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In the Warhammer 40K universe, the Night Lords (scary stealthy dudes) use the battle cry "Ave Dominus Nox." This isn't meant to be in Latin, but in High Gothic, a made-up language for the setting which is usually rendered as a sort of twisted Latin. Presumably, it's supposed to translate to "Hail to the Lord of Night" and refers to the head Night Lord.

My question is: if we speak actual Latin rather than High Gothic, can we do any better? What's the best way to render "Hail to the Lord of Night" as a Latin battle cry?

4 Answers 4

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The suggestion ave dominus nox misses the mark in two ways: You should be using the vocative case with ave, and here Nox seems to be a name of a lord rather than the word "night". I would dismiss that phrasing and look for something else.

The genitive of nox is noctis, so a literal translation of "lord of the night" would be dominus noctis. But it strikes me as more idiomatic Latin to go with an adjective: dominus nocturnus is somewhat literally "nightly lord". But different things are idiomatic in English and Latin even when both languages have both options, so I think the most apt translation of "lord of the night" is dominus nocturnus.

For the greeting you would add ave and put the dominus nocturnus in the vocative case, when my suggestion for "hail the lord of the night" is ave domine nocturne. This sentence would be addressed directly to the lord. If you want to praise him in his absence, perhaps something like "glory to the lord of the night", gloria domino nocturno, would work. The exact use context makes a bigger difference in Latin than English here.

I assumed here that dominus is used as a normal noun, not an honorific. (If you say "Lord Halifax was a lord", the first "lord" is an honorific, essentially a part of the name, and the second one is a a normal noun. The form of the word alone doesn't tell which one it is.) I also took nocturnus here to be a normal adjective, not a name. Choices on matters like this can have an effect on word order (perhaps nocturne domine instead of domine nocturne) and word choice. However, I feel that such differences in nuance are minimal. Unless you weigh in on the very precise meanings (if any!) intended and what sounds good to your ears, I don't think we can tell what is optimal, but we can certainly improve on the original suggestion.

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    If you want to say that he is night, it is possible (this is called apposition in Latin) but you will still need to use the vocative Ave Domine Nox!
    – user11203
    Jun 18 at 17:59
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    Of course the master of the doctrine is to be admired, but I think we want the one over the night there too! Jun 19 at 19:25
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    Regarding your latest edit and following up on the discussion in the comments to my own answer to this question. It appears that your edit gets the distinction I point out the other way around. Dominus is a honorific in your original translation, domine nocturne (“Mister/Lord Nightly“ ), and this is exactly what I thought should be corrected. The nocturne domine in your latest edit is the grammatically correct translation of OP's request, with dominus as a common noun (“Night Master/Lord“). The honorific is preposed, the generic noun is postponed – exactly as in English Jun 22 at 5:14
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    @Unbrutal_Russian Can you cite any of your claims? You keep saying that dominus means Mr., but you haven't provided anything to back that up.
    – cmw
    Jun 23 at 14:15
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    @Unbrutal_Russian It's a simple request. If you can't cite your sources, how do you know you're correct? I checked Lewis and Short before asking this, by the way, and it never says that it functions equivalently to Mr. But the purpose of citing something like this, mind you, as all good scholars know, is to establish not only the existence of something, but also show it's development. If this is a later Latin or Medieval development, it undermines your argument completely. In fact, as we have it, both Gaffiot and L&S cite nothing earlier than Seneca. Does it ever appear earlier? Do you know?
    – cmw
    Jun 26 at 13:29
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I would like to offer a review of both replies posted so far, and offer a couple of my own suggestions which I think are an improvement on both.

  • Laravel's Ave Domine Noctis is in general fine and correctly expresses the relation between “lord” and “night”. One can imagine Dominus Noctis as an official title without much trouble.

  • Joonas Ilmavirta's suggestion ave domine nocturne is unfortunately less successful – it reads as “Hail Lord/mister Nightly”, where domine is a honorific and nocturne is an adjective-derived personal name, instead of an adjective modifying the common noun dominus.

    • The reason is that dominus (from domus “house, home”) is ubiquitous as a designation of social status, a title comparable to “Lord” in origin but to “mister” in usage. When used as a title, it's obligatorily placed before the proper name (the same limitation applies to sānctus “saint”). This usage together with the original word order survives in Spanish and Italian don, Portuguese dom as honorific titles, which likewise always appear before the name: Don Giovanni (sānctus also got reduced to san). This titular reading is only reinforced by the fact that we have an address in the vocative.
  • In order to get the intended reading, then, one needs to switch the word order as Ave Nocturne Domine. Notice that the switch works exactly parallel to the English contrast between Lord Night and Night Lord.

However, the result still doesn't look quite right to me, because it ends up reading like a temporal qualification, as if some Lords are Lords always, but this Lord is nightly-only, a part-time Lord; or more generally, “nightly” somehow qualifies and restricts his Lordship. To express the meaning “Lord of the Night”, Laravel's suggestion works better in our case, even though it's true that in the general case it's the adjective and not the genitive that is often more idiomatic in Latin. Here the adjective's meaning is either too specific or too dervied – it isn't simply equivalent to a noun in the genitive.


But I have a suggestion that I think works even better! Latin has a fun little pattern of forming epithets (typically divine) with the meaning “lord, master of X” by compounding X with the participle/adjective potēns, “having power over, powerful”. For example Ignipotēns “(s)he who has mastery over fire” is an epithet of Vulcan. And ours seems to be a perfect opportunity to coin the word Noctipotēns! Since we still have a titulary address, adding Domine – this time before the name and as a title – is a good idea; besides it looks bad-ass. So in the end we have Ave Domine Noctipotēns! “Hail [honorific] He-who-has-mastery-over-night”.

But since we're speaking of bad-ass, the best solution may well be to dispense with both the antique-tinged honorific and the mythologically-tinged -potēns, and just go for plain old AVE DOMINÁTOR NOCTIS. Can't go more bad-ass than this!

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    "Joonas Ilmavirta's suggestion ave domine nocturne is unfortunately less successful – it reads as “Hail Lord/mister Nightly”, where domine is a honorific and nocturne is an adjective-derived personal name, instead of an adjective modifying the common noun dominus." <- This works better than you might think. See Plautus Amphityo 1.270.
    – cmw
    Jun 18 at 20:49
  • @cmw Amphitryo 272 has the personal name Nocturnus. I have no issue with using that as a personal name. The issue is with Joonas' placing dominus before nocturnus which turns the latter into a personal name prefixed with a honorific, when we need nocturnus not to be a personal name, but an adjective modifying the common noun dominus. Jun 18 at 22:08
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    I meant that it works as a name, too. Domine Nocturne: Oh Lord Nocturne! This is precisely parallel with Domine Jesu. In other words: yes, it would sound like a name, but that could still work.
    – cmw
    Jun 18 at 22:18
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    Except proper names are not analyzed etymologically. I'm talking about making Nocturnus the addressee, not using it as an adjective.
    – cmw
    Jun 19 at 15:21
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    I originally read dominus not as a title as a part of a name as in Lord Halifax but as a regular noun. Both readings make sense to me, and I updated my answer to discuss the distinction. I don't think this is quite as black and white as you make it sound, but I do appreciate the reminder on the word order.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 21 at 16:44
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The words are correct: "dominus" is indeed the Latin word for "Lord" (see for example the New Testament), "nox" is "night", etc. However, they are not declined so a literal translation of the Latin sentence would be "Hail (the) Lord (the) night".

I would rather suggest to use the vocative case for "Dominus" and the genitive case for "night", that is "Ave Domine noctis".

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Laravel's answer I think is best for your precise question, but I note that there's a bit of ambiguity with the people here. You have on the one hand the Night Lords and on the other hand the Lord of the Night, but in Latin their titles would be rendered without distinction.

If you wanted a coherent system in place, the "scary, stealthy dudes" should be domini noctis ('lords of the night'), which is the most straightforward way of rendering "night lords." The Romans would have read that as people who have some mastery over the night (cf. dominos insularum in Suetonius' Caesar 41 or dominum rerum suarum in Cicero's Tusculan Disputation 3.5.11). I suppose theoretically they could be the night's lords (a subjective genitive), but it doesn't feel natural to me to read it that way.

If they are merely associated with the night, especially if their activities happen at night, domini nocturni is an attractive alternative. You have e.g. the fur nocturnus ('nocturnal thief') mentioned by Phaedrus and elsewhere.

Yet you also have, found in Plautus, the Nocturnus, "the nocturnal one, i.e. god of the night." He's not really well attested, but fun the passage he seems to be the one in charge of the night.

So if you reserve the title "lord" for both their god and themselves, the distinction is muddied. Moreover, dominus as a title or epithet for the gods isn't common before Christianity. You have a few solutions that make their relationships and titles clearer and more classical.

One solution is to keep dominus only with mortals (the domini nocturni or domini noctis), and adopt the title Rex for their god. In fact, in Lucan we already have Rex Noctis as a title for Hades (6.741). If you wanted to go with Nocturnal instead of Hades, you could still do Rex Nocturnus.

Alternatively or additionally, you could also change the Night Lords into something else. If they have a religiosity to them, the Flamines Nocturni sounds super cool. To emphasize their fighting prowess, perhaps consider Bellatores or Milites. If they're in service of him, then Legati is an option, or perhaps to emphasize their mastery, Magistri could be chosen instead. The latter two have non-military uses, though, so they sound less cool.

One group that might interest you are the Tresviri Nocturni:

The officers here mentioned were called "nocturni Tresviri." It was their province to take up all suspicious characters found abroad during the night. They were attended, probably, by lictors, or subordinate officers, who are here referred to as "homines octo validi," "eight sturdy fellows."

For the imperatives of the above suggestions, the only words you'll need to worry about are the following two, and only in the singular:

  • Dominus -> Domine
  • Nocturnus -> Nocturne

This is for direct address. Examples (Ave or O +):

  • Rex Nocturne (King Nocturn)
  • Domine Nocturne (Lord Nocturn)
  • Domine Noctis (Lord of the Night)

But

  • Domini Nocturni (Nocturnal Lords)
  • Domini Noctis (Lords of the Night)
  • Rex Noctis (King of the Night)

As an unrelated side note, Gothic is not a made up language, but a real one that unfortunately was not well preserved. In language classification, the term "high" refers to geographical location: Old High German was spoken in the south of Germany leading into the Alps; Low German was spoken among the flatlands of northern German.1

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