Simple Prayers

1 Introduction

There are no prayer-books surviving from pagan antiquity, and indeed there seem to have been almost no set prayers outside the context of specific ritual contexts. Still, it will be useful to compile a few simple prayers to serve as formal models.

As can be seen, the most fundamental parts of a prayer are an invocation (‘O gods!’) and a request (‘Grant that X!’), which can be combined into a declarative sentence (‘I pray to the gods that…’), or expanded in various ways, for instance by adding mention of Hestia or Janus at the beginning. For more information, see About Prayer.

There is virtually no limit to the variations that can be made on this basic formula, and the prayers often flow out of or into other kinds of speech; for instance, hymns typically end in a prayer, and speeches, books or book chapters may open with one. Indeed, all of the prayers compiled here are taken from some such context or other, and were never transmitted as independent prayers. For some independent prayers, cf. An Athenian Prayer, A Pythagoric Prayer, and Cleanthes, Prayer to Destiny.

2 Generic opening for a prayer, from Demosthenes, De corona 1

Τοῖς θεοῖς εὔχομαι πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις …

I pray to the gods, all male and all female ones (or ‘I pray to all gods and goddesses’) that …

3 Generic openings for a prayer, from Scholia on Aratus 1 (=Crates, fr. 52 Kock & Sophron, fr. 42 Kaib.)

Ἐξ Ἑστίας ἀρχόμενος εὔχομαι θεοῖς.

Beginning from Hestia, I pray to the gods.

Ἐξ Ἑστίας ἀρχόμενος καλῶ Δία πάντων ἀρχηγέτην.

Beginning from Hestia, I call Zeus, the principal ruler of all things.

4 Extended invocation, from Livy, History of Rome 1.32.9

Audi, Iuppiter, et tu, Iane Quirine, dique omnes caelestes, vosque terrestres vosque inferni, audite.

Hear you, Jupiter, and you Janus Quirinus;* and celestial gods, you earthly gods and you underworld gods, hear you all!

(*Quirinus here serves as a byname of Janus, meaning ‘warlike, martial’ or perhaps ‘Roman’; it can be omitted or replaced.)

5 Two very short prayers to Liber Pater (Dionysus), from Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.669 & Horace, Odes 2.19.7

Bacche pater, fer opem!

Father Bacchus, help (or ‘bring assistance’)!

Euhoe, parce Liber!

Euhoi!* Be gracious, Liber!

(*A Bacchic exclamation.)

6 A group prayer comically interrupted, from a fragment of Menander, Colax

σπονδή· δίδου σὺ σπλάγχν‘ ἀκολουθῶν. ποῖ βλέπεις;
σπονδή. φέρ‘ ὦ παῖ Σωσία. σπονδή. καλῶς
ἔχει. θεοῖς Ὀλυμπίοις εὐχώμεθα
Ὀλυμπίασι, πᾶσι πάσαις – λάμβανε
τὴν γλῶτταν ἐν τούτωι – διδόναι σωτηρίαν,
ὑγίειαν, ἀγαθὰ πολλά, τῶν ὄντων τε νῦν
ἀγαθῶν ὄνησιν πᾶσι. ταῦτ‘ εὐχώμεθα.

A libation! Now, give me the intestines (of the sacrificial animal). Where are you looking?
A libation! Come, boy, Sosias, a libation! Well
Let us pray to the Olympian gods
And Olympian goddesses, all male, all female ones – take
The (victim’s) tongue in the meanwhile!
– that they may give salvation,
Health, many goods, and profit to all
From the good things present. Let us pray for these things!

7 A prayer for health, or rather for support in the art of healing, from Sopater, Division of Subjects 8.58

τὴν κατάστασιν πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς τοῦ ἰατροῦ, καθάπερ εὐχήν· οἷον ὅτι “ὑμεῖς, Ἀσκληπιὲ καὶ Ἄπολλον, τῆς τέχνης ταύτης ὄντες προστάται, πάντας εὐποιεῖν ἀνθρώπους προείλεσθε, τὰς νόσους ἰώμενοι, τὰ βλάπτοντα προμηνύοντες· δότε τοίνυν κἀμοὶ προχείρως εὐεργεῖν, σώζειν, ἰᾶσθαι τοὺς κάμνοντας,” καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα.

(If you are writing a speech in praise of medicine, include) an address of a doctor to the gods, such as a prayer, for example that “You, o Asclepius and Apollon, who are the rulers of this art (i.e., medicine), undertook to benefit all people, by healing diseases and presaging harm; so also grant me that I may readily benefit, save and heal my patients!” And the like.

8 A prayer for ethical improvement, from Libanius, Oration 58.50

Εὔχομαι δὲ τοῖς θεοῖς πεπλῆχθαί τε τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῖν ὑπὸ τῶν εἰρημένων καὶ γενέσθαι καλλίους.

I pray to the gods that your souls are struck by what has been said and made nobler.

9 A prayer against arousing jealousy, from the Scholia on Pindar, Olympian Ode 8.113

εὔχομαι δὲ τῷ αὐτῷ Διὶ ἐπὶ τῇ τῶν καλῶν μοίρᾳ νέμεσιν καὶ βασκανίαν μὴ ἐπιβαλεῖν.

I pray to Zeus, that he may not affix indignation and jealousy (or ‘the evil eye’) upon my good fortune.

10 A prayer for goodwill of one person (Modestus) towards another (Calliopius), Libanius, Letter 220.3–4

εἰ δ‘ οὖν οὐκ ἔξεστιν εὐνοίας πρὸς σὲ μνησθῆναι, ἀλλ‘ εὔξασθαί γε τοῖς θεοῖς ὑπὲρ τοῦ σε ποιῆσαι τοιοῦτον ἔξεστι. καὶ δὴ καὶ εὔχομαι· “Ζεῦ Μειλίχιε καὶ πατέρων ἀνθρώποις ἡμερώτερε, κατάστησον ἵλεων Καλλιοπίῳ τὸν γενναῖον Μόδεστον καὶ σαυτῷ προσόμοιον.” καὶ μεμνήσθω δικάζων τοῦ Μειλιχίου Διός.

But if I may not speak to you of goodwill, still I may pray to the gods to make you favorable. And so I pray: “Zeus, Meilichios (‘auspicious’) and most gentle of all parents towards humans, make the noble Modestus gracious towards Calliopius and likewise towards yourself.” So remember Zeus Meilichios when you give your sentence.

11 A prayer for a community (Athens), from Demosthenes, Against Leptines 25

Εὔχομαι τοῖς θεοῖς, μάλιστα μὲν ἡμῖν καὶ χρήματα πολλὰ γενέσθαι, εἰ δὲ μή, τό γε πιστοῖς εἶναι καὶ βεβαίοις δοκεῖν διαμεῖναι.

I pray to the gods, firstly that we may have great wealth, but if not, that we continue to be regarded as trustworthy and constant.

12 A prayer for a community (Athens), [Pseudo?]-Demosthenes, Letter 1.1

Παντὸς ἀρχομένῳ σπουδαίου καὶ λόγου καὶ ἔργου ἀπὸ τῶν θεῶν ὑπολαμβάνω προσήκειν πρῶτον ἄρχεσθαι. εὔχομαι δὴ τοῖς θεοῖς πᾶσι καὶ πάσαις, ὅ τι τῷ δήμῳ τῷ Ἀθηναίων ἄριστόν ἐστι καὶ τοῖς εὐνοοῦσι τῷ δήμῳ καὶ νῦν καὶ εἰς τὸν ἔπειτα χρόνον, τοῦτ‘ ἐμοὶ μὲν ἐπὶ νοῦν ἐλθεῖν γράψαι, τοῖς δ‘ ἐκκλησιάσασιν Ἀθηναίων ἑλέσθαι. εὐξάμενος δὲ ταῦτα, τῆς ἀγαθῆς ἐπινοίας ἐλπίδ‘ ἔχων παρὰ τῶν θεῶν, τάδ‘ ἐπιστέλλω.

I believe that, when beginning any good deed or speech, one must first begin from the gods. So, I pray to the gods, all male and all female ones, that it may come to my mind to write whatever is best for the people of Athens and those well-disposed towards it, both now and in the time coming, and that the councilmen of the Athenians may adopt it. Having made this prayer, and in hopes of good inspiration from the gods, I write this letter.

13 A prayer for peace in a community (Nicaea), Dion Chrysostomus, Oration 39.8

Τὸν οὖν βραχύτατον καὶ ἀνυσιμώτατον λόγον καταλείπεται εἰπεῖν τὸν πρὸς τοὺς θεούς. οὗτοι γὰρ καὶ τῶν μικρὸν φθεγγομένων ἃ διανοοῦνται ἴσασιν. ἴσως γὰρ καὶ τοῦτο τοῦ σφόδρα εὐνοοῦντός ἐστιν· ὥσπερ οἱ χρηστοὶ πατέρες τοῖς παισὶν ἃ μὲν δύνανται παραινοῦσιν, ἃ δ‘ ἂν μὴ πείθωσιν, εὔχονται τοῖς θεοῖς ὑπὲρ αὐτῶν.

εὔχομαι δὴ τῷ τε Διονύσῳ τῷ προπάτορι τῆσδε τῆς πόλεως καὶ Ἡρακλεῖ τῷ κτίσαντι τήνδε τὴν πόλιν καὶ Διὶ Πολιεῖ καὶ Ἀθηνᾷ καὶ Ἀφροδίτῃ Φιλίᾳ καὶ Ὁμονοίᾳ καὶ Νεμέσει καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις θεοῖς ἀπὸ τῆσδε τῆς ἡμέρας τῇδε τῇ πόλει πόθον ἑαυτῆς ἐμβαλεῖν καὶ ἔρωτα καὶ μίαν γνώμην καὶ ταὐτὰ βούλεσθαι καὶ φρονεῖν, στάσιν δὲ καὶ ἔριδα καὶ φιλονικίαν ἐκβαλεῖν, ὡς ἂν ἐν ταῖς εὐδαιμονεστάταις καὶ ἀρίσταις ᾖ πόλεσι τὸ λοιπόν.

Now, It remains to speak a very short and very effective address to the gods. For they know what is meant even when little is said. And perhaps this too is something that those who are very well-disposed do: just as good parents give advice to their children as far as possible, but when they cannot persuade them, they pray to the gods about them.

So, I pray to Dionysus, the forefather of this city, and to Heracles, who founded this city, and to Zeus Polieus (‘of the city’), Athena, Aphrodite Philia (‘of friendship’), Homonoia (‘Concord’), Nemesis and the other gods, that from this day onward, they may bring to this city a desire and love for it, one mind, and to wish and think the same things, but that they may expel strife, discord and factionalism, so that from now on it may be among the happiest and best of cities.

14 Prayer against the military invasion of a community (Thebes), from the Scholia on Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 626

ὦ θεοί, κλύοντες καὶ ἀκούοντες δικαίους λιτὰς ἡμετέρας τελεῖτε καὶ εἰς τέλος ἄγετε ταύτας, ἵνα ἡ πόλις εὐτυχῇ, ἐκ τῆς ἡμετέρας πόλεως τρέποντες καὶ κινοῦντες καὶ ἄγοντες τὰ ἀπὸ τοῦ πολέμου κακὰ πρὸς τοὺς ἐπιμόλους καὶ ἀπὸ ξένης γῆς παραγενομένους ἐνταῦθα·

O gods, who hear and attend our just prayers, fulfill them and lead them to fulfilment, so that the city fare well, by turning, moving and driving the evils of war away from our city and against the invaders, who come here from a foreign land.

15 Prayer at the end of a long lament, from Dionysius of Halicarnassus, De compositione verborum 26 (=Simonides fr. 37 Bergk)

Μεταβουλία δέ τις φανείη,
Ζεῦ πάτερ, ἐκ σέο·
ὅ τι δὴ θαρσαλέον ἔπος εὔχομαι
νόσφι δίκας, σύγγνωθί μοι.

May some change come,
Father Zeus, from you!
Yet if I am praying for anything too bold,
Overstepping justice, forgive me!