I'm looking to translate "The ant labors for the good of the nest", or to rephrase, "The ant works for the benefit of the nest/hive/colony". So far I've come up with:

formica laborat ad bonum nidi

I chose "nidus" = nest, not knowing what word the Romans used for an ant dwelling. Hive, perhaps? Surely not Colony? Does anyone have insight as to the correct word usage?

Also, is this a correct usage of "ad" in the accusative case?

Someone suggested "Formica pro bono nidi operatur/laborat".

My questions are:

  1. Is there a difference between "ad bonum" and "pro bono";

  2. Is there a difference in meaning between "laboro" and "opero"?

Thanks for any help.

  • 1
    Varro used colonia for bee colonies, so there's precedent for extending it to industrious insects. Nidus strikes me as weird.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 7, 2022 at 17:24
  • According to Köbler, all three: formicarius, formicaria, formicarium can be used for an ant nest/hill. Formicarius (ant hill) is also the title of an incunable (read it here); according to Wikipedia an allusion to Proverbs 6:6, where sadly it only says Vade ad formicam, o piger, et considera vias ejus, et disce sapientiam. Sep 7, 2022 at 19:39
  • … but none of these is classical, of course! Sep 7, 2022 at 19:43
  • Those were all helpful. Does anyone find fault with: laborat formica ad bonum coloniae
    – Caw
    Sep 8, 2022 at 3:51
  • 1
    @Caw That will be understood, but I think it could be made more idiomatic. See my answer. (By the way, this was a very nice question. I hope you'll stick around and ask more!)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 9, 2022 at 14:40

1 Answer 1


As Cairnarvon points out in a comment, Varro uses colonia for a bee hive, so extending it to other similarly behaving insects makes sense. This is a choice of words that a Roman would easily understand. A word derived from formica would strike me as a bit odd, given that the word formica itself is used; a mere colonia is clear enough.

I would translate "for the good of" simply as pro. The entry in L&S for this preposition mentions the meaning "for the benefit of" under II.B.1. I think that lengthier versions would deliver the same message but in a manner that feels somewhat less idiomatic to me.

For the verb both laborare and operari make sense. The latter is described as "to toil" or "to take pains" instead of a neutral "to work", and one of the examples given is of bees working. I will therefore have to suggest operari. (The non-deponent operare is rarer and not classical.)

Thus my suggestion would be:

Formica pro colonia operatur.

  • 1
    Your suggestions were most helpful. I have decided to use Formica Pro Bono Coloniae Laborat, for these reasons: since the ant represents me myself, I feel justified in using pro bono rather than what might be the more technically correct pro uso; Laborat rather than operatur for the menial slave-labor connotation; and pro bono rather than just pro so that it doesn't read like merely "for the colony". Thanks to all for your comments and please forgive my boorish formatting.
    – Caw
    Sep 11, 2022 at 2:48
  • 1
    @Caw I'm glad to have been able to help! If you think the matter is settled, please accept one of the answers. That marks it as correct or most useful and indicates that the case is closed. (You can accept an answer using the little green checkmark near the upper left corner. There you can also vote. Please vote up any posts you like, including other questions and their answers!)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 11, 2022 at 5:49

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