Are there different ways to say good morning in Latin?

Would bene mane be okay?


I myself have wondered about this on numerous occasions, and here's what I've learned:

There were no separate greetings for different times of day in ancient Rome, unlike in modern European languages. The universal greeting salvē "be well!", or the more bombastic havĕ (from Punic ḥave "live!" - don't get fooled by the common spelling avē), or the more informal salvus sīs were used universally. I might speculate that the reason for this is that modern greetings reflect a business-oriented world and its belief in the role of chance in the outcome of a successful business-day, while the only chance thing the Romans worried about was their health - for the rest they had their reciprocal relations with the gods (fidēs X religiō).

Less speculatively, the Roman day always began at sunrise and ended at sundown, because every daylight hour had to be maximised in a lightbulbless world (recall even the modern daylight saving time) - and therefore subject to seasonal variation depending on the location, suggesting a smaller fixity of time in general. Somehow connected with this is the fact that there's no noun corresponding to our "morning" in Latin: māne is more of an adverb "early, in the morning, to-morrow", although it can be used as a noun in the three cases where it resembles one (nom/acc/abl). The cumbersome tempus mātūtīnum "the morning-hours" is the closest thing that exists otherwise, eventually shortened to mătŭtīnum > *mattīnum (Italian mattino), and there's also a decent selection of terms for the more narrow meaning "dawn".

In Medieval & New Latin one can find expressions like:

  • Bonus diēs ('[May] your day [be] nice, fine') - but this seems ambiguous with a statement "The day is nice(, isn't it?)" and I'm doubtful that this is good Latin.
    • The bonum diem that one comes across on the web seems even less Latin to me, since the bare accusative in real Latin is used in emotional exclamations, but I've never come across its use in wishes.
  • Optō tibi bonum diem ('I wish you a nice day', formal)
  • Hic diēs fēlīx sit tibi ('May this day be lucky for you', formal)
  • Bene sit tibi hōc diē ('May you have it nice today', formal)
  • Faustum dēgās diem ('Have, spend a prosperous day')
  • Salūbris sit tibi haec [< extra dramatic] diēs; bonum sit tibi huijus diei prīmōrdium; prosper sit tibi hic diēs; fēlīx sit tibi huijus diei exortus; candidus tibi illūxerit hic diēs; precor ut hic sōl tibi fēlīx surrēxerit (Erasmian exercises in salutational eloquence from his 'Colloquia').

I'm confident these would have seemed like awkard calques from Greek to the ancient Romans, fit perhaps for use in a letter; in the case of the last selection, a letter to the Emperor would be fitting.

Bene māne means "nice and early in the morning", "at the crack of dawn", perhaps even before it. Cute factoid: māne itself comes from a PIE root meaning "good, timely", also reflected in Mānēs "the good ancestral spirits".

Bonum māne, a phrase with a pedigree of some centuries that you can find as a suggestion on plenty of generic translation webistes, would probably be as understandable as "the good tomorrow"; albeit clārum māne fenestrās intrat is actually used by Persius, figuratively I think, as "the bright tomorrow/early hour enters the window".

In fact, it just struck me that even the Medieval examples I offered use the word diēs, and then yet another explanation dawned on me. It's does find some (poetic) use in the meaning "daylight", and was originally used to mean "day sky", and its personification was none other than Jūpiter < Djou(s) Patēr, "Sky Father", Ζεύς, which was transparent to the speakers as evidenced by it reshaping as Diēs Pater. This brings to mind expressions like Juppiter tibi īrātus sit! "May the Sky Father be angry with you!" (a curse), malus Juppiter "unkind Sky Father" (of northern weather), and conversely all those epithets like Optumus Maxumus: in fact you can see on Logeion (on the right) that bonus is the second most common collocation with this name. This suggests that an expression like bonus diēs was likely to be interpreted as a reference to the Sky Father's kindness/favour, perhaps poetically or as a minced oath (in an exclamation), and hence was unlikely to be used like we would be inclined to use it.

I too find myself reaching for these time of day-specific phrases, and these are my attempts at an explanation of why they don't exist - or as far one can surmise, didn't in Classical times. I imagine they must have appeared by the 5th century at the latest.

  • This is great! Do you think there could be a way to create these time-specific greetings using Latin? Or is this language limited to what was known in that era? (Currently newbie at Latin). – Johhan Santana Apr 21 at 3:31
  • What might be worth looking at (or listening to) is a five-minute podcast of news in Latin, which must surely have to cater for some modernisms -- although I confess I haven't followed my own advice. vaticannews.va/en/podcast/vatican-radio-news-in-latin.html – Andrew Leach Apr 21 at 13:04
  • They've actually been created many times over - these Erasmian variations only just scratch the surface. I've already mentioned the difficulty with saying "morning"; apart from that, you can simply substitute diēs in my phrases with the words for "evening and night". The old phrase book I linked has bonum māne, bonum sērum and precor tibi fēlīcem noctem. In order to go into details about this, I think we'd need a separate question. – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 21 at 13:14
  • My first Latin professor, a practitioner of Living Latin, used to greet us with bonum mane. – Canned Man Apr 21 at 22:58

Reading Plautus is a great way to learn colloquial Latin. All my examples below are from plays such as Miles Gloriosus. The Romans did not say "good morning".

Heus! is what you say when you call out to somebody Hello!

Quid agis? is a normal casual greeting, "How are you doing?"

Quid fit? is another casual greeting, "How goes it?"

Salve is the standard courteous greeting, "Be well."

Salva sis or Et tu, salve is the standard courteous response, "Health to you as well."

  • I'm curious as to why you think salva sīs is courteous, when to me it seems precisely the opposite, a mirror of the Russian будь здоро́в for здра́вствуй. – Unbrutal_Russian Apr 21 at 23:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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