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The English word "obituary" seems to come from the Latin verb obire. One can derive the adjective obituarius from that verb, and using the neuter obituarium would make possible translation. However, I have not found this or any other word used in Latin to mean an obituary. I can think of other ways to render "obituary" in Latin, including scriptura memorialis (a direct translation from Finnish), but I don't know what would be idiomatic. There is also the phrase in memoriam, but it requires an accompanying noun to make sense.

What would be a good Latin phrase for "obituary" and why? Is it attested, or are there other good reasons to use it?

  • 1
    In Italian we say “necrologio” and I would be tempted to propose necrologium. I am aware, however, that for some religious orders (in Italy too! just found out) a necrologium is not an obituary for a deceased individual but a registry where all deaths of members are logged. – Dario Apr 11 '18 at 4:56
  • @Dario I was tempted by something in that line too, but necrologia has Greek roots, and I didn't find related words (with both roots) in L&S – Rafael Apr 11 '18 at 12:08
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I think the closest you will get is "laudatio" or "laudatio funebris".

  • I think that laudatio is hardly valid. Obituaries are not universally dedicated to praise — they can often be critical. – Tom Cotton Apr 12 '18 at 5:46
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Smith gives as a fifth meaning of vita "a life, i.e. course of life, as the subject of biography". Since an obituary is essentially a review of someone's life, vita alone would probably supply your need.

To expand this a little: I would say that accounts of the lives of great (or notable) men are plentiful in classical literature. Probably the best known collection of such is usually published as "Corneli Nepotis Vitae"; Gellius also provides a good deal of similar information. Nepos concludes his introduction with et in hoc exponemus libro de vita excellentium imperatorum.

If you would like something more descriptive, you might consider something on the lines of recensio vitae memorialis or vita obiter recensa.

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    +1, but how do you tell a biography apart from an obituary? Just the length and occasion? How is it done in English? BTW the Spanish etymological equivalent, obituario primarily means a list of the recently dead or a piece of commented news about someone recently dead. – Rafael Apr 11 '18 at 12:04
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    @Rafael As you say, by length and occasion. While a biography is anything from a pamphlet to a full-length book, an obituary is shorter, and usually appears in a newspaper (where it can run from a brief notice to an essay of a few thousand words, depending on the public status of the subject). In English as in Spanish, obituary can be a simple list of the recently dead. – Tom Cotton Apr 11 '18 at 13:32
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Not a perfect match, but I just remembered about the Acta martyrum, as Wikipedia describes it:

are accounts of the suffering and death of a Christian martyr or group of martyrs

There are compilations of them, and many are considered reliable and of historic value.

Acta (n. pl. of Perfect participle of the verb ago) has a number of uses related to records of different types, including storytelling and arguably early forms of journalism (e.g. in diurna urbis acta and acta populi, see the last section of the L&S entry for ago,) hence it is not surprising it was used for the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of the Martyrs.

Since a martyr is someone dead in a specific way, I think you could go with acta + n. gen., or acta + adj., as in acta mortui, acta Ioannis Doe, acta vitae or acta mortualia (but I think the last one sounds like the corpse's deeds, I don't know.)


In turn, following Tom's line of thinking, Perseus lists a number of biographies from antiquity to the XVI century that include either vita, vitae or de vita. Some of the oldest titles I can catch at a glance: de vita Caesarum, de vita Iulii Agricolae, vitae decem oratorum, vita apolonii

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