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How would you express the concept of reincarnation in Latin? I understand that the Romans did not really have this concept, but I would like to know how to express it in Latin. It does not need to be a single word and can be literal or metaphorical. One could say something akin to being born again but seems too literal like one was saying that you were being birthed again. Perhaps it would make more sense to indicate living a second life.

Related question: How would you extend the phrase "memento mori"?

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  • Are you familiar with the verb renasci?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 17, 2022 at 19:27
  • No, although that seems pretty close. L&S say to compare it to regeneror, but I didn't find a dictionary entry for that to compare.
    – Adam
    Oct 17, 2022 at 19:34
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    If you are willing to entertain Neo-Latin expressions, both resurrectio or transmigratio would be possible. (Of these, transmigratio exists in the Vulgate, but means something different.) Oct 17, 2022 at 20:25
  • While I prefer Classical, I'm open to any era of Latin including Neo-Latin. It does look like the English word originates from the Ecclesiastical Latin incarnatus.
    – Adam
    Oct 17, 2022 at 21:41

2 Answers 2

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In the City of God, St. Augustine writes:

Mirabilius autem quiddam Marcus Varro ponit in libris, quos conscripsit de gente populi Romani, cuius putavi verba ipsa ponenda. “Genethliaci quidam scripserunt, inquit, esse in renascendis hominibus quam appellant παλιγγενεσίαν Graeci; hac scripserunt confici in annis numero quadringentis quadraginta ut idem corpus et eadem anima quae fuerint coniuncta in homine aliquando eadem rursus redeant in coniunctionem."

(Moreover, in the books which he wrote On the Race of the Roman People Marcus Varro sets down a more marvellous thing. I think his words should be quoted: “Certain astrologers have written that there is a rebirth of men which the Greeks call palingenesia, by which in four hundred forty years the same body and soul which were once joined in a man come back to be joined once more.”) (Translated by William Green)

So, the term used is renascor (rebirth). There is also the word regeneratio which is found in biblical contexts, although I am not certain being born again as in the New Testament (or in the above from Augustine) qualifies as reincarnation because reincarnation I think implies being born again in a different body, not the same body.

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  • I'm surprised that palingenesia wasn't brought over as a loan word if it was known as a word for it.
    – Adam
    Oct 18, 2022 at 12:58
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Some of the ancient Greeks believed in reincarnation. The pythagoreans were known for it, so they obviously had a Greek word for it. Pomponius Porphyrio, writing in Latin in the second century A.D., uses the word metempsychosis for it, obviously a loan word from the Greek.

It's not exactly an attested classical word, but it was used not too long after the Silver Age. I am surprised that PHI's text search turns up only one hit for it and that Cicero seems never to have discussed it.

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