There are a lot of different things in a lot of different languages that mean basically the same thing: Sleep well.

  • English: Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite
  • Italiano: Buona notte, sogni d'oro
  • Español: Sueña con los angelitos

et cetera.

What's the equivalent in Latin?

NB: To be clear, I'm looking for the "poetic" version -- for example, the Italian one means "dream of gold", and the Spanish "sleep with the angels". I can translate "Good night" on my own, probably.

Answers for either vulgar or formal classical Latin are acceptable. Vulgar is preferred; I'd like to know what the people said.

Thanks to the folks in chat for helping me with other languages' versions! Help starts here

3 Answers 3


For all things English to Latin, the best place to go is Smith's Copious and Critical English - Latin Dictionary. To get the phrase, you'd have to look under night:

to have a good night, bene quiescere, Plin. Ep. 3, 16, 4 : as an exclamation, good night! bene valeas et quiescas.

Tibullus Elegiae 2.4.49 includes placide with it:

Et 'bene' discedens dicet 'placideque quiescas.'

And leaving he will say, 'May you rest well and peacefully.'

That must have been somewhat common, because Fronto has it, but it cannot quite mean 'good night' in the English sense:

Sed post diem natalem tuum, si me amas, nox quae sequitur fac iam placide quiescas sine ullius instantis officii cogitatione.

The Loeb translates it thus:

But if you love me, pass the coming night in peace and quiet without attending to any business however pressing.

Oddly, the Loeb skips out post...tuum, which means 'after your birthday.' The placide quiescas doesn't quite mean 'have a good night', but perhaps 'may you sleep soundly' isn't so far off, and the meaning of it could be altered slightly with fac thrown in there.

For wishing someone off to sleep as they depart from you, vale simply suffices.

You could also introduce some variation of adv/adj + dormire. The Priapea (62.1a) preserves these lines:

securi dormite, canes: custodiet hortum / cum sibi dilecta Sirius Erigone.

Securi dormite means "sleep soundly."

  • 4
    OMG I love Smith's Copious and Critical Dictionary! Feb 29, 2016 at 23:36
  • @JoelDerfner It's good, isn't it? It's imperfect, as I'm finding out, and needs to be rigorously updated, but it's solid nonetheless.
    – cmw
    Feb 29, 2016 at 23:58
  • Yeah. It's great as far as it goes, but the degree to which English has changed since its publication makes it maddening you unhelpful for some things. Mar 1, 2016 at 0:31
  • 1
    @JoelDerfner The solution is to read older English works! :)
    – cmw
    Mar 1, 2016 at 0:33
  • 1
    Yes, but there's only so much Bulwer-Lytton one can read.... Mar 1, 2016 at 0:44

I have used 'quiescas quam optime'. I know of no precedent, but it seems to fit the case.

There is no reason why we should expect to find a translation to suit precisely every circumstance, even such a commonplace as ‘good night’. Broadly, the Romans used Latin for a thousand years; it would be unlikely that the usages remained in force, without alteration, for all that time - just as our own idiom changes and develops. Martial, for example, may well have wished a companion ‘good night’ in a phrase not found two hundred years earlier - and we simply cannot know. I have often come across this kind of problem during years of translating into Latin and, as long as no rule of grammar is broken, have no shame in using an expression that fits the situation. That is how I came to suggest quiescas quam optime.

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    I cannot tell you how THRILLED I am to have you on the site with us! For those who don't know, Mr. Cotton is an extraordinary translator, who has given us, inter alia, Superbia et Odium (Pride and Prejudice), Fundus Animalium (Animal Farm), and Auræ Inter Salices (The Wind in the Willows). My Latin is nowhere near good enough yet to appreciate these translations fully, but as I work my way through them I find over and over again that their Latinity feels incredibly genuine. Welcome, Mr. Cotton! Floreat, vigeat, valeat, et crescat! Jul 16, 2016 at 17:44

As a newcomer to this site, I share the following translation of the poem Gute Nacht (first published 1823; revised 1824) by Wilhelm Mueller of Dessau. In this text, "Good night" is translated in two different ways, once as "Quiesce molliter!", then again as "Sit fausta nox". The 1823 version of the Winterreise cycle was set to music by Schubert as the first song in his own Winterreise. The minor changes made in 1824 do not affect the translation. The German text and various translations are easy to find on internet.


Alienus immigravi,
alienus emigro.
Multas rosas ligavi
favente mi Maio.
Amo! canebat virgo,
Nubes ei! parens.
Nunc nubila universa
velatque nix viam.

Non est mihi potestas
hoc differendi iter.
Callis mihi calcandast
hac nocte fortiter.
Mecum una it umbra lunae
velut comes viae
albisque pratis quaero
vestigium ferae.

Canis, ulules vesanus
eri prae aedibus!
Molestus hic manerem,
fugaret iste erus.
Avet Venus vagari –
sic filia ut pater –
ab uno ad alterum ire –
Quiesce molliter!

Te somnio turbare
bellissimo nolim!
Ne strepitus audiatur,
claudam fores sensim!
cur haec ceciderim
intellegesque quanti
tete aestimaverim.

Note on the rhyming-scheme: The original is cross-rhymed. Only the first two couplets of the translation are cross-rhymed. This is to maximise the contrast with the unrhymed second half of the couplet. The contrast illustrates that between the summer's hopes and the winter's disappointment. In the rest of the poem the last word of one couplet rhymes with the last word of the next. In the last stanza, in which the speaker overcomes his anger sufficiently to wish his former fiancee well, all four couplets share the same rhyme.

I am preparing a translation of the whole cycle. I have not yet found a publisher. I am open to advice, both as to publication and as to improving my translation. Before posting further numbers, I shall await the fruits of sharing this, the longest. By the way, it can be sung to Schubert's setting, though his rhythms have to be adapted to the quantitative iambics of the Latin and the occasional triplet (canis, ulules in st. 3 and ne strepitus audiatur in st. 4).

In st. 3 the German has: Die Liebe liebt das Wandern - Gott hat sie so gemacht. In translating into classical Latin, I have had to guess what a pagan might have said. It seemed to me that the female personification of love had to be Venus. She was created by Jupiter, in the sense that he was her father. Like father, like daughter: she inherited his promiscuity, a vice of which the angry young man does not accuse his former fiancee, though he does reproach her indirectly (bellissimo is surely ironical) for agreeing to a socially more advantageous marriage, when she was already committed to their love-match, which her mother had supported at one time.

The second half of st. 2 is enigmatic. One thing only is certain: the young man's journey has not yet begun. He is still in the house. That means the present tense can only describe a vision he has of the journey which is yet to come. But what he means by "a shadow of the moon" (ein Mondschatten) is intentionally obscure.

My translation reverses the order of the first two couplets in st. 3, which is in any case unsettled and disjointed. I have also "overtranslated" the words: Was soll ich laenger weilen? This is because I am convinced the poet intended a pun on Langeweile "boredom", which is represented in my translation by "molestus".

Andrew Palmer, Zwijndrecht, South Holland.

  • Welcome to the site! I reformatted the poem a little. While this doesn't really address how the Romans would have said it, this is still an interesting contribution. Thanks!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Sep 15, 2019 at 11:09

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