I'm self-taught Latin student and I wanted to translate the following sentence:

The joy of understanding is the highest/greatest pleasure.

I used the word "highest" there because I wanted to mean that it's noble, as compared for instance with those pleasures which require only sentience.

I did as the following: both

Voluptas nobilissima gaudium intellegendi est


Intellegendi gaudium voluptas nobilissima est.

Which one is more appropriate? Could it be improved?

3 Answers 3


Both of your suggestions work. I would only vary it little for a more Latin style:

  • I would say "highest of pleasures" instead of "highest pleasure": voluptatum nobilissima.
  • In a pithy motto est is often best left out.
  • I would order it as in English so that you first introduce the joy and only then praise it. (It's also a good idea to play with slightly different word orders to see what sounds best to your ear.)
  • I would prefer to replace nobilis ("well known", related to novisse, not really "high") with altus. It means things like "high", "deep", "profound", and "great". Or even better than altissimus, go with summus. (I had overlooked this word until I noticed the comment by C. M. Weimer.)

With these ideas I'd polish your suggestions to:

Gaudium intellegendi voluptatum altissima/summa.

Or if you think that gaudium and voluptas are too close, you could say:

Voluptatum altissima/summa illa intellegendi.
The noblest of pleasures is that of understanding.

  • 2
    Thank you so much, it was really helpful! I'd rather use "Gaudium intellegendi voluptatum altissima." then, sounds better to my ear and seems more Latin when I read it. Mar 11, 2021 at 20:21

I think Batavulus and Joonas are close, but I think the answers so far are hindered in attempting a literal translation. In your English sentence, joy and pleasure are essentially synonymous. You are in essence defining joy as pleasure, but which makes it redundant. Unless you want to specify what kind of pleasure, you're actually merely saying, "The joy you get from understanding is the greatest joy," or, "The joy you get from understanding is the best," or even "Understanding makes for the greatest joy." You can substitute pleasure in there with no loss, though the difference between joy and pleasure is enough for you to specify which.

Alternatively, you can use both in this way: "Understanding leads to the greatest joy and pleasure."

Technically, you could mean something like, "That feeling you get from understanding something (joy) leads to pure pleasure," but it's a nonsensical term. Are you aroused by happiness? Skip one and go for the other.

With that, I would give you the pithy: Intellegere est summum gaudium. / To understand is the greatest joy.

If you wanted to emphasize the pleasure aspect, you'd instead go with: Intellegere est summa voluptas. / To understand is the greatest pleasure.

For comparanda, cf. errare est humanum (To err is human) and the frequent use of summum bonum in authors like Cicero or Seneca (with a citation as early as Terence).

The former is the feeling of elation you get from understanding; the latter is the sensation of pleasure, which will be more sensual than the former.

  • Thanks so much for your answer! Then a translation such as "Gaudium altissimum illud intellegendi." would be more appropriate? Because I understand "altissimus" gives me the idea of some "elevate" joy, so to speak, it brings the translation closer to what I intended to say. Mar 13, 2021 at 16:49
  • @M.Gonzalez Word order aside, your translation looks like "the joy of understanding something is the highest." Just feels a bit weird with the illud. While altissimum isn't a bad choice, you can think of summus as "highest" like in loftiest, given that we derive the word summit from it. However high altissimus is, summus is higher still.
    – cmw
    Mar 13, 2021 at 18:43
  • You've been very helpful, thanks! So I could stick with something like "Intellegere summum gaudium", following the advice of @Joonas to left out the "est" in a pithy motto? Or is it better to try first to rephrase my sentence? I intended to say that, among all pleasures, the joy of understanding something is the most elevated. I think even in English the sentence got a bit bizarre... Mar 13, 2021 at 18:54
  • 1
    @M.Gonzalez You generally don't need est, but you absolutely do here, since without it it would mean "to understand the highest joy."
    – cmw
    Mar 13, 2021 at 20:05

Without having seen your own suggestions, I thought maybe Intellegendo delectari summum gaudium or perhaps Summum gaudium intellegendo delectari vel sim. For some reason, I don't like voluptas in this context, but a bit hard to specify why. Of your suggestions, I like the second best, although to me nobilis is not ideal here.

  • summus should absolutely be used here. Cf. summum bonum.
    – cmw
    Mar 12, 2021 at 14:24
  • Gratias ago. Do you have a suggestion yourself? (Out of curiosity, it wasn't my question, after all...)
    – Batavulus
    Mar 12, 2021 at 17:38
  • Yeah, I'll post my thoughts a little later. I think you're close, but the insistence on the exact words used (which is awkward even in English) makes for awkward Latin.
    – cmw
    Mar 12, 2021 at 18:40
  • You are right, that is a problem. I'll be interested to see what you have.
    – Batavulus
    Mar 12, 2021 at 18:46
  • And I've submitted.
    – cmw
    Mar 12, 2021 at 19:55

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.