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Suppose I wanted to talk about good deeds. Generally this means acts done by someone for selfless reasons, solely to benefit others.

For a literal translation I could go with bona facta, but the phrase in English is very idiomatic, and you seldom see the word "deed" otherwise. (Similarly, you seldom hear of "bad deeds".)

Is there a better way to express this concept in Latin? If not, what's the closest equivalent? I'm mainly interested in Classical Latin, but an Ecclesiastic equivalent would also be interesting (and probably easier to find).

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beneficium -i, pl. -a (also benificium, and beneficum) a good deed, a well-intentioned act; benefaction, kindness, favor, benefit, service

beneficium dare, accipere (Cicero, Sallust)
“pro maleficio beneficium reddere,” Terence

maleficium -i, pl. -a a bad deed, ill-intentioned act, an evil deed, misdeed, wickedness, offence, crime.

“committere / admittere maleficium," Cicero

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    These are good words, but do you have citations for where they were used, or what exactly they meant? – Draconis Aug 7 '18 at 17:06
  • +1 Good ones! But my impression (I could be wrong) is that beneficium implies some kind of material effect on others that not all good deeds have. E.g. is telling the truth a good deed? Is it a beneficium? – Rafael Aug 7 '18 at 18:38
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For what its worth, St. Thomas Aquinas uses the following:

  • For deed, actus and actio, the latter seeming preferred, at least as per ST I-II, Q. 18, Art. 1.
  • For good, bonum/-a, and for bad, malum/-a.

Actiones are said by St. Thomas both bonae and malae, depending on... well, I won't spoil the book for you. Examples:

Ergo actiones humanae secundum circumstantias sunt bonae vel malae (Ibid., a. 3 s. c.)
Non ergo secundum finem dicitur actio bona vel mala. (Ibid., a. 4 arg. 2

But I fail to quickly find a place where an actio is said bona or mala without the mediation of the verb esse. Instead, I found a plain actus bonus as the subject of a sentence:

Omnis actus bonus concordat rationi et legi aeternae (Ibid., q. 21 a. 1 co.)

Actus bonus is also used by Aquinas in De Malo, and apparently by Okham.


Actus meaning deed, as for I could research quickly, doesn't seem to be Classical (its meanings, according to L&S being much more specific). Among the words listed by L&S meaning deed I've been able to find, these are the relative maximum frequencies:

  • Actum: 14K, with a lot of law specific meanings increasing the number
  • Factum: 25K, also mixed with other meanings

Actio gives 1.6K and is not listed as meaning deed, but the dictionary entry includes act and action among its meanings.

Unfortunately, after a quick search, I haven't been able to find neither acta nor facta qualified as good or bad in Classical texts.


Conclusion: after this quick (and blatantly non-exhaustive) research, I'd go for actus bonus in ecclesiastical/medieval Latin. As for classical Latin, I'm inclined to think there is no closed expression and a circumlocution is to be preferred (e.g., avoid talking about good deeds, by using things like to act well, do good, etc., not sure witch one, though)

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