I'm trying to translate Thomas Jefferson's sentence "priests dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight."

After several discussions with my dictionary, I've come to a version that sounds pleasing to me, but I need to check whether the structure is right:

Fugitur ut strigibus diluculum sic veritas presbyteris.

I found no good word for witch, so I settled on strix, which seems to have meant a nightly beast resembling an owl, a vampire or a witch. Also, ancient Latin didn't have an equivalent for our science; their scientia was more like our knowledge. Does my translation work?

  • 3
    I wonder if Jefferson ever heard of Grosseteste, Copernicus, Mendel, Lemaître... (but that's neither here nor there)
    – brianpck
    Apr 17, 2018 at 14:18
  • @brianpck. Copernicus took minor orders, but there is no hard evidence that he was ever ordained as a priest.
    – fdb
    Apr 17, 2018 at 16:32
  • 3
    @fdb Ah, no wonder he was capable of doing science then! ;)
    – brianpck
    Apr 18, 2018 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


The structure seems good to me!

Literally, your sentence means "just as the dawn is fled by the strigēs, so is the truth by the elders". Strigēs is a good translation for "witches" because it captures both the malevolence and the nocturnal-ness; Ovid describes them as witches who transformed themselves with dark magic into blood-drinking owls.

The main concern I have is with presbyterīs, literally "elders". I'm not familiar with that word being used for priests in Classical Latin (though it might have taken on that meaning in Ecclesiastical); when I think of a "priest", my mind jumps to sacerdos or flāmen. You also used fugiō "flee from" instead of a verb like timeō, horreō, or metuō for "fear", which changes the meaning a bit but is an editorial decision.

Finally, vēritās "truth" is a good translation of "science" in this sense, but it doesn't have any implication of an approach or advancement. Again, that's an editorial decision, and it is certainly more concise without that extra word.

  • Thank you. The main reason why I used those specific words was to preserve the musicality: Fugitur ut strigibus diluculum sic veritas presbyteris. Apr 17, 2018 at 23:53
  • Would Fugitur ut strigibus diluculum sic scientia sacerdotis be more exact? Apr 18, 2018 at 1:23
  • 1
    @CarlosArturoSerrano I would use sacerdōtis, but if you specifically mean Christian priests I'm not the best person to ask about that. I'm sure there are much better words in Ecclesiastical Latin.
    – Draconis
    Apr 18, 2018 at 3:33
  • My dictionary includes Ecclesiastical Latin. It gives sacerdos, presbyter and parochus, and it reserves flamen for the Roman gods. Apr 18, 2018 at 4:48
  • 1
    Flamen is definitely a pagan priest, which is not intended here. I think you need sacerdos, which can be either a pagan or a Christian (e.g. in Hebrews 7,15).
    – fdb
    Apr 18, 2018 at 9:54

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