How to beg for mercy in Latin

What do you do when you have committed a sacrilege, when the Emperor has overheard your snide remark,[1] when you handed in your essay late, or you forgot to attend a meeting with your superior? You may have offended a higher power, who would rightly chastise you for your misdeeds. You must now avail yourself of this person’s mercy and hope to quickly mend the breach in your friendship.

If that is the case, you’ll want to apologise for your mistake. But what better language to ask for mercy in than Latin?

The example apologies I write could serve as templates for your situation, but never feel constrained to mimic these lines exactly. It’s the thought that counts, and the more you can tailor your apology to fit the situation, the better.

Firstly, let’s address the person we are asking for forgiveness. The standard opening for letters among Romans, even in the most personal kinds of letters, was this:

(your name)  (addressee’s name in dative case) salutat.
Rufus Caesari salutat.
Rufus sends greetings to Caesar.

However, if you wish to capture the English idiom “Hi (name)” which may be more appropriate for the start of an email, the closest rendering in Latin would be this:

salve, (addressee’s name in vocative case),
salve, Caesar,
Hello Caesar,

Next, you’ll want to explain yourself and apologise for what happened.  There’s a fine difference between trying to explain the cause of what happened, while acknowledging your own fault, and trying to make excuses. Let’s not beat around the bush – you did something culpable, and you want to show your addressee that you understand that what you did was wrong.

mihi ignosce, Caesar praestantissime. servus meus mihi narravit ut inter cenam potus nimis quaedam verba dixissem quae numquam credidi etiam in mentem venire posse. quod certe indecorum erat et ingratissimum.
I’m sorry, most eminent Caesar. My slave has informed me that at your dinner I had drunk far too much, and said certain things which I never believed could even occur to my mind. This was certainly inappropriate and most unacceptable.

mihi ignosce. libellum reddidi postquam 3pm. neglegens putavi hora ubi debitus erat, erat 5pm. sed certe me decet antea inspexisse.
I’m sorry. I handed the essay in after 3pm. I was careless and thought that the time it was due was 5pm, but in any case I should have checked beforehand.

mihi ignosce. omnino oblita sum conventus quem hodie instituimus. mea culpa.
I’m sorry. I completely forgot the meeting we had planned today. That was my fault.

Then you may wish to promise a change in behaviour for the better, express your concern for the impact of your actions, and/or promise to somehow make amends:

vero confirmo, non ego sed vinum loquabatur. magis cavebo ne futuris cenis bibam nimium. mihi dolet quod fortasse, optime Caesar, te offendi.
I assure you, the wine was talking and not myself. I will be more careful to avoid drinking to excess at future dinners. It pains me that I might have offended you, most excellent Caesar.

spero seritatem libelli mei opus tuum non tardare.
I hope that the lateness of my essay hasn’t disrupted your work.

si licet, aliud tempus ad conveniendum iterum instituamus. illa tempora commoda sunt mihi.
If it’s possible, let us reschedule another time for a meeting. These times are suitable for me.

No need to make the apology overlong, since everyone is busy these days. A short and sweet message is good for us. Now all that’s left is to finish off the letter.

et iterum, mihi ignosce. opto ut in gratiam mecum redires. gratias tibi ago, quia patiens es mihi.
Once again, I’m sorry. I implore that you would take me back in your good graces. Thank you for being patient with me.

And there you have it. You’ve learned how to apologise to your boss in Latin. Use your powers wisely.

[1] Seneca, On Benefits 3.27 relates a story of how a man named Rufus had accidentally insulted the Emperor while drunk, and didn’t even remember it in the morning. But his slave told him as soon as he’d woken up, and thanks to the slave’s quick thinking, he apologised promptly to the Emperor and even received a large sum of money in kindness. The slave was freed.


12 responses to “How to beg for mercy in Latin”

  1. Great post, I really mean it. About to repost the other one, I might repost this one as well, though I’m not sure, I am ovewrwhelmed by business, family (my strength though), and my mentor’s ‘an article a day in languages that are not your own’ rule: eg discipline of mind.
    You are a scholar, a beginning scholar, perhaps, but hats-off scholar nonetheless . Ciao

    (PS: hai per caso qualche stilla di sangue italiano? Carla è un nome italiano)

    • Thanks so much for reblogging the other post! You can reblog whatever you like, when you want to. 🙂 And thanks for the encouragement, I would love to cultivate scholarship in Classics.

      And actually, I don’t have any Italian blood, but my parents named me after my German great-grandfather Carl. They thought I was going to be a boy but when I was born a girl, they named me Carla. Italian is a beautiful language though and I wish I knew more.

  2. I’m sorry I’ll be the usual Italian **chatter-box** but my thoughts come in floods, am too tired to prune and, also, I proceed from chaos to order, my cognitive style, MOR being also an aspiring dialectic.

    This exchange in fact, should you say yes, I’d love to publish on my blog as Dialectic 4 of tha series: I will then prune my texts of course but not too much, this being what I am, plus I’d love you to reply extensively (in case you *can* and *like*) the exchange of ideas thus resulting more interesting for readers.

    This having been fussily said … 😉



    I would love to cultivate scholarship in Classics

    Well, the persomal opinion (of a dilettante) is that ‘you can’ lol.

    I think that you can become what you want to become if you really want it. You have ‘la stoffa’ (what it takes?), as we say here.

    You are creative, you have passion, but most of all you have discipline. Talent without discipline is sero.

    A scholar I have not become (I am a quirky researcher, total ‘right emisphere’ lol: pop psychology) for lack of guidance, since I was let to grow by myself, like a weed in the jungle (and am still a bit, though in the good sense I hope, Christianity and religions -plus intellectual curiosity- helping).

    MOR refound the latter after an ‘encounter’ he had at 24 – a mentor and inspiring polymath finally to whom I owe a lot and that I call Magister Didaskalos in my blog; the former – religions – came after some study of the Roman religions (I liked that post of yours where you criticize those who consider the Roman religion void of emotions, of mysticism, simply formulaic (a moronity imo).

    By studying several cults & gods goddessed and the mysteries etc. I realised how ‘Roman’ Christianity was, plus Christianity was one of the several mysteries too (you might not agree here, I don’t know). A powerful blend, the Roman religion – no need to tell – that, together with Cristianity, can provide strength and consolation (MOR is more Christian than Pagan, incidentally, although we ALL here are a bit pagan).

    Let me add that it is so refreshing to see a young woman -the age of my two dear daughters- so very *well* doing what she does, and a real polyglot too (mandarin, wow, and then German; Latin and Greek are of course necessary).

  3. 2)

    actually, I don’t have any Italian blood, but my parents named me after my German great-grandfather Carl. They thought I was going to be a boy

    Italian is bastard latin so I don’t think you’ll have difficulties though my advice, you being a polyglot, is considering Interlingua instead.

    It is not artificial like Esperanto but ‘biological’; and, most importantly, it was conceived by solid scholars as a modern form of Latin.

    For which purpose? English is already the lingua franca of a portion of the world, one might ask.

    Ok, but take for example a woman from New York (all English speaking people we Italians call ‘Anglo-Saxons’ incidentally – “you’ll be happy to know I’m not wearing furs” said an English blogger living in Milan, Italy: English humor, no doubt).

    Now it turns this woman and her husband planning a long trip in say Brasil, Spain, Italy have desire to get to know the natives in a non-mediated-via-English way eg a more direct linguistic and cultural way. English btw being not much spoken the more ancient the country is: Romans for ex. have this couldn’t-care-less attitude thinking they are so darn universal – and they are, accepting every body with open heart but at same time being scared by other cultures but also feeling superior behaving like provincials who think they are gas nobles.

    This couple, I was saying (Americans plan ALL in advance – 1 year, even 2-3 years – we instead choosing at the last minute) has only one frantic solution: even if the trip will occur in 3 years – it can happen lol – they must TOIL and learn Portuguese the first year, Spanish the second year, and Italian the third.

    It can be done, but it is a hard path especially until the half of it, then the Latin underlying the 3 languages makes things easier.


    There is another solution It is to learn Interlingua well ( it’ll take 2-3-4 months maximum. After which they will be able to talk ‘directly’ to Brasilians, Spanish and Italians.

    Grazie e scusa. It’s been a pleasure.

    Giovanni (of Roma)

    • That’s really interesting – I’ve never heard of a language called Interlingua before, but it is nice that it uses Latin-based words to connect various Romance languages together.

      I’ve been fantasising about learning early Germanic languages like Anglo-Saxon, so that I could possibly connect English and German together at their Germanic roots. A friend of mine is learning Gothic and is really enjoying the language. I’d love to read an Anglo-Saxon gospel book some day.


      By studying several cults & gods goddessed and the mysteries etc. I realised how ‘Roman’ Christianity was

      I am Christian, and I find the study of pagan theology fascinating. I believe in one God, as did the fathers of the Church, and I do not worship other gods, as it would be a deep betrayal of the sanctity of God.

      While I am not a pagan, I still find pagan Roman theology interesting, both as a counterpoint for early Christian apologetics and as a subject in its own right.

      Regarding Mystery Cults: I follow the most recent and well researched wave of scholarship, which concludes that Christianity was not a “mystery religion” in the same vein as, say, the Mithras cult.

      “The evidence we have been examining suggests that there was little contact between Christianity and mystery cults at any time. This contrasts with a long-established scholarly tradition that tried to find considerable influence of mystery cult on Christianity. Often the debate was as much to do with contemporary concerns as with the distant past. So, for example, it suited Protestant polemicists to argue that the ‘primitive Christianity’ of the early church was corrupted by the incorporation of rites and doctrines drawn from non-Christian mystery cults… And it suited critics of Christianity as a whole to claim that many elements of Christianity, including the sacramental rituals of baptism and holy communion, were taken over directly from Mithraism.” – Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, Princeton University Press (2010) p.207

      I like studying pagan theology. I think it has been so often overlooked in modern studies of Roman paganism. Instead of viewing religion as a religion (i.e. a proposed way for reasonable humans to interact with a divine being or beings) people want to see religion only as a coded way of expressing sexism, elitism or some other secular or political goal that reflects narrow-minded modern concerns. I find it very surprising that some prominent scholars who study Roman religion have openly said they are contemptuous of all religion. Little wonder that it so commonly said that Roman religion was invented for the sake of empty traditionalism alone, or that it was a tool to manipulate the unthinking masses. I think Roman religion, at least in philosophical texts and grave inscriptions, meant much more to the people than just empty rituals.

      • Well, gosh, wow. This will keep my brain juices working for a while I’ll admit. Not for long though. And I always (95%) come back. I spot some German determination. Schodde —> Schotte? Good. I’m a Bach wrestler since I was 19 🙂

      • Dear Carla,

        I like dialectics, as you know, id est Diskurs als argumentativer Dialog so my lateinisch discursus feedback LOL LOL is:

        the answer to your complex-very-German reply is to be found, in my view, in the Holy Week (Ἁγία καὶ Μεγάλη Ἑβδομάς) where Christians celebrate the events related to the last days of Jesus – passion, death and resurrection, among the rest.

        Last Sunday feeling tense and tired I for some weird reason randomly chose a Church (every 5 meters we darn have one in darn Rome) and had the luck to find a ‘real’ pastor speaking from ‘a heart’ and also from a sound-theological-knowledge-as far-as-I-can-tell brain.

        Well, I was moved to tears twice BUT since I never in the past believed in signs it is unlikely I will believe in them in the future.

        Regards from Rome


  4. Carla, septemcapitata candelabras artium liberalium, salutem dicit Michael. Si corrector electronicum non defacit verbum omnem meum, longius tibi scribero.

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