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In Pompeii there is a wall-inscription reading, "Phoenix felix et tu"; literally, "The phoenix is happy and you.". It was originally found on the wall of a food establishment known as the Thermopolium of the Phoenix (or alternatively as the Caupona of Euxinus and Iustus) in Insula XI of Pompeii's Regio I. The wall had a sign showing a bird assumed to be a Phoenix and the above-quoted words.

Pompeii guidebooks render it as, "Be as happy as the phoenix.". This may be the sentiment but it does not appear to correspond to the Latin (the construction "as...as" is not expressed like this e.g. "as far as" = "quoad"/ "usque ad"; "as long as" = "quamdiu"; "as many as" = "quotquot"/ "quotcumque"; "as soon as" = "cum primum"/ "simul atque" (Oxford). The Latin for "as happy as" may require another question.

In Q: What's the most idiomatic way to say, "thanks, you too"?, cmw gave "et tu" as "you too", similar to "you as well". A better translation could be:

"Happy is the phoenix and you (be so) as well."

Is this correct?

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    For the record, “be as happy as the Phoenix” would be tam felix sis quam Phoenix. Aug 6 at 20:17
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Yes, “Happy is the phoenix and you (be so) as well” is a perfectly good translation. More or less the same translation is given by A. Cooley, M. G. L. Cooley: Pompeii. A Sourcebook, Routledge 2004 (as quoted here): The phoenix is lucky: may you be too. The Pompeian guidebooks, as quoted in the question, apparently are thinking along the same lines; it is clear that their intrepretation is very free and far removed from the Latin. It might also be a statement of fact: “The Phoenix is happy and so are you.”

I would only point out that felix does not generally refer to a feeling or state of mind, but someone or something being favoured by fortune, or indeed something that brings good luck. So translating it as “happy” is not necessarily wrong, but that meaning of “happy” (as in “happy accident”) does not predominate in English, so “lucky” is probably a better translation most of the time.

You could also arrive at a totally different reading of the inscription by the judicious insertion of a comma (whose absence in the original means nothing as the Romans used no commas at all):

Phoenix, felix et tu.
You are lucky too, Phoenix.

This translation is favoured by Rudolf Wachter (ed.): Pompejanische Wandinschriften: Lateinisch - deutsch, De Gruyter 2019, which mentions a similar inscription in the Domus Tiberiana in Rome, which says: Tharros, felix et tu.

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  • Do you know if there are other cases of an imperative "be" being elided? That seems like a strange elision (which would argue in favor of the second reading you mention).
    – TKR
    Aug 8 at 18:25
  • @TKR My view is that the est was elided in the first part, and we are pretty much free in how to interpret the et tu part. Aug 8 at 18:38
  • @TKR, it is possible to prefer the first reading, but avoid the imperative. simply reading this as description/law: "(When) the Phoenix is happy, you are also"
    – d_e
    Aug 8 at 18:47
  • @d_e Then my question would be whether there are parallels for such an elision of "when"...
    – TKR
    Aug 8 at 18:55
  • @TKR, I was thinking something like the English "you are happy, I am happy/too". But my short search indeed didn't yield any results for this kind of action in Latin. Only this Note-2 at the end of p.99 , ... A similar ellipsis of si in Latin is very rare, and is rhetorical or poetical. But even there, it speaks only on "contrary-to-fact" cases, and gives no examples.
    – d_e
    Aug 8 at 19:37

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