While trying to find a Latin one-word equivalent of the German word, "schadenfreude" (= "A malicious enjoyment of others' misfortunes." [Gernan: "schade" = "harm" & "freude" = "joy"]), I proceeded through the nearest English (one-word) translation, "(to) gloat" ([intransitive verb] = "feast the eyes or mind lustfully, avariciously, malignantly, triumphantly" etc.).

Interesting to note, a (Middle-High) German derivation of "gloat"; "glotzen" = "stare". (Oxford)

To gloat (over), in Latin, is "oculos pasco" = (literally) "to feast the eyes" (Oxford) and that's all that was given. With such an inadequate definition, the student must fill in the gaps, with at least one more word e.g., adverb, "malevolo animo" = "in a malignant spirit"/ "maliciously". This, at least, implies that there is a victim of such a nauseating display of self-congratulation.

"oculos pasco malevolo animo" = "schadenfreude".

Is this a valid piece of translating?

3 Answers 3


Cicero uses malevolentia, defining the word as voluptas ex malo alterius sine emolumento suo, Cic. Tusc. 4, 9, 20:- ‘pleasure at another's misfortune, without any gain of one's own.’ If you want Aristotle’s term it is found at his Ars Rhetoric 2.9.5, where he uses the adjective from ἐπιχαιρεκακία (joy over one's neighbour's misfortune) viz. ἐπιχαιρέκακος. The noun is found in his Nichomachean Ethics 1107a10. If Cicero had not provided a Latin equivalent for Aristotle’s word, he might have used ἐπιχαιρέκακος in his letters, particularly as Schadenfreude is a foreign word!


This is somewhat of an extended comment.

Cicero's definition of malevolentia notwithstanding, I think the word is often used more generally for "ill will" towards someone (which is more or less what it literally means); if one harbours ill will towards someone, then it stands to reason that one will take pleasure in their misfortune, but it is still not quite the same.

For example, when Brutus writes:

Malevolentiae hominum in me, si poteris, occurres

(Cic. Ad fam. 11, 11), then we would not translate this as "schadenfreude," not least because nothing bad happened to Brutus.

Regarding your question whether this is a valid translation:

"oculos pasco malevolo animo" = "schadenfreude"

Well, no, because the Latin means "I feast my eyes," and Schadenfreude, both in English and German, is an abstract noun. But that's not really a problem, and you can often easily adapt your sentence to verbal forms.

I also feel that oculos pascere is a rather drastic expression. In German, "seine Augen weiden" (literally oculos pascere!) is also a common expression, but quite a step above "Schadenfreude" (when used in the negative sense; you can also feast your eyes entirely benevolently). Also, this expression sounds strange when the misfortune is invisible or abstract; can you feast your eyes on someone's business slowing down?

Georges, for the record, offers these options:

laetari alienis malis; gaudere malis alterius

Pretty anodyne, but I think if a verbal expression is usable, these are the best fit.

  • Tony was trying to find ‘ a Latin one-word equivalent of the German word’ and i think malevolentia according to Cicero’s definition fitted the bill. In fact Aristotle’s term is closer to Schadenfreude. malevolentia too has overtones of malice, which is somewhat stronger than ‘ill will’, for whereas Ill will means not caring about other people, malice implies a desire to do harm (expressed/implied). In the letter quoted Shackleton Bailey translates the phrase as ‘ You will counter the world’s malice towards me if you can’. Jonathan Hadfield Apr 23, 2022 at 15:50
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: The (English) similar word, "gloat", has a German derivation, "glotzen": the online German dictionary gave it as "stare like a cow or a madman"...Is that accurate? If so it provides the possible evolution to "feasting the eyes". Then, there's the "mad"element, adding a possible extra dimension for those who may delight in the downfall of others. All these words seem to be related, somehow: a point that I should have emphasised.
    – tony
    Apr 24, 2022 at 10:43
  • @tony oculōs pāscere is like the German word but not the English one; the former two make reference to the physical action of staring (dumbly in German, joyfully in Latin), while there's no such meaning in English, which is entirely about the emotion of malignant joy. May 4, 2022 at 18:28

malevolentia, despite Cicero's definition attempt, only refers to 'ill-will, spite', that is to a long-term, harboured attitude towards another; it's near-synonymous and used in conjunction with words like invidia, līvor.

(ἐπι)χαιρεκακίᾱ, like Schadenfreude, refers to the emotional reaction of joy and exultation that is caused by witnessing or learning of another's misfortune. Notice that ἐπιχαίρω by itself normally refers to malignant joy.

The difference is explicit if you contrast 'she's done it out of spite/ill-will/envy' (= malevolentia) with the impossible '*she's done it out of Schadenfreude'. Or, '*he chuckled with ill-will'.

Someone who harbours malevolentia will experience joy at the misfortune of its object, but fundamentally, the feeling of Schadenfreude doesn't presuppose any ill-will, as exemplified by the popularity all those YouTube compilations of random people failing and even hurting themselves. That said, the Russian word that's often an equivalent, злора́дство, does presuppose ill-will, and is often said in reference to the results of some purposefully malicious action, so corresponding to the English 'gloating'; I'm unsure about the situation in German. This difference essentially corresponds to that between gaudium (internal) vs. laetitia (external).

As an illustration, this German-authored AGk-La dictionary translates ἐπιχαιρεκακία as laetitia et gaudium ex aliēnā calamitāte, voluptās ex aliēnīs malīs - the latter definition is essentially Cicero's, but giving malevolentia here would be a mistranslation.

The bottom line is there's no corresponding Latin word; if pressed for brevity, go for the Greek one.

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