Following on from Q: Frightened but not surprised, there seems to be a problem in expressing "surprise", in Latin. In his answer Sebastian opted for, "inopinans" = "unsuspecting", as an alternative to "surprising". Surprised by this I sought Latin verbs for, "to surprise"--there aren't many--"deprehendo"--seeming to be the only candidate. This verb has many definitions of which "surprise" looks like a low-priority afterthought, in the wake of other more instinctive translations e.g. "capture" (Seb's comment in the linked Q.).

Lewis & Short provided an attestation: "cum sine duce et sine equitatu deprehensis hostibus" = "when having surprised the enemy without a general or cavalry" (Caes. de Bel. Gal. 7.52.2).

In English the difference between "surprise" & "shock" is one of intensity. Did the Romans prefer to be "shocked" rather than "surprised"? Again, there is a shortage of verbs. In Oxford, the only verb, "to shock", in both English-to-Latin & Lat.-Eng. sections is "percutio".

L & S don't really give an attestation of this; though, possibly:

"percussisti autem me etiam de oratione prolata" (Cicero "ad Atticum" 3.12.1) =

"But you have dealt me a blow in what you say about my speech having got abroad".

This could be translated: "But you have given me a shock...", couldn't it?

I hear or read words like "surprise" or "shock" on a near-daily basis; in the Roman World? What's going on here?

1 Answer 1


There are several ways to express surprise but first I think it might be useful to divide between two types of "surprise": What makes one to be partial about using deprehendo to mean surprise is not, I believe, that it has "many definitions", but rather the "surprise" of deprehendo is one type of surprise which L&S would define as "take by surprise" seems to be implying an active agent surprises and catching someone unprepared. Another similar verb opprimo (L&S F.) in this sense they note invado and adorior as synonyms which are clearly active. I would say opprimo/invado/ are deliberate, and maybe deprehendo might happen by chance -- but the point is that the surprised person is "being caught [unprepared]" - in other words "taken by surprise" by another active agent. For someone to "be surprised" those verbs have to be used passively.

Now, the other sense of the English "surprise" does not imply "being caught"; like we say: "I was surprised to read that it was snowing in the desert" -- to render this kind of surprise the first type of verbs are less apt. So for this sense there are several options which I guess vary in terms of intensity and nuance. (I spare myself from the trouble in going into those differences which require some more research). here are some:

  1. (ad)miror/ admirationem facit/movet (insolitum silentium admirationem fecit; Livy).

  2. stupeo

  3. hio (figuratively usage).

Note that unlike the first type of verb, those are to be used actively by the person surprised.

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