The Duolingo Latin course uses sanus as "healthy" in connection with meals. A healthy lunch would be prandium sanum according to the course.

But I always thought that sanus is only refers to the health of a person or some such entity. I can see how a lunch can help me become sanus but not how it could be sanus itself. The Duolingo course appears to be mistaken or at least somewhat unnatural.

At the very least sanus appears to mean more "in a healthy state" than "health-inducing". But is the second meaning — the only one used by Duolingo — correct too?

  • 3
    I think I remember reading that whether food can be sanus was debated by medieval logicians! If someone can find that debate and its results, that might make the perfect answer.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 1:02
  • 3
    Googling "equivocation sanum Boethius" turns up some promising leads. Apparently Aristotle started the conversation, analyzing "healthy" as applied to dogs, their food, and their urine, and the Medievals dug into it further. On a first look, it appears that Boëthius wrote salutaris rather than sanum even when considering this topic.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 2:29
  • Your question shouldn't mention the Duo course, because the course being in beta, I really think they'll fix it soon.
    – Quidam
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 15:50
  • @Quidam It's not unusual that questions have a context that goes obsolete in time. I think it's better to indicate the origin of the question if it's as clear as inclusion in an online course. What's more, perhaps the Duolingo people follow this site take this discussion as a suggestion for improvement. If they change the wording later, we can always add a note to this question.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 16:12
  • 2
    @Quidam Duolingo is still poorly constructed even now.
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 18:08

3 Answers 3


I think you are right that sanus more correctly describes a healthy state, whereas saluber/salubris seems to be preferred to describe those things which bestow health. Some examples:

  • Climate:

ex saluberrimis Galliae et Hispaniae

after the very healthy [climate]* of Gaul and Spain

Caesar, Civil War, III.2

*climate is implied because the contrast is with the bad climate of Apulia and Brundisium which is making the troops ill

  • Locale:

eaque remoto, salubri, amoeno loco

[a house and land of your own] and that in a remote, healthy, and pleasant locality

Cicero, Letters to Friends, 333 (VII.20), Cicero to Trebatius, Velia, 20 July 44

  • Spa towns:

ut scribis, salubres repente factae sunt

[the resort town of Baiae], as you write, has suddenly become a healthy spot

Cicero, Letters to Friends, 263 (IX.12), Cicero to Dolabella, December 45

  • The waters of said spa town:

“Non haec, ut fama est, unda salubris erat”

"Those waters [of Baiae] were not, as rumour has it, healthy"

Ovid, Ars Amatoria, 258

  • Plants/medicine:

chelidoniam visui saluberrimam hirundines monstravere …

celandine was shown to be very healthy for the sight by swallows …

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, VIII.XLI

  • And, finally, food and drink:

ceu non saluberrimum ad potus aquae liquorem natura dederit, quo cetera omnia animantia utuntur

[speaking of water] as if nature had not given us the most healthy of beverages to drink, which all other animals make use of

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XIV.XXVIII

tostum salubrius habetur

[chickpea] is healthier roasted

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, XXII.LXXII

  • 5
    That really seems the most appropriate word. It combines (for me, at any rate) the ideas of salus and uber : as you might put it, 'a fertile (source) of health'. Surely the sense that Duolingo was looking for and the word they should have chosen. My suggestion of metonymy is all very well, but saluber makes the selection of sanus quite unnecessary.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 5:58

I think the first problem here is that there are far more references to gourmandising in the classical sources than to the effects of food on health. Think, for example, of Horace Sat. II, iv passim, and the alleged habit of the Emperor Vitellius of self-induced vomiting to make room for more!

More simply, though they possibly had what we commonly call 'food fads', they don't seem to have cared about much beyond an actual pleasure in food. I can't be sure, of course, but I suspect that vegetarian, and more certainly vegan diets were seldom chosen deliberately.

My reaction was to consult the article on cibus in the Gradus ad Parnassum [1]. None of the actual epithets noted (but none with a source given) — sapidus, dulcis, gratus, laetus, regius, solennis, opimus, utilis, parcus, vilis, mendicatus — particularly suggests healthy eating. The quoted phrases, corpora sustentans, instaurans vires, animique vigorem etc. give no help.

Perhaps the case is that the ancients just weren't 'into' dietary terms, such as 'healthy eating' in a fashion compatible with our modern ideas. On the other hand, if there isn't an exact epithet to match the 'healthy' that we apply to food, I see no reason not to use cibus sanus metonymically if the context is clear.

[1] The Gradus was published in 1813, but it is still considered authoritative, not necessarily as comprehensive as a modern compilation would be.

  • 1
    Food can be laetus?? That's sounds to me even odder than saying that food can be sanus.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 3:13
  • 2
    @Ben Kovitz That's what it says in the Gradus! It's actually printed lætus in two different editions. My guess is a misprint for lautus — splendid, sumptuous etc.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 5:50
  • @BenKovitz It's possible that laetus is a transferred epithet.
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 18:07

Just based on the meaning of the word, salutaris might be a better choice. I'm not sure if it was ever used that way but it seems to make more sense.

  • 1
    Certainly, if you don't accept metonymy, salutaris would be more sensible than the sanus used in Duolingo
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 5:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.