Saint Apollos was a companion of Saint Paul mentioned several times in the New Testament. In the Latin Vulgate, his name is transliterated as an indeclinable noun, Apollo. My question is, why was his name not declined? Why not transliterate it as Apollus, Apolli or Apollos, Apollotis or any of the other usual ways of importing Greek proper names into Latin?

I know that the Old Testament has many examples of indeclinable proper names taken from the Hebrew, but are there other examples of indeclinable proper nouns in the New Testament taken from the Greek?

The name appears in the Vulgate in Acts and in 1 Corinthians.

In Acts:

18:24 Iudaeus autem quidam Apollo nomine, Alexandrinus natione, vir eloquens, devenit Ephesum, potens in Scripturis.

19:1 Factum est autem, cum Apollo esset Corinthi, ut Paulus, peragratis superioribus partibus, veniret Ephesum et inveniret quosdam discipulos;

And in 1 Corinthians:

1:11 Significatum est enim mihi de vobis, fratres mei, ab his, qui sunt Chloes, quia contentiones inter vos sunt. 12 Hoc autem dico, quod unusquisque vestrum dicit: “Ego quidem sum Pauli”, “Ego autem Apollo”, “Ego vero Cephae”, “Ego autem Christi”.

3:4 Cum enim quis dicit: “Ego quidem sum Pauli”, alius autem: “Ego Apollo”, nonne homines estis? 5 Quid igitur est Apollo? Quid vero Paulus? Ministri, per quos credidistis, et unicuique sicut Dominus dedit. 6 Ego plantavi, Apollo rigavit, sed Deus incrementum dedit.

3:21 Itaque nemo glorietur in hominibus. Omnia enim vestra sunt, 22 sive Paulus sive Apollo sive Cephas sive mundus sive vita sive mors sive praesentia sive futura, omnia enim vestra sunt, 23 vos autem Christi, Christus autem Dei.

4:6 Haec autem, fratres, transfiguravi in me et Apollo propter vos, ut in nobis discatis illud: “Ne supra quae scripta sunt”, ne unus pro alio inflemini adversus alterum.

1 Answer 1


Looking at the Greek NT, it turns out the name in Greek is Ἀπολλῶς. This belongs to an odd subclass of Greek nouns called the Attic declension, which are basically second-declension nouns whose stem ends in -ω- instead of -ο-. The case forms are accordingly strange-looking, e.g. gen. Ἀπολλῶ, acc. Ἀπολλῶν. It looks like the Romans weren't quite sure how to decline such nouns in Latin. Of the possiblities you mention, Apollus, Apolli would correspond to Ἄπολλος, Ἀπόλλου, and Apollos, Apollotis would correspond to Ἀπόλλως, Ἀπόλλωτος, but the Greek form is neither of these, so it's not obvious what to do with it in Latin.

I tried to look into what happens to other such Greek names in Latin, but there aren't many:

  • Minos seems to have been brought into the third declension with a stem that wavers between Minō- and Minōn-.
  • Athos is a mess, with any number of forms including apparently an indeclinable Athō like Apollō (Lewis and Short: "nom. also Atho, Athon; gen. not found, yet it may be assumed as Ăthōnis; dat. Atho; acc. Atho, Athŏn, Athonem, and, acc. to Serv ad Verg. A. 12, 701, also Athona; abl. Athone").

Maybe there are others. In any case, the explanation seems to be that this name belongs to an unusual declension pattern which isn't straightforward to import into Latin, so it basically got left alone.

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