What would be a good Latin translation for the sauce pesto? I see a couple of possible routes, but it's not clear to me at all what I should call the sauce in a modern context:

  1. It seems to come from the Italian verb pestare which in turn comes from the Latin pistare. Perhaps the analogous derivative in Latin would be pistatum, pistatus (fourth declension), or pistatio.
  2. One could take the word as is or with slight modifications and apply suitable endings. It could be an undeclinable word, it could be pestum, -i, or maybe pesto, -nis.
  3. One could find a similar sauce used by the Romans and adapt that name, possible with a clarifying adjective.

1 Answer 1


The word pistatio already exists; OLD defines it as 'the action of ramming down,' which sounds quite unappetizing.

In the entry for pistare that is linked to in the question, the attestation provides one possibility: herba pistata.

Alternatively, while researching a comment and an answer for another food-related question, I came across this passage from Ovid's Fasti (4.367 ff.):

'non pudet herbosum' dixi 'posuisse moretum
in dominae mensis: an sua causa subest?'
'lacte mero veteres usi narrantur et herbis,
sponte sua siquas terra ferebat' ait;
'candidus elisae miscetur caseus herbae,
cognoscat priscos ut dea prisca cibos.'

'They think no shame,' said I, 'to set a dish of herbs on the tables of the Mistress. Is there a good reason at the bottom of it?' 'People of old,' she answered, 'are reported to have subsisted on pure milk and such herbs as the earth bore of its free will. White cheese is mixed with pounded herbs, that the ancient goddess may know the ancient foods.'

(Loeb Classical Library translation by Frazer [revised by Goold]; emphasis added)

Ovid describes cheese mixed with pounded herbs, whereas pesto is pounded herbs with a bit of cheese mixed in, so a little adaptation might be required – e.g., herbae elisae caseo (et alio) mixto or just herbae elisae.

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