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How to translate 'breakfast', 'lunch', and 'dinner' into Latin?

I gather cena is an adequate translation of 'dinner', but google translate produces many possibilities for 'breakfast' and 'lunch', and one of those possibilities, prandium, appears as possible translation of both 'breakfast' and 'lunch'.

Breakfast:

  • prandium
  • ientaculum
  • iantaculum
  • ieientaculum
  • iaientaculum

Lunch:

  • prandium
  • merenda

If you are able to explain the nuance among these various words for the morning and midday meals, that would be fantastic.

  • For me respectively: ieientaculum, prandium, and cena. Don't have the time to back that up though :) – brianpck Oct 25 '16 at 23:11
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    In Catholic monasteries that are still attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, breakfast on fast days is known as "jejunium". – Ken Graham Oct 30 '16 at 14:37
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Classical Latin

Roman Republic

According to the Guide Romain Antique, by Jean Dautry, Georges Hacquard and Olivier Maisani, from the second century BC the Romans had 3 meals a day only one of which was plentiful : the cena.

  1. The jentaculum was the breakfast: some bread and cheese after waking up;
  2. The prandium was a simple collation (merenda), eaten on the go around midday;
  3. The cena was the real meal: it began from the middle of the afternoon and generally ended at nightfall.

Sometimes, for special occasions, there was also a collation during the night: the comissatio.

Roman Empire

This is only a general schema for the Republic: the habits were not exactly the same during the Empire: the jentaculum was sometimes replaced by a simple cup of water, and the cena could last longer.

Contemporary Latin

According to the choice made by John Traupman in his Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency, we have the following translation for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

  • breakfast: ientaculum (verb: ientare)
  • lunch: prandium (verb: prandere)
  • dinner: cena (verb: cenare)

In fact, there are many choices to translate breakfast, lunch, and dinner: for example, to translate dinner, you can say cena (or cœna), but also cœnula (a frugal dinner) or epulæ (a very large meal). Another example of the many nuances that allows Latin: if you speak about a meal that you take at home, it can be translated by domicenium.

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    I think the infinitive is prandere, not prandeo (tried to edit but edits have to be at least 6 chars😅) – technical_difficulty Oct 26 '16 at 23:57
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Here's a summary of the article "Meals" written by Professor Gutsfeld (Université de Lorraine) for Der Neue Pauly - if you're serious about Latin or classical studies, you should already know what it is. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall, so many of us mostly likely will never access this fantastic multivolume reference.

Early Republic:

  • ientaculum or ieientaculum (breakfast);
  • cena (main midday meal);
  • vesperna (a light meal in the evening).

Gutsfeld mentions that merenda was common in the countryside and was taken in the later afternoon.

Late Republic - Empire:

  • ientaculum (light breakfast);
  • prandium (second breakfast without courses);
  • cena (main meal consisting of several courses; late afternoon-night).

Gutsfeld also notes that "[t]he rich favoured four or more meals over three while the poor often only had the means for one meal or went hungry."

Since your question is about names of meals and their use, I did not write about food common at those meals nor did I address formal or public meals (e.g. convivium, a private banquet, or comissatio, a drinking party with dances, games, and alcohol).

However, if you are interested in this extensively researched topic, I direct you to the following sources:

Food: see relevant articles in A Companion to Food in the Ancient World.

John F. Donahue has written extensively on this. Also see Dunbabin and Slater 2011, Roman dining, in The Oxford Handbook of Social Relations in the Roman World. Both Katherine Dunbabin (Department of Classics, McMaster University) and William Slater are well-known names/experts in Roman dining (among other things).

All these sources are also subscription-based.

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