How did the Romans say "good night"?



There are a lot of different things in a lot of different languages that mean basically the same thing: Sleep well.

  • English: Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite
  • Italiano: Buona notte, sogni d'oro
  • Español: Sueña con los angelitos

et cetera.

What's the equivalent in Latin?

NB: To be clear, I'm looking for the "poetic" version -- for example, the Italian one means "dream of gold", and the Spanish "sleep with the angels". I can translate "Good night" on my own, probably.

Answers for either vulgar or formal classical Latin are acceptable. Vulgar is preferred; I'd like to know what the people said.

Thanks to the folks in chat for helping me with other languages' versions! Help starts here

Nic Hartley

Posted 2016-02-29T04:20:02.760

Reputation: 1 894



For all things English to Latin, the best place to go is Smith's Copious and Critical English - Latin Dictionary. To get the phrase, you'd have to look under night:

to have a good night, bene quiescere, Plin. Ep. 3, 16, 4 : as an exclamation, good night! bene valeas et quiescas.

Tibullus Elegiae 2.4.49 includes placide with it:

Et 'bene' discedens dicet 'placideque quiescas.'

And leaving he will say, 'May you rest well and peacefully.'

That must have been somewhat common, because Fronto has it, but it cannot quite mean 'good night' in the English sense:

Sed post diem natalem tuum, si me amas, nox quae sequitur fac iam placide quiescas sine ullius instantis officii cogitatione.

The Loeb translates it thus:

But if you love me, pass the coming night in peace and quiet without attending to any business however pressing.

Oddly, the Loeb skips out post...tuum, which means 'after your birthday.' The placide quiescas doesn't quite mean 'have a good night', but perhaps 'may you sleep soundly' isn't so far off, and the meaning of it could be altered slightly with fac thrown in there.

For wishing someone off to sleep as they depart from you, vale simply suffices.

You could also introduce some variation of adv/adj + dormire. The Priapea (62.1a) preserves these lines:

securi dormite, canes: custodiet hortum / cum sibi dilecta Sirius Erigone.

Securi dormite means "sleep soundly."

C. M. Weimer

Posted 2016-02-29T04:20:02.760

Reputation: 21 670

3OMG I love Smith's Copious and Critical Dictionary! – Joel Derfner – 2016-02-29T23:36:14.827

@JoelDerfner It's good, isn't it? It's imperfect, as I'm finding out, and needs to be rigorously updated, but it's solid nonetheless. – C. M. Weimer – 2016-02-29T23:58:49.043

Yeah. It's great as far as it goes, but the degree to which English has changed since its publication makes it maddening you unhelpful for some things. – Joel Derfner – 2016-03-01T00:31:20.373

1@JoelDerfner The solution is to read older English works! :) – C. M. Weimer – 2016-03-01T00:33:49.307

1Yes, but there's only so much Bulwer-Lytton one can read.... – Joel Derfner – 2016-03-01T00:44:44.473


I have used 'quiescas quam optime'. I know of no precedent, but it seems to fit the case.

There is no reason why we should expect to find a translation to suit precisely every circumstance, even such a commonplace as ‘good night’. Broadly, the Romans used Latin for a thousand years; it would be unlikely that the usages remained in force, without alteration, for all that time - just as our own idiom changes and develops. Martial, for example, may well have wished a companion ‘good night’ in a phrase not found two hundred years earlier - and we simply cannot know. I have often come across this kind of problem during years of translating into Latin and, as long as no rule of grammar is broken, have no shame in using an expression that fits the situation. That is how I came to suggest quiescas quam optime.

Tom Cotton

Posted 2016-02-29T04:20:02.760

Reputation: 13 198

11I cannot tell you how THRILLED I am to have you on the site with us! For those who don't know, Mr. Cotton is an extraordinary translator, who has given us, inter alia, Superbia et Odium (Pride and Prejudice), Fundus Animalium (Animal Farm), and Auræ Inter Salices (The Wind in the Willows). My Latin is nowhere near good enough yet to appreciate these translations fully, but as I work my way through them I find over and over again that their Latinity feels incredibly genuine. Welcome, Mr. Cotton! Floreat, vigeat, valeat, et crescat! – Joel Derfner – 2016-07-16T17:44:32.280