Mark-Antony's speech (Act III, Scene II), from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", is well-known; at least, the opening lines are:

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is often interred with their bones;".

The translation by Henry Denison:

"Amici, Cives, Quirites, commodate mihi aliquantis per aures vestras;
adsum ut efferam Caesarem, non ut laudem.
quae male homines fecerint mortuis supersunt;
quae bene simul cum ossibus sepulcro abscondi solent;"

The first line, literally:

"Friends, Citizens, Citizens...".

There is a difference: "Quirites" applies to the Romans in normal circumstances; in times of peace. Whereas "cives" does not appear to have any limitations on its use. Nevertheless, why use both?

Why not just, "Amici, Cives..."? This lacks the rhetorical force of the three-term substantive but the concern is not for the drama, or the history, but for the Latin.

Mark-Antony's speech was given after the assassination of Caesar. The peace of Rome was already dying, in what clearly were no longer "normal circumstances". Isn't this another reason to preclude the use of "Quirites"?

If so, then, "Romani" could be deployed: this was more political than "Quirites", which would fit the burgeoning (civil-war) crisis, wouldn't it? Giving:

"Amici, Romani, Cives...",

which certainly looks better.

Any thoughts?

  • 10
    What, you're suggesting a Roman orator wouldn't use a tricolon when one was available? :P
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 18:28
  • @Draconis: The priority, in this Q., is not the drama; but, the Latin. The final offering, "Amici, Romani, Cives,...", retains the tripartite power of which you appear to be a proponent. Do you like it?
    – tony
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 0:20
  • I like concives for countrymen.
    – Figulus
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 0:28

5 Answers 5


It seems to me that Quirites stands for “Romans” here, and cives for “countrymen” (i.e., fellow citizens).

There is not really a succint Latin term for “countryman,” but civis is suggested by Smith & Hall (see here, here and here). Popularis would also be fine (Plautus: o mi popularis, salve), but it has another, political meaning that would make it awkward here.

Quirites really means “Romans,” and what is more, it is the standard way to address the gathered crowd in Rome when giving a speech. You never say Romani. The current state of civil peace or unrest in the city has nothing to do with it. In the second and third Catilinarian oration, when Cicero speaks to the people at the height of a state crisis, he says Quirites.

It seems to me that in reality, M. Antonius would probably just have said Quirites. But that's not what Shakespeare wrote.

  • Another issue with saying Romani is that it could then read "Roman friends and citizens," which would also have the effect of making amici and cives different groups (difficult without a conjunction, but not impossible). Quirites is indeed best here.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 23:47
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: In this answer, latin.stackexchange.com/a/796/1982, Joel Derfner located a translation which incorporates, "Romani". How does that one work?
    – tony
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 9:58
  • @cmw: Please see comment to Seb, above.
    – tony
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 10:00
  • 2
    This speech struck me a very powerful when I first heard it at the age of 10, I have just realized that the syllable counts in the first line are "Friends" (1), "Romans"(2), "Countrymen" (3), "lend me your ears"(4). I think this is what helps make it punchy. Any translation loses this. Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 0:14
  • 1
    @tony That does not follow in any way from anything I wrote, but it is not inconceivable, although it would more likely be Quiritium, as Populus Romanus Quiritium is a common formula -- but then so is Senatus Populusque Romanus. Commented Dec 8, 2023 at 11:18

Adding on to Sebastian Koppehel's answer:

The tricolon*, a statement with three parallel sections, was a famous and much-vaunted device in Classical rhetoric (compare Caesar's legendary vēnī, vīdī, vīcī: "I came, I saw, I conquered", but it's both alliterative and metrical in Latin). While Quīritēs alone would be a fine way to address a crowd, putting the three nouns next to each other is a rhetorical flourish that a politician like the historical Marcus Antonius certainly would have known about. He may not have turned to it in a situation like this, but I don't think it's a stretch to conjecture that he would have considered amīcī, civēs, Quīritēs more elegant than simply amīcī, civēs.

You mention that "the concern is not for the drama, or the history, but for the Latin"—but remember that our (and Marcus Antonius's!) understanding of "good Latin" is heavily influenced by rhetoricians like Cicero. Even apart from fidelity to Shakespeare's words, the style and tone are crucial to any translation, and as it happens we know a lot about the style and tone favored by Roman politicians of that era. Ciceronian rhetorical devices are, in my opinion, a very important aspect of this particular Latin.

* This one is specifically a hendiatris, expressing a single concept in three different ways to emphasize it and make it stick in listeners' minds. Cicero was quite fond of this; his famous Catilinian Orations, for example, open with the same rhetorical question in three different phrasings. "For how long will you abuse our patience, Catiline? How much longer will your insanity mock us? To what limit will your unbridled audacity flail about?"

  • 2
    Minor quibble: I doubt that Marcus Antonius was heavily influenced by Cicero. Not only were they contemporaries (the former was only 20 years the latter's junior), but Caesar was the other big rhetorician at that time, and so he would be more attached to Caesar's style, not Cicero's. But most damning is that Antony is the one who ordered that Cicero be killed and, according to Cassius Dio (so who knows the authenticity of it!), Antony's wife Fulvia stabbed dead Cicero's tongue with her hairpin for his haranguing of Antony in the Philippics.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 2:43
  • 1
    That said, Antony still would likely have been familiar with tricolon, since it's adoption as a standard tool of rhetoric precedes Cicero.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 2:48
  • 5
    @cmw True. I'm somewhat using Cicero as a standin for the whole rhetorical tradition, since his writings are one of the main surviving sources for it, but of course Caesar and their predecessors also favored tricola.
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 3:28

I'd like to add on to these answers by showing the facts of the matter.

First, Quirites isn't an alternative to cives. Whereas any citizen of any oppidum or urbs or empire could be called a civis of that place, the Quirites are in particular only the citizens of Rome.

Moreover, when addressing Romans, other Romans used Quirites and did so far more frequently than Romani. Searching PHI shows this usage among the earliest Roman writers, from Cato down through the ages. I included the commas to negate nominative and accusative forms, so the majority of these are vocatives. As you can see, this is how Romans have long addressed each other.

Doing the same for Romani yields very different results. Our first attestation at all is in Livy, and, funny enough, is put in the mouth of Romulus. This makes sense, though, because, as the myth goes, Romulus after death is deified as Quirinus, and thus the Quirites take their name after him.

Elsewhere in Livy, though, Romani comes from non-Romans who address the Romans. At 3.2, you have one of the Aequi who is addressing the Romans; at 7.30, it's the Campanians; at 8.23 the Samnites; 21.18 the Carthaginians; and so forth.

So to say Romani like that is to make yourself appear the outsider, the non-Roman. It's not something that Antony would have said to fellow Romans. Perhaps a reference later can be found, but in the Classical material, Livy is the only one who is even showing up searching in this way1. Therefore, Quirites is the proper word to use here.

1. There is an anonymous poet who shows up, but it's not relevant here; Porphyrion has o romani, but it seems he is talking as an outsider.

  • I quoted Nairn’s translation, which has Populus Romanus Quiritum, not Romani.See L&S:- ‘Joined with populus Romanus, the technical expression is usually POPVLVS ROMANVS QVIRITIVM, qs. the Roman commonwealth of Quirite citizens, the Roman nation of Quirites’. And I think the comment of Sebastian from Plutarch is straight to the point. Cicero also uses the vocative popule Romane, not Romani. These seem to be the facts of the matter, pace cmw. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 20:41
  • @JonathanHadfield I'm responding to tony's question at the end of his OP and asked under Sebastian's answer about why Quirites is chosen over Romani. He quotes Denison, not Nairn.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 20:57
  • Apologies, cmw. That wasn’t clear to me. By the way, to meet partly the observation made by Simon, one could begin with ‘Cives, amici, populus Romanus Quiritum… Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 10:21

One of the English finest Latin prose compositors, J.A Nairn, translates this passage thus:-

Populus Romanus Quiritum, amicique et cives mei, benigne me attenteque audiatis. Nam sepeliendi Caesaris, non laudandi causa, huc accessi. Si mala quae fecerunt homines supersunt, bona saepe cum ossibus sepeliuntur.

Notice, in passing, the rhythmical prose clausulae of his version but, as to the point in question, the fashionable oratorical styles of the day were the florid Asian style of Hegesias with its clausulae and the austere, more formal, traditional style exemplified by Caesar. Perhaps it would be typical of Mark Antony to lay it on with an Asian flourish at the start?

For populus as vocative, see the extended discussion of the point in my question on April 27th April, 2016. "Populus Romanus Quiritium" as vocative?.

  • 1
    "He adopted what was called the Asiatic style of oratory, which was at the height of its popularity in those days and bore a strong resemblance to his own life, which was swashbuckling and boastful, full of empty exultation and distorted ambition." -- Plutarch: Marcus Antonius 2, 5. Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 20:19
  • Many thanks for the edit Cairnarvon! Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 10:15
  • Many thanks for the edit Cairnarvon! Also, to Sebastian for his apt note from Plutarch. I wasn’t aware of Antony’s admiration for the Asiatic style. It was a mere surmise but now this surmise has been verified. Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 10:28

Yet another suggestion. While looking at all possibilities for Mark Antony’s speech, I have just come across this translation:-

Amici et Quirites prolesque Iuli, aures praebete;/ Veni ad Caesarem sepeliendum, non ad laudandum./ Maleficia superstites maleficis,/ Beneficia una cum ossibus eorum humata sunt.

‘Proles Iuli’is clever. And ‘maleficia superstites maleficis’ is nicely concise and skilfully balanced. But directly relevant to the question is the word ‘Quirites’ with the addition of ‘prolesque Iuli’, offspring of Aeneas’s son, Ascanius (Iulus). The Gens Julia, was the clan from which Caesar, claimed to have been descended. Ascanius, his father Aeneas and thus the goddess Venus, the mother of Aeneas, his father being the mortal Anchises. The Roman people traced their descent not only from Romulus (Quirites) but also from Aeneas. Romulus and Remus are briefly referred to in book 8 of the Aeneid as being on Aeneas’s shield. They also were the supposed sons of Aeneas. What better for Antony to have made this reference, thus appealing to the Roman people’s distinguished ancestry and by implication referring to the murdered Caesar’s divine heritage? ‘Quirites’ is one line of descent and ‘proles Iuli’ the other for the Romani.

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