XXIII[23arg] Of the Nerio of Mars in ancient prayers.
PRAYERS to the immortal gods, which are offered according to the Roman ritual, are set forth in the [p. 481] books of the priests of the Roman people, as well as in many early books of prayers. In these we find: “Lua, 1 of Saturn; Salacia, of Neptune; Hora, of Quirinus; the Virites of Quirinus; Maia of Vulcan; Heries of Juno; Moles of Mars, and Nerio of Mars.” Of these I hear most people pronounce the one which I have put last with a long initial syllable, as the Greeks pronounce νηρεΐδες (“Nereids”). But those who have spoken correctly made the first syllable short and lengthened the third. For the nominative case of the word, as it is written in the books of early writers, is Nerio, although Marcus Varro, in his Menippean Satire entitled σκιομαχία, or “Battle of the Shadows,” uses in the vocative Nericnes, not Nerio, in the following verses: 2
Thee, Anna and Peranna, Panda Cela, Pales,From which it necessarily follows that the nominative case is the same. But Nerio was declined by our forefathers like Atnio; for, as they said Aniēnem with the third syllable long, so they did Neriēnem. Furthermore, that word, whether it be Nerio or Nerienes, is Sabine and signifies valour and courage. Hence among the Claudii, who we are told sprang from the Sabines, whoever was of eminent and surpassing courage was called Nero. 3 But the Sabines [p. 483] seem to have derived this word from the Greeks, who call the sinews and ligaments of the limbs νεῦρα, whence we also in Latin call them nervi. Therefore Nerio designates the strength and power of Mars and a certain majesty of the War-god. Plautus, however, in the Truculentus says 4 that Nerio is the wife of Mars, and puts the statement into the mouth of a soldier, in the following line:
Nerienes and Minerva, Fortune and likewise Ceres.
Mars, coming home, greets his wife Nerio.About this line I once heard a man of some repute say that Plautus, with too great an eye to comic effect, attributed this strange and false idea, of thinking that Nerio was the wife of Mars, to an ignorant and rude soldier. But whoever will read the third book of the Annals of Gnaeus Gellius will find that this passage shows learning, rather than a comic spirit; for there it is written that Hersilia, when she pleaded before Titus Tatius and begged for peace, prayed in these words: 5 “Neria of Mars, I beseech thee, give us peace; I beseech thee that it be permitted us to enjoy lasting and happy marriages, since it was by thy lord's advice that in like manner they carried off us maidens, 6 that from us they might raise up children for themselves and their people, and descendants for their country.” She says “by thy lord's advice,” of course meaning her husband, Mars; and from this it is plain that Plautus made use of no poetic fiction, but that there was also a tradition according to which Nerio was said by some to be the wife of Mars. But it must be noticed besides that Gellius writes Neria with an a, not Nerio nor Nerienes. In addition to Plautus too, and Gellius, Licinius [p. 485] Imbrex, an early writer of comedies, in the play entitled Neaera, wrote as follows: 7
Neaera I'd not wish to have thee called;Moreover, the metre of this verse is such that the third syllable in that name must be made short, 8 contrary to what was said above. But how greatly the quantity of this syllable varied among the early writers is so well known that I need not waste many words on the subject. Ennius also, in this verse from the first book of his Annals, 9
Neriene rather, since thou art wife to Mars.
Neriene of Mars and Here,if, as is not always the case, he has preserved the metre, has lengthened the first syllable and shortened the third. And I do not think that I ought to pass by this either, whatever it amounts to, which I find written in the Commentary of Servius Claudius, 11 that Nerio is equivalent to Neirio, meaning without anger (ne ira) and with calmness, so that in using that name we pray that Mars may become mild and calm; for the particle ne, as it is among the Greeks, is frequently privative in the Latin language also.