Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. -- Charles Darwin

I translated this sentence by:

Crescite, mutate, fortissima vivite, alia morimini. -- Carolus Darwin

However, I am not sure if I can use fortissima and alia as nouns. Conjugation should be correct if verbs are indeed at the imperative form.


I think you're correct that the imperative is the best option for the first two verbs. The second two verbs, though, would be excellent candidates for a hortatory subjunctive. It's also completely permissible to use an adjective as a noun--the only difference is that I would use the masculine, since Darwin's law is about animals, not things.

Here's how I would translate the whole thing:

Multiplicamini, variate, vivant validissimi, et moriantur infirmissimi.

I use multiplicamini because this seems to be an echo of Genesis 1:22: you'll notice that most of the examples in the Lewis & Short entry use the passive for this sense of "be increased."

I also chose vario (instead of muto) because the idea is not only to change, but to change in different ways. Vario is a common word that is mostly synonymous to the English cognate Darwin uses, "vary."

  • Thank you very much for your answer and for having made me discover the hortatory subjunctive. I used mutor because according to the Olivetti dictionary, vario is a transitive verb. I could also use alii instead of infirmissimi so that the quote covers all beings. And finally, does the masculine also apply to plants? Thanks again! – user3165 Aug 16 '20 at 17:31
  • One difference between Blincer's original translation and this one is that he added the audience: "you, the strongest [beings], must live, while you, the other [beings], must perish". I suppose either is possible, depending on the desired effect. But you are of course right that the original is also in the third person. // As to the gender, the noun animal is neuter. – Cerberus Aug 16 '20 at 22:39
  • @Cerberus animal is neuter, but I think a masculine plural would still be plural given that pretty much every single animal name is masculine or feminine. A neuter plural adjective strongly suggests to my ear "things that are X" to the exclusion of people and animals. But I could be wrong! – brianpck Aug 16 '20 at 23:37
  • @Blincer According to Lewis & Short vario can also be used intransitively. "Alii" would be fine, though (obviously) it's a bit different from what Darwin says. As for plants, I suspect that masculine wouldn't be appropriate in that case. – brianpck Aug 16 '20 at 23:40

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