Actual, Classical, Ancient-Classroom-Approved Pig Latin

Luby Kiriakidi |

The Testamentum Porcelli Is One of the Strangest Texts to Survive From Late Antiquity


 Roman mosaic in the Vatican showing pig with truffles. (source)
Roman mosaic in the Vatican showing pig with truffles. (source)

Come here, you home-wrecker, soil-uprooter, fugitive pig! Today, I end your life.”

I ask, my Lord, I beg for my life! Grant a beggar’s wish!”

Go on, boy. Get me a knife from the kitchen. I’m gonna make this pig bleed.”

No, this is not a snippet from a Quentin Tarantino gorefest flick now streaming on Netflix. This is a rather curious addition to Latin literature from the 4th century, the Testamentum Porcelli.

Edward Champlin, professor of Classics emeritus at Princeton University, claims that “the Testamentum Porcelli will never win great popularity as a work of literature, with its high spirits, low humor, and bad Latin.” Granted, there is much guesswork involved in deciphering both the Latin and the humor, but the more we learn, the more we can appreciate the subtle jabs and not-so-subtle punch lines. My groan-inducing translations try to capture the spirit of the puns. Apologies in advance. [A text can be found here].

One fateful day, the piglet Marcus Oinkus Hyena-Lion (M. Grunnius Corocotta), pleads with Mr. Cook-butcherman (Magirus cocus) for an extra hour of life in order to make final arrangements before slaughter. The cook cooperates, and thus, on December 17 (sub die XVI kal. Lucerninas), Marcus Oinkus gathered his parents and other piggy witnesses for the writing of his last will and testament.


The date is one of the first clues that there is more here than meets the eye. Sixteen days before the kalends of the Lucerninas, a Roman holiday of the exchange of lamps (lucernae), happens to be the first day of the Saturnalia, a celebration involving gift exchange, social role inversion, sacrifice, and communal feasts which heavily featured pork. Uh-oh.


As it is also the end of the harvest, the spices with which to cook the pig meat were plenty. It is most appropriate to laugh a little when we are informed that it is the year of the consuls Baked and Seasoned (Clibinato et Piperato consulibus). Clibanus is an oven for baking bread, while piperatus can mean ‘peppered,’ or a peppersauce.


Marcus Oinkus confesses that because he could not write with his own hand, he dictated the following will (quoniam manu mea scribere non potui, scribendum dictavi). Illiteracy is common among the testaments of uneducated humans, so this wording is not out of place, but takes on a new layer of meaning with an illiterate pig.

He begins to bequeath his possessions with the legal doublet phrase, “I give and appoint it to be given” (do lego dari), similar to “cease and desist” or “aid and abet” in English. His 30 measures of acorns go to his father Boarish Lardino (Verrinus Lardinus), 40 measures of wheat go to his mother Lil’ Ol’ Sow-ah (Veturina Scrofa), and 30 measures of barley go to his sister Porker (Quirina), in whose marriage he did not get a chance to partake.

The dedication of his possessions to various groups of people continues with another legal doublet: dabo donabo. This time, Marcus Oinkus is handing out his body parts! This was certainly an illegal practice for humans. In the satirical precedent, Satyricon 141.2–5, Petronius plays off of this when Eumolpus demands those who wish to receive legacies from his will to divide up his body and eat it in public.

Again, the animal turn makes this even funnier, as certain body parts are associated with certain virtues, and eating those parts may help acquire such virtues. Some examples of what Marcus Oinkus bequeaths includes: to the shoemakers, his bristles (sutoribus saetas), to the deaf, his ears (surdis auriculas), to lawyers and the chatty, his tongue (causidicis et verbosis linguam), to the sausage-makers, his intestines (bubulariis [=botulariis?] intestina), and to the meat-mincers, his thighs (isiciariis femora).

Now, no surprise, we head into some low-brow humor: for the ladies, his little loins (mulieribus lumbulos), for the boys, his bladder bits (pueris vesicam — the bladder is strangely associated with female genitals), and for the girls, some tail (puellis caudam).

He ends this list with more associations of utility: to racers and hunters, his ankles (cursoribus et venatoribus talos), and to robbers his hooves (latronibus ungulas). Another layer of absurd illegality is that some of these swinish body parts — the intestines, the loins, the bladder — were not allowed to be eaten (Pliny HN 8.209).

A sentence follows about his bequest of a soup-ladle and pestle to the not-to-be-named cook. This is one of the jokes that goes over our heads. We can still laugh, however, about his request of the erection of a gravestone with gold letters displaying that he lived (vixit) for 999.5 years (DCCCC.XC.VIIII.S). Champlin quotes another scholar, Hopkins, in saying that, as often goes with these funerary monuments, the number is “precise, but not accurate.” Despite the blatant lie, we can still pity Marcus Oinkus for failing to reach one thousand years.

The unknown author of Testamentum Porcelli has been accused of being ignorant of the law by some, while others stress cleverness concerning parody of the law, especially of the military will. Since Marcus Oinkus omits a heredis institutio, the naming of an heir, the will becomes invalid. Soldiers, however, were given more leeway in their wills, and it seems our little pig is a soldier of sorts.

Additionally, parts genuinely sound like a real will. Marcus Oinkus asks his best loves ones and caretakers of his life to do well with his body (optimi amatores mei vel consules vitae, rogo vos ut cum corpore meo bene faciatis). Then comes the punch line. Instead of using the verb common to wills, condere, to inter, he uses condire, to season. He tells them to season his body well with good spices of nuts, peppers, and honey (bene condiatis de bonis condimentis nuclei, piperis, et mellis).

Finally, seven pig witnesses sign the will: Fatty (Lardio), Morsel (Offellicus), Cumin-spicy (Cyminatus), Sausage (Lucanicus), Pork-rind (Tergillus), Fancy (Celsinus), and Wedding-roast (Nuptialicus). The will is complete. Rest in peace, Marcus Oinkus.

In the 4th century, schoolboys loved this text. Jerome absolutely hated it.


 The elegant bronze piglet of Herculaneum.
The elegant bronze piglet of Herculaneum.

Jerome (347–420 CE) is our only extant witness of this text. In Book 12 of his Commentary on Isaiah, he grumbles about schoolboys chanting this will in classrooms rather than reading their Cicero. Indeed, the rhythm of the will, especially with the list of dative groups of people (set up) and accusative body parts (punchlines) is optimal for a gaggle of boys to giggle about. Even if these jokes were not originally written for them, it is fascinating to have an insight into what made ancient schoolchildren laugh. 

In Contra Rufinum 1.17, Jerome mentions the will again as he emphasizes the importance of overcoming ignorance and pursuing cultured writing, even when most people are not necessarily going for high culture. This is in reaction to his old friend Rufinus turning his back on him and bashing Jerome’s translation of Origen’s De Principiis, apparently written because Rufinus’ was not good enough.

If Rufinus seeks to find more ignorant writing, Jerome assures him:

there are plenty of curly-pated fellows in every school who will sing you snatches of doggrel from Miletus; or you may go to the exhibition of the Bessi and see people shaking with laughter at the Pig’s Testament, or at any jesters’ entertainment where silly things of this kind are run after. There is not a day but you may see the dressed-up clown in the streets whacking the buttocks of some blockhead, or half-pulling out people’s teeth with the scorpion which he twists round for them to bite. We need not wonder if the books of know-nothings find plenty of readers.

The kind of crowd which Jerome expects to laugh at the Testamentum Porcelli would also enjoy a good butt-whacking or scorpion-biting.

Whether he intended to or not, Jerome helped Marcus Oinkus’ last wish come true, that his name be named for all time (ut nomen meum in sempiternum nominetur). He called Rufinus, his friend turned enemy, Grunnius (“Oinkus”), in books even after his enemy’s death.

Additionally, Corocotta (“Hyena-lion”) is a name that is hard to forget. It evokes a famous Spanish bandit during the reign of Augustus (Cassius Dio 56.43.3). Augustus announced a hefty award for whoever would turn him in, and was forced to pay Corocotta himself when the man turned himself in. Marcus Grunnius Corocotta is perhaps not only a soldier, but a dangerous, home-destroying criminal who chooses to face his death rather than run away. His ability to talk may stem from corocotta meaning an animal mixed with a hyena and a lioness. Pliny writes in Natural History 8.107 that when a hyena is mated with an Ethiopian lion, a corocotta is born that mimics the voices of men and cattle (huius generis coitu leaena Aethiopica parit corocottam, similiter voces imitantem hominum pecorumque).

Testamentum Porcelli is a satire without so much social commentary or roasting, but rather humor that may (or may not) make you snort with laughter. It was looked down upon for its lowly jokes as well as its association with the Saturnalia, which was condemned by the Christian church in the 4th century. However, its humor did not go unappreciated, and the genre of the (animal) testament continued to be used for a variety of purposes in future medieval and modern literature. It is definitely worth a read.

This year, the pigs have hogged our attention long enough. Now that we have finished spamming you with porcine puns (rats! I can’t stop!), let’s welcome the Year of the Rat.

Luby Kiriakidi is a Classics Masters student at Durham University. She is writing her thesis on cosmic wordplay in Varro’s De Lingua Latina. She hopes to become a Greek and Latin high school/middle school teacher.


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Luby Kiriakidi

Luby Kiriakidi is studying for a Ph.D. in Classics at Harvard University. She likes to teach languages and write. You can find her Ancient Greek and Russian videos on Youtube.


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