“Infima est quinque errantium terraeque proxuma stella Veneris, quae Φωσφόρος Graece, Latine dicitur Lucifer, cum antegreditur solem, cum subsequitur autem Hesperos,"
Source: M. Tullius Cicero, de Natura Deorum O. Plasberg, Ed.

My translation feels sloppy:

"Of the five that orbit closest to earth, the star Venus is known as Phosphoros in Greek and Lucifer in Latin speech when it precedes the sun, but Hesperos if it follows the sun."

My Latin is quite rusty (and was never great to begin with;) so I'd welcome advice on how to render this translation with greater grammatical fidelity to the original.


1 Answer 1


Your translation is very close and only requires a few tweaks.

For context, Cicero introduces this passage a little earlier: he is talking about the five stellae errantes ("wandering stars"), which he sees as a misnomer:

Maxume vero sunt admirabiles motus earum quinque stellarum quae falso vocantur errantes; nihil enim errat quod in omni aeternitate conservat progressus et regressus reliquosque motus constantis et ratos.


But the most admirable of all are the motions of those five stars which are incorrectly called "wandering"; for indeed, nothing "wanders" which preserves for all eternity [the same] constant and calculated advances, retreats, and other motions.

Once we realize this, the passage becomes fairly clear: the only tricky part is the first sentence, which changes the word order a bit. If it helps, the following word arrangement might seem more natural to your ears:

Stella Veneris est infima quinque errantium et proxuma terrae...

An almost literal translation, with the relative clause split in two to avoid awkward syntax:

The lowest of the five wandering [stars] and the closest to earth is the star of Venus, which is called "Phosphorus" in Greek and "Lucifer" in Latin, when it precedes the sun, but "Hesperos" when it follows after.

As pointed out by Ben Kovitz, Cicero is not saying that "Hesperos" is only a Latin name. This is clear because of the chiasma of "Phosphoros Graece, Latine Lucifer," which creates a single unit of comparison that is qualified by "cum antegreditur." This division is also clear from the fact that "Lucifer" is a literal translation of "Phosphoros" (= "light bearer").

  • 2
    "Calculated" suggests a person who did the calculating, and since reor is deponent, would ratos suggest that the planets themselves calculated their orbits? Or could ratos here just mean "fixed, established"?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:08
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    @BenKovitz L&S gives for this meaning: "reckoned, calculated, fixed by calculation; hence, fixed, settled, established, firm, unalterable, sure, certain, valid." The meanings are all related, but I think you're right that "fixed" is better.
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:12
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    OK, I'm guess on track with the planets, then. :) Say, why does Cicero write constantis rather than constantes here?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:15
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    @BenKovitz -is can be an alternative form for m/f acc plural, see this Wiktionary table. It would make a good question if you ask when/why this is allowed!
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:21
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    One more: By its typography, the Perseus page suggests that Hesperos is the Greek name for Venus when it follows the Sun. Is this just an ambiguity of Latin grammar, to be resolved by hints like typography and reasonableness, or is there some convention that suggests that Cicero meant that in Latin, they use the Greek name Hesperos?
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 21:47

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