I am looking for a Latin word corresponding to the common modern English sense of the word "genius", a person with extraordinary ability in a specific field. I do not want to refer to the ability itself (the Latin genius can very rarely mean that; see L&S genius, II.B) but a person in possession of that ability. The Latin word genius is perhaps best translated as "spirit" and does not come close to the meaning I am after.

What would you suggest as a Latin translation of this sense of "genius"?

The ability can be innate or learned. If you suggest a word, can you also describe whether it implies one of these two?

I think this will probably have a different answer than than the question for a translation of "polymath". A genius is great in (at least) one thing, a polymath is good at many things. Same words might be useful for both, but the terms are not synonymous.

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    Might be of interest what Roman translators did with Homer's "wily Odysseus", although he was depicted as 'clever in a sneaky way' rather than what we would call a genius.
    – AakashM
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 11:24
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    @AakashM That certainly sounds worth checking, but it's worth remembering that a Roman translator might prefer to see Odysseus as a traitor rather than a hero. Taking genius characters from ancient literature is a good starting point!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 14, 2021 at 11:46
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    @AakashM, I know that the opening line of Livius Andronicus's Odyssia uses virum...versutum, 'a wily man,' to render Homer's ἄνδρα πολύτροπον.
    – cnread
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 0:56

3 Answers 3


Although I believe that tony's suggestion of vir ingeniosus would work pretty well, I do think one would want to use the superlative degree of the adjective (vir ingeniosissimus or vir maxime ingeniosus), since 'genius' goes beyond garden-variety cleverness or talent that the positive degree suggests.

Another, related possibility is to use a noun phrase such as this, which Cicero uses all the time (e.g., In Verrem 2.3.170, 2.4.131; Pro lege Manilia 68; Pro Sestio 121), though I admit that he may not have had in mind the idea of 'genius' in our modern sense:

homo summo* ingenio (praeditus**)

* Or maximo, eminentissimo, or the like

** Or, to underscore the idea of innate (as opposed to learned) genius, naturā praeditus

Or, more simply, something like this (cf., e.g., Cicero, De legibus 3.45; Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 2.2.1):

homo summi ingeni(i)

Both of these can mean:

A person endowed with (or 'of') the highest mental powers/talent/intellect/cleverness/etc.

If the genius lies in one specific area, this could be designated with, e.g., a genitive (cf. Daedalus ingenio fabrae celeberrimus artis in Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.159) or a gerund/gerundive phrase (cf. ingeniuum ad male faciundum in Sallust, Historiae fragment 47.4 [speech of Cotta]).


Oxford gives "genius" = "vir ingeniosus" (English-to-Latin); checking the corresponding (Latin-to-English), adjective, "ingeniosus" = "clever", "ingenious"; "naturally suited to...".


Just to add a possible option from a passage I happened to come across today. This is from the description of the temple of Cupid in Apuleius' Metamorphoses:

Mirus prorsum homo, immo semideus vel certe deus, qui magnae artis subtilitate tantum efferavit argentum.
"It was indeed a miraculous man, or rather a demigod or even a god, who used the refinement of great art to make animals out of so much silver." (tr. J.A. Hanson)

The suggestions in cnread's answer are probably better for most purposes, but depending on the context you might also consider the phrase homo/vir mirus.

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    Or we can just combine all three (so far) answers to yield homo mire ingeniosus, or homo mirissimi ingenii.
    – cnread
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 0:57
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    @cnread Would you like to post that as a separate answer? A good synthesis of the existing often makes a very interesting answer that shouldn't be hidden in a comment.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 5:46
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    @TKR: I've heard of super-bright people being referred to as "being able to walk on water", bringing in the "miraculous" god-like thing.
    – tony
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 8:35

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