Having read a question (and answer) about flies flying, I started to wonder whether flies would really fly with the verb volare. I had always somehow imagined that volare referred to more elegant and graceful flight, such as that of birds or mythological characters, rather than flapping small wings at very high frequency and making a buzzing sound like an insect. I may well have misunderstood the nuance, and the point of this question is to set that straight.

So, which Latin verb(s) do insects fly with in classical Latin? Is volare applicable to them as well, or is some other choice more idiomatic? A quote or two from classical authors would be great. I assume the Romans would mention a fly flying somewhere in the extant literature.

2 Answers 2


I believe volare is used indeed with various insects, such as bees, flies, and cicadas. From the HP corpus:

Publius Ovidius Naso, Ars Amatoria 1.95, 1.96:

Granifero solitum cum vehit ore cibum,
Aut ut apes saltusque suos et olentia nactae
Pascua per flores et thyma summa volant,
Sic ruit ad celebres cultissima femina ludos:

L. Iunius Moderatus Columella, De Re Rustica

sed quotiensque mel 9.1 aliusue sucus remediis adhibetur, circumlinendus erit oculus
pice liquida cum oleo, ne a muscis infestetur. nam et ad dulcedinem et ad odorem mellis aliorumque medicamentorum non eae [i.e. muscae] solae, sed et apes aduolant.

Gaius Plinius Secundus, Naturalis Historia 11.96.2, 11.96.3:

Insectorum autem quaedam binas gerunt pinnas, ut muscae, quaedam quaternas, ut apes. membranis et cicadae volant.

Apuleius Madaurensis, Metamorphoses 10.15.8:

... nec utique cellulam suam tam immanes inuolare muscas, ut olim Harpyiae fuere, quae diripiebant Phineias dapes.

I've looked at all other entries meaning "to fly" in my dictionary, and it seems (composite) forms of volare are the only ones used with insects; that is, the other ones all seemed to be used poetically c.q. metaphorically for flying, such as curro, findo, labor and a swarm of others.


There's "avolo" (fly off); "provolo" (fly out); "subvolo" (fly up). in Betty Halifax's book of (elementary) translations, remember; "vespa ter volavit circum puellam." Prosaic but effective.

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