I am not a student of Latin; I merely wish to give my short story a Latin title, namely the Latin translation of "See Naples and Die." The best I could find, not understanding Latin grammar, is "Videre Neapolis ac Morior." If that's incorrect, can you please correct it for me? Thank you. (I chose "ac" because of the close relationship between Naples and death in my narrative.)

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    Can you explain more about what the grammar is doing in the title? Are you issuing someone commands? Multiple people commands? Is it more of an infinitive phrase (e.g. "to see Naples and die is the best adventure")?
    – cmw
    May 8, 2022 at 5:50

1 Answer 1


See Naples and die is a saying which became internationally known after J.W. Goethe mentioned it in his Italian Journey (vol. I, entry for March 2nd, 1787). Goethe quotes it in Italian (Vedi Napoli e poi muori!) and then translates it into German (Siehe Neapel und stirb!). The English version is a literal translation of the German one, but the problem is that the ambiguity of the original Italian was completely lost in the process. Furthermore, while in Italian and German the verbs refer undisputably to a singular subject, in English see and die could refer to plural subjects, which is a different ambiguity.

Few Italians would approve of the exclamation mark used by Goethe. True, vedi and muori might be imperatives, as Goethe understood them, but they might also be second-person indicatives, as in you see Naples and you die. Even if they are imperatives, they are not orders: the meaning is don’t die before seeing Naples; if they are indicatives, the meaning is either the sight of Naples makes you die of wonder or after seeing Naples you can happily die (because you will never see anything more beautiful). In fact, it is an ambiguous sentence and even native speakers of Italian like me are unsure. I tend to prefer the last interpretation, but I accept that the first two are completely legitimate. Everybody agrees that the general meaning is that the sight of Naples is a life-changing experience. (The racist interpretation if you visit Naples you will be killed by organized crime pops up sometimes in stand-up comedies, but is only a bad-taste joke.)

That said, let’s try a Latin translation. Italian uses e poi ( = and then ) to bind the two verbs; Goethe forgot to translate poi ( = then ) but it is important, because it places the second action explicitly after the first one. In Latin, a good way to express precedence in time is a costruction called ablativus absolutus, which doesn’t use a finite verb and gives us Neapolī conspectā for the first part. The verb to use can be chosen among many. My preference is for conspicio, which combines vision with emotional experience. For the second part, in my opinion a future tense could convey all three possible meanings of the Italian original. So my proposal is

Neapolī conspectā moriēris

It can be translated back as you will die after seeing Naples. At least, it sounds Latin and has a certain gravity.

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    I agree with your interpretation of the phrase but I'm not sure the choice of the future tense is the best way to capture it -- the Latin sentence sounds to me more like a prediction or prophecy.
    – TKR
    May 10, 2022 at 5:11
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    I wrote my answer in order to provide a detailed analysis of the original Italian. The translation is the best I can come up with, but I agree it has shortcomings and I will be happy to upvote better translations if anybody provides them. The actual meanings of conspicio and the uses of future tense in Latin deserve separate questions. I’ll probably post them myself in the following days.
    – Dario
    May 10, 2022 at 12:31
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    I'm not sure I understand why the future tense is a bad choice. Doesn't a prophecy/instruction/warning best capture the ambiguity of the Italian by obscuring whether this is an instruction or a prophetic warning? May 10, 2022 at 14:21
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    Another option for the translation of "die"/"muori" might be using the present subjunctive to indicate a command to an indefinite second person. This might also carry some useful ambiguity, since the subjunctive might also be one of the other kinds, such as possibility. I think the form could be along the lines of Neapolī vīsā moriāre. Using vīsā also might give some useful ambiguity, since it could be the participle corresponding to vīdeō or vīsō and thus perhaps more fully capture the possible range of meanings of "vedi." May 10, 2022 at 14:40
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    @Vegawatcher The future is bad because the Italian is neither an instruction nor a prophetic warning.— vīsā is of course the best unmarked translation but there is no ambiguity because the causative vīsere has no past participle of its own, it simply means vīsum facere 'to go see,' a factitive 'see,' the resulting state being the same old vīsus 'seen', not something like 'having been seen by going to see'. May 10, 2022 at 18:05

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