I am looking for lineal translation (or rather some clarifications) of a phrase from Letter 23 of Moral letters to Lucilius:

Id agendum est ut satis vixerimus

(I have found the Latin original here)

Online translators give me the following:

We must make enough to live, and that it might be

or even

This act is enough vixerimus

Translation by Richard M. Gummere Ph.D. (which is the one available on wikisource), translates it as:

We must make it our aim already to have lived long enough.

After trying to translate each word separately, I got confused.
Here is what I would like to clarify:

  1. Where the following words came from: we, aim, already.
  2. Would translation remain the same if said phrase would be taken out of context (i.e. do some suggestions for correct translation come from context in this case, or the same translation would be correct if we were given same single sentence to translate)?
  • 2
    First, just a note: machine translation generally ranges from "useless" to "nonsensical" for Classical Latin (which has a lot of features current statistical models struggle with). Until some significant advances are made, it'll be better to stick to human translators for anything in Latin.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 2:38
  • 1
    (Though it's good that you've looked at other translation options! Askers who've done some amount of "due diligence" before asking here are always appreciated.)
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 20, 2020 at 2:39

1 Answer 1


Id agendum est…

This is a construction called the gerundive of obligation. Literally, this means "it must be done" or "it should be done"; the "it" here is somewhat generic, and could be translated into English as "things" or "something".

(Side note: the plural of agendum is agenda, which was borrowed directly into English. An agenda is literally "the things that should be done" in a meeting.)

…ut satis vixerimus.

This is a purpose clause, expressing the reason why something should happen: literally, "so that we will have lived enough [when the time comes]".

So very literally, "it must be done, so that we will have lived enough". A bit more idiomatically, "actions should be taken, so that we'll have lived long enough".

(In general, English doesn't like the passive voice as much as Latin does, which is why the translations you've found have swapped the passive "things must be done" for an active "we must do things". I like the feel of Gummere's "we must make it our aim"; it flows better than what I would have come up with on my own.)

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