The earliest Latin writers used vates to denote "prophets" and soothsayers in general; the word fell into disuse in Latin until it was revived by Virgil[1]. Thus Ovid could describe himself as the vates of Eros (Amores 3.9).

According to the ancient Greek writers Strabo, [2] Diodorus Siculus, [3] and Poseidonius, the vates (ουατεις) were one of three classes of Celtic priesthood, the other two being the druids and the bards. The Vates had the role of seers and performed sacrifices (in particular administering human sacrifice), under the presidence of a druid. Their role therefore corresponded to that of an Adhvaryu in Vedic religion. Celtic vates is continued by Irish fáith "prophet, seer," and ofydd in Welsh.


It is unknown whether the Latin and Gaulish usages are cognates, or if the former should be considered a Celtic loanword. The word may be derived from a Proto-Indo-European root *wāt- "to inspire, spiritually arouse"; however that root cannot be shown to go back to Proto-Indo-European, since it is only certainly attested for Celtic and Germanic (though it may be present natively in Italic). Virgil uses the Latin vannus "winnowing fan" (from *wat-nos, compare Old High German wadal, modern German Wedel, with the same meaning, from *wat-lo-) for something borne about in the Bacchic festival, suggesting that the root may have had an ecstatic sense in Italic also.

Rübekeil (2003) suggested that the name of the Germanic god *Wōđinaz may in fact be an early loanword, an adjective *vatinos}' based on Celtic vates.

Modern usage

Vates (or Ovates, due to a misinterpretation of the Greek spelling ουατεις (ˈwateːs) make up one of the three grades of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, a neo-druidism order based in England.

An ovate is also the initial level one can attain in the modern Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. The Gorsedd is not a neo-druidic entity like the one mentioned above, but is more concerned with Welsh arts and culture; however, the ceremony and practices are largely based on reimaginings of druidism by Iolo Morganwg.


  • Perkins, Caroline A.,"Ovid's Erotic Vates" in Helios, March, 2000 [1]
  • Rübekeil, Ludwig, Wodan und andere forschungsgeschichtliche Leichen: exhumiert, Beiträge zur Namenforschung (2003), 25–42. [2]

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Vates. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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