The English word "book" has many potential Latin translations, such as liber, monumentum, carta, codex, and volumen.

If, in this context, the book refers to a textbook or collection of stories, what would be the most accurate Latin word to use?

  • Does my answer not satisfy your question?
    – cmw
    Jan 31, 2022 at 7:52

1 Answer 1


Liber is that Latin word for book, and my first inclination is to go there. However, further context is needed to make an actual decision. Other options include libellum and codex.

Monumentum is most wrong. A book can be a monument, but not all monuments are books, and so likewise not all monumenta are libri. If you're refering to the Horace quote monumenta rerum gestarum, yes they're written down, but they're memorials of deeds. It's a metaphor.

Charta and codex refer to the thing a book is written upon. It refers to the material. So a book of Cicero, a liber Ciceronis can be written on chartae or placed in a codex. However, collections of works in book-form are often called a codex, so depending on what exactly you're describing, this might be the best word after all. As a solid example, a collection of laws published by Theodosius is called the Codex Theodosianus. Bibles were often written on codices, so that you have e.g. Codex Sinaiticus, an ancient codex upon which the New Testament was written.

Volumen, too, can mean that, though of the options, it's the closest to liber. However, it might help to remember the etymological role of the word. It comes from volvere "to roll", and referred originally to rolled up papyri. In that sense, since a work was usually on multiple papyri, it refers to a part of a full work, similar to the word "volume" today.

To be fair, liber can mean all these things, too. A work of Cicero's, let's say the De Natura Deorum, would have been described as being in libris tribus "in three books". But as L&S note, it's most commonly used as a single work, either in singular or in plural.

Finally, libellum refers to a little book, and is what Catullus used to describe his short collection of poems.

  • 2
    I learned a lot! +1
    – ktm5124
    Dec 1, 2016 at 7:26
  • 2
    A lot of early / medieval works also use liber as a subdivision, e.g. the Confessions of Augustine is actually Confessionum libri XIII. This corresponds to English usage, though, where one "book" like Lord of the Rings can contain six "books."
    – brianpck
    Dec 1, 2016 at 17:11
  • @brianpck Yep, and I don't think it's purely medieval, as I point out in my penultimate paragraph. The way we think about "books" just completely changed after the printing press was invented. Now people write books, but before, people wrote works.
    – cmw
    Dec 1, 2016 at 18:04
  • 1
    Studied Latin way back in antiquity, the early fifties. I remembered the word for book being libra...not liber. Guess I have spent almost 70 years using the wrong word. Nov 9, 2019 at 22:57

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