How to hail Satan in proper Latin

The new-and-improved “progressive” Catholic Church recently decided to throw a shit-fit about Satanists on the the internet. And although it is laughable that such a large and influential organization is ignoring climate change and the return of extreme right-wing politics (both of which are real, serious threats to humanity) in favour of harping on an imaginary goat-man and some harmless inverted pentagrams, one result of the increase in alleged Satanists on social media is that more and more people are hailing our fictitious dark lord in Latin.

And, because Latin is a hard language and they don’t teach it in schools (shut up, Eton!), we don’t always get it right. 

Therefore, I thought I’d offer up, as my inaugural post, a quick run down on how to say “Hail Satan” and its variants in proper Latin. 

AVE SATANAS

The Latin for “Hail Satan” I encounter most “in the wild” is Ave Satanas, and this is basically correct. If you’re just looking for a simple way to say “Hail Satan” in Latin, this phrase will do the job, and you can stop reading now and go about your business.

Deeper dive

But for those who want a little more info, let’s examine the heaven out of this otherwise simple phrase.

Ave, meaning “hail”, is no doubt familiar to most readers from things like Ave Maria (both the Schubert composition and the Roman Catholic prayer, rendered in English as the “Hail Mary”).

Another instance of Ave with pop culture recognition is the apocryphal cry of the Roman gladiators:

Ave, Caesar! Morituri te salutamus!

(Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!)

(BTW, no gladiator ever said anything like that.)

Ave is a form of the verb avere, whose original meaning was “to want/desire/long for”, but came to mean “hail”, at least in set phrases like Ave Caesar.

Hail, in English, literally means “to be well/healthy” (it is cognate with heal and with the Scottish word hale, as in “hale and hearty”). And the same is true of avere: when you use ave to “hail” someone, you are literally telling them “to be well”.

In form, ave is what we call an “imperative”. That means it is the “command” form of the verb: the form you use when you’re giving someone else an order.

But “Romans go home” is an order, so you must use the imperative!

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in a phrase like Ave Caesar or Ave Satanas, you are “commanding” Caesar or Satan to “be healthy”.

Ave Satanas!

(Hail/Be healthy Satan!)

Variant: Ave Satana

Though less popular, you also see some people writing Ave Satana. Not only is this also correct, but kinda-sorta “cooler”, if you’re a big language dork who thinks declining Classical nouns is cool, like me.

It’s all Greek to me

One thing we notice about the word Satanas is it ends in -as. But most “famous” Latin nouns end in -us. So why isn’t is *Satanus?

(BTW, when I put an * in front of a word form, it’s because that form is incorrect, hypothetical, or non-existent. So when skimming my posts, make sure you never say or write anything marked with an *.)

The word Satan ultimately comes from Hebrew, where it means “adversary, opponent, or antagonist”. It did not exist in Latin until St Jerome translated the Bible from its original languages into Latin, creating the version known as The Vulgate (which is related to the word “vulgar”, meaning “of the common rabble”, because at the time Latin was the “common” language, not the prestigious intellectual one).

Most occurrences of the Unholy Name in the Vulgate are merely spelled Satan, with no attempt to map the word onto Latin morphology. No inflections, no Latin-style word endings. But you do get some occurrences of Satanas, which is a direct transliteration of Σατανᾶς, from the original Greek of the New Testament.

Unlike St Jerome, the Greek authors of the New Testament did attempt to map the Hebrew word onto a Greek noun paradigm: specifically the “first declension α-stems”. And in Ancient Greek, words that end in – ᾶς (-as) in the nominative case (the basic “name” form of a word) drop the ς (s) in the vocative case.

WTF is the “vocative case”?

The vocative case is the form of a noun you use when you are directly addressing it or calling out to it. “Vocative” comes from the Latin verb vocare “to call”, and is related to English words like vocal, vox, voice, vocation (which is a “calling”), invoke, and evocation (the school of magic from Dungeons & Dragons).

When you’re “commanding” Satan to “be well”, you’re addressing him directly, so you should technically use the vocative case, and change Satanas to Satana.

So why not always say “Ave Satana”?

Well, Latin isn’t Greek, and when Latin imported words directly from Greek, Latin speakers and writers didn’t always feel compelled to use the Greek inflections. (And sometimes they didn’t know them.)

Also, Latin has, or at least had, a vocative case of its own, but it is only preserved in the “famous” words that end in -us. In all other classes of noun, the vocative is identical to the nominative, and thus nonexistent. So we can extrapolate a tendency of Latin to lose the vocative case over time. (This tendency is realized in the absence of a vocative in the Romance languages, which descended from Latin.)

So at the very least, you shouldn’t feel compelled to say or write Ave Satana. But there’s another good reason to avoid it. People who haven’t studied Latin, which is most people, won’t know about this vocative inflection. Which means “Satana” will look like a first declension feminine noun. The a hypothetical “girl-version” of Satan. It’s liable to create confusion.

Variant: hailing the Lord of Hell

But sometimes we don’t want to hail Satan. Sometimes we want to hail “The Lord of Hell”. And I have seen the following attempts to do this “in the wild”:

*Ave domine inferne

Ave domine inferni

*Ave domini inferni

Only one of these is correct (spoiler alert, I’ve already marked the incorrect ones!).

In this phrase Ave functions exactly as above, so there’s no need to revisit it. Instead, let’s concentrate on the two nouns: dominus and infernus.

The “famous” Second Declension

The pattern of endings a Latin noun gets, depending on how it is used in a sentence, is called a declension. The good news about dominus and infernus is they are both part of that “famous” group of Latin nouns that end in -us, properly called the “Second Declension, masculine”. The bad news is, this is the only declension in Latin that still has a vocative case, so we have to use it. (The second declension also contains grammatically “neuter” words, which end in -um, and don’t have a separate vocative.)

When you are addressing a second declension masculine noun, such as dominus, you have to change the -us to -e: hence domine.

The word dominus, “lord”, is related to words like dominate, dominion, the Italian titles don and donna, and of course, Dame (both the French and English titles, and the American derogatory slang for “woman”.

There is nothing like a Dame

Abandon all hope

We probably think of an inferno as a ball of fire or something, but that is purely the result of Abrahamic religious influence. The Latin word infernus, from which inferno is derived, simply refers to a place that is “lower”, either literally or figuratively, and is related to words like infra and inferior, both of which come into English from Latin, virtually unchanged.

Like dominus, the word infernus is a second declension masculine noun. But what grammatical case should it be? What is its function in the sentence?

The phrase “Lord of Hell” uses the preposition of to indicate possession, ownership, or belonging. This is called a periphrastic genitive construction, and while it is the only way to indicate possession in the Romance languages (from which English adopted it, thank you very much, Normans), it was not used in Latin.

I’m possessed!

Latin indicates possession with an infection on the noun that “possesses” the main noun. This is called the genitive case. English still does this by adding ‘s to a noun: the lord’s house. In second declension Latin nouns, you create the genitive by changing the -us to -i: domus domini. So to say or write “Hail Lord of Hell” correctly, it’s:

Ave domine inferni

(Hail Lord of Hell)

Note that, although inferni is best translated as “Hell’s”, I have rendered it “of Hell” above, because of Latin’s tendency to place the genitive noun after the noun it modifies (or possesses).

One thing most people know about the “famous” -us nouns is that the plural ends in -i (think fungi, the plural of fungus). And it’s true: in second declension masculine Latin nouns, the genitive singular is identical to the nominative plural. Only context can determine which case is correct. “Hail (the) Lord (the) Hells” wouldn’t make any sense.

Regarding the two incorrect ways to say “Hail, Lord of Hell”, the first one, *Ave domine inferne literally means “Hail the lord from below”. And because inferne is an adverb, it modifies Ave, not domine, so you are hailing “from below” your lord.

The second incorrect form, *Ave domini inferni, looks like it has two plurals: “Hail the Lords the Hells”. If you get caught using this one, you could pretend you were trying to write “Hail, Lords [plural] of Hell”, and argue that Hell has many fictional “Lords”, but I think we’d all know this is straining to do some explaining.

So there it is: Ave domine inferni: “Hail, Lord of Hell!”

If you see any other version of this phrase, it’s probably an error.

Now, if there’s anyone left who isn’t angry and bored, join me next time, when we discuss how not to hail your dark lord and master!

Until then, valete, sorores fratresque in Satana!

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