mysteria.

(N.B. "Cult" here, from the Latin cultus, just means group of worshipers of a single god, and does not carry the negative connotations of the English word. It instead is the ancestor to our words such as cultivate and culture, and was used in the sense that these groups cultivated a relationship with a particular divinity.)

In Christian Latin, this usually refers to the "higher intelligence of God," but that essence of "religious secrets" is still present. Las jerarquías is taking one visual image and replacing it with another, though it hopes to preserve the same idea. In the las jerarquías del cielo, we are shown to be beneath the highest intelligence, with its intentions and mind unknowable. Surely that's what's meant by divina mysteria, making las jerarquías a translation to capture the intent of the author without confusing readers with words that no longer mean what they used to.

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