Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Greet Me Once! Kiss Me Twice! The Latin Verb Salutare...

The Latin verb Salutare means 'to greet'. 

But how exactly did ancient Romans greet one another?

Was this verb just describing Caecilius seeing Holconius on the street and saying, "Salve!"?

Or did Romans do something else when they performed "Salutare"?

If you've spent any time in Romance language cultures, you've noticed that "greeting" one another seems to invariably involve kissing.

In Romania, where I spend a lot of time, everyone kisses everyone. You greet someone, male or female--no matter, by a mutual kiss on the cheek, followed by a mutual kiss on the other cheek.

Within the Russian Orthodox circles in which I spend time every Sunday, there is the three-fold kiss--three in honor of the Holy Trinity. But again, male and female--no matter--that is how we greet one another.

The Romanian verb descended from Salutare is "a s─âruta". In Romanian, this verb means 'to kiss'.

The fact that the Romanian verb descended from Salutare means 'to kiss', coupled with the fact that Romance language speakers tend to kiss upon greeting, would seem to provide strong evidence for the assertion that ancient Romans also invariably kissed upon greeting one another.

It would be very nice to find some ancient text that could be cited in confirmation of this assertion.

And that text is found in the New Testament itself.

St. Paul was a Roman citizen. And he wrote a letter to the Christians living in Rome. 

He gave them the following advice (Romans 16:16):

"Greet one another with a Holy Kiss."

Here is the Latin translation of the verse, translated by the Roman St. Jerome:

Salutate invicem in osculo sancto. 

Here we find clear confirmation of the coupling of the verb Salutare with the concept of kissing.

But what was his point?

He's telling the Christians of Rome, who, like all Romans, greet one another with a kiss, to make sure that their kiss is holy (sancto).

What he's saying is--when you greet someone, don't greet them with a kiss that pushes the boundaries of what is appropriate.

In other words, if your Romanian wife's smoking hot friend comes to greet you, don't do the double cheek kiss in such a fashion that you actually try to make the outer edges of your lips touch hers.

Um, who, in their human weakness, would ever do such a thing?

St. Paul was clearly preaching against "a thing."

St. Paul, in Romans 16:16, tells us that Roman greetings did indeed involve a kiss. We can assume, based on Romance language cultures, that the ancient Romans greeted one another much as the Romanians still do today. 

Men kissed each other on both cheeks.  Women kissed each other on both cheeks. Men and Women kissed each other on both cheeks.

But Men then, as now, were incapable of not, on some level, sexualizing the encounter. 

We're dogs. I apologize. I'm personally a work in progress.

That said,  I think this post does accomplish some original research on the verb Salutare... 


If you're interested in Latin or ancient history, or even just an entertaining read, check out the time-travel thriller In Saecula Saeculorum. Click to learn more.

You'll travel back to ancient Rome on a harrowing mission to save the modern world. It's the adventure of four lifetimes.


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