Paturnia, a moody and mysterious word

Enrico Canuto, Former Faculty, Politecnico di Torino

December 12, 2029

Paturnia, also paturna, mainly used as plural in ‘aver le paturnie’, is an Italian word that denotes a recurrent, and sometimes desirable, yet rather unpredictable, short-time ‘bad mood’, when people become stubborn and want to keep themselves apart. May it be translated as ‘to have the blues, to be in the dumps, to be stroppy’?

The written form paturna appeared for the first time in Lettere Familiari [1] of the Italian philosopher, author, diplomat and poet Lorenzo Magalotti (1637-1712), who among other works translated Milton’s Paradise Lost in Italian.

The word looks of Latin origin, due to the rare suffix -urn(us/a/um), which can be found both in adjectives like diurnus, diuturnus, nocturnus, Saturnius, taciturnus (from taciturio, I want to be silent), common nouns alburnum/s, Saturnus, viburnum and gentile names Calpurnius/a, Paturnus. I could not find any neat explanation of this rare and seldom cited suffix. I will try different ways to find an explanation.

Firstly, I try to fill the lack about -urn(us/a/um), by taking suggestion from the transformation rule:

tac-eo\rightarrow tac-itur-us \rightarrow tac-itur-io \rightarrow tac-itur-nus

Some verbs exist, and are listed in the following table, that copy the above rule up to the verbal form ending in -()tur-io. Red forms below do not exist.


Verb (simple present, 1st person) Future participle Optative verb English meaning (optative verb)
cac-o cac-atur-us cac-atur-io I have to defecate
c(a)en-o c(a)en-atur-us c(a)en-atur-io I wish to have lunch
dic-o dic-tur-us dic-tur-io I wish to speak
ed-o e(s)-sur-us e(s)-sur-io I wish to eat
em-o emp-tur-us emp-tur-io I wish to buy
ming-0 mi(n)c-tur-us mi(n)c-tur-io I have to urinate
nub-o nup-tur-us nup-tur-io I wish to wed
par-io par-tur-us par-tur-io I have to give birth
pat-ior pas-sur-us (pa(t)-tur-us) (pas-sur-io, pa(t)-tur-io) (I have to suffer)
scat-eo sca(t)-tur-us sca(t)-tur-io I overflow (being full)
scrib-o scrip-tur-us scrip-tur-io I wish to write
Sull-a (noun), (sull-o) (sull-atur-us) sull-atur-io I wish to imitate Sulla
tac-eo tac-itur-us tac-itur-io I wish to be silent

The verbal suffix -()tur-io is proper of verba meditativa according to the Latin grammarian Priscian (VI Century), author of Institutiones Grammaticae, a systematic exposition of Latin Grammar, where meditativa, from meditor, to prepare, to exercise, can be better translated as optative. However, none of the above existing transformations provides adjectives ending in -urn(us/a/um), except the last one (in blue), whose source is taceo.

The second way is to find the word paturnus. I just found two people named Paturnus, but the noun (or adjective) paturnus seems absent from Latin dictionaries.

1) In  257, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was brought before the proconsul Aspasius Paturnus, who exiled him.

2) St. Paturnus (the holiday is on April 15th) was a Celtic monk and bishop of the VI Century. Likely, Paturnus is a latinized Celtic name (or vice versa), from/to Patern [2]. He founded in Wales a monastery called Lian-patern-vaur (the Church of the great Paturnus).  Let us remark the vowel change u\rightarrow e from Latin to Celtic. Incidentally, the same vowel conversion applies also to Saturnus, which in the Old English becomes Sætern!

The third way is to listen to scholars. Because of the recent written appearance (XVIII Century) and the absence of known Latin roots, they usually declare the etymology to be uncertain. However, some authors connect the Latin verb patior (to suffer, to endure) with Saturnus (Saturn), and suggest the meaning of ‘suffering Saturn’s influence’. In such a case, one should expect a form like ‘saturnia’. The word is reported by Latin dictionaries, but under the meaning of Saturn’s daughter (Iuno) and cities.  The city of Saturnia, in Tuscany, well known for sulphurous hot springs, is the Etruscan Aurina (the origin of the name Saturnia is wrapped in myth).

Indeed, since Ancient Greece, the planet Saturn (the Latin god Saturn was identified with the Greek god \Xi \varrho \acute{o}\nu o\varsigma) was associated by astrology to melancholy (one of the four humors, each one associated to a planet). The most unfortunate and the most hateful of all the four humors was Saturn-Melancholy, which seems coherent with the previous explanation of paturnia. But at the dawn of renaissance, the belief about melancholy was overturned as melancholy became the mark of genius, and therefore a desirable, yet hard to bear, temper. The famous Dürer's engraving (see the left figure) is credited to celebrate and spur melancholic genial people (Melencolia I) [3].

In summary, no clear and certain explanation can be figured out. To be simple, but partly fanciful, we might follow the first path, as suggested by taciturnus and reported in red in the above table, though, as red color indicates, no intermediate step can be found, the future participle of pat(ior) being passurus. Within this cloud of uncertainty, let us  assume the adjectivation of pat(ior) into paturnus/um/a, the same as noct(is) conversion into nocturnus, maybe under Saturn’s astrological influence. But… one should believe in astrology!


[1] Lettere familiari del conte Lorenzo Magalotti, Gentiluomo Fiorentino, Accademico della Crusca, divise in due parti, appresso Sebastiano Coleti, Venezia, 1719.

[2] Christian Forums, Saints of the Day: St. Paturnus, from

[3] R. Klibansky, E. Panofsky and F. Saxl, Saturn and melancholy: studies in the history of natural philosophy, religion and art, Nelson, London, 1964.