How to write a letter in Latin?

By Hurin, in 'English to Latin Translation', Feb 6, 2009.

  1. Hurin New Member

    Hello all!

    I would like to write some letters in Latin. I believe one of the best ways to practice the language is to have a pen-friend. For start, I would like to send a letter to a catholic monk in Austria (since I don't speak German, and he doesn't speak English nor Croatian - Latin is the only solution ;) ).

    Can someone tell me (or give me the link) how to start and end a letter in Latin? How to say, for example "Dear Mr. Smith", or "Sincerely".

    Thank you!
  2. Decimvs Aedilis

    • Aedilis
    From my text:

    The salutation in Latin is actually a complete sentence. For example:

    M.Caelius M. Tullio salutem dicit. - Marcus Caelius to Marcus Tullius "health" (d.o.) says. Or in other words, Marcus Caelius says hello to Marcus Tullius.

    observations: 1. The person writing the letter is in the nominative case and is the subject of dicit. The person to whom the latter is being written is in the dative case and is in the indirect object. This common salutation is often abbreviated. For example:

    M.Caelius M.Tullio s.d. or M.Caelius M.Tullio sal.

    The first sentence after a salutation often takes a standard form: Si vales, bene est. - If you are strong, it is well.
  3. Matthaeus Vemortuicida strenuus

    • Civis Illustris
    There is also another salutatory version, e.g.: Marcus Tullius Catonem [suum] salvere iubet, lit. Marcus Tullius bids [his friend] Cato hello.
    In Seneca's letters to Lucilius, it's always : SENECA LVCILIO SVO S.
    If you would like to express an exuberant salutation, then you could add S.P.D. (salutem plurimam dicit), i.e., sends many greetings.
  4. Quasus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Águas Santas
    This is a page in Russian containing some advice of how to write a Latin letter, at the bottom of it you can find a few samples of letters. And I'm going to summarize the recommendations.

    1. The salutation is generally in the third person:

    Gaius Licoppe Sebastino Conoir salutem plurimam dicit.
    Sodalibus in Latinitate odservandissimis salutem plurimam dico. (1st person, rare)

    The formula of salutatations is usually based on the expression salutem dare (dicere, nuntiare), and since it's quite common, it is very often abbreviated:

    Sal. – salutem (dicit)
    Sl. pl. – salutem plurimam (dicit)
    s.p.d. ( – salutem plurimam dicit (or dat)
    s.d.q.p. – salutem dicit (dat) quam plurimam etc

    At the beginning of a letter the abbreviation

    S.V.B.E.(E).V. – Si vales bene est, (ego) valeo.

    often can be found. These formulas are traditional, but in principle it's possible to begin a letter directly with an address:

    Domine mi honoratissime,…
    Pater Domine Caelestis,…

    2. Address

    Latin lacks for a special form of the courteous address, that is the pronoun tu is constantly applied. In order to show respect this pronoun as well as the words that depend on it can be capitalized:

    Deus Te Tuosque tueatur!

    At that such words as Pater, Spectissimus, Carissimus [also peritissimus, illustris, doctissimus, optimus - Q] can be used. The adjectives often are in the superlative (although not necessary).

    Non-Roman names are often latinized. Don't forget the vocative!

    3. The farewell
    A Latin letter is usually concluded with wishings of health and prosperity:

    Vale, vige, vire, flore!
    Vive valeque!
    Cura, ut optime valeas!
    Dies sint tibi laetitiae ac successuum pleni!
    Curet Deus, ut quam optime valeas!
    Te tueatur Omnepotens per annos innumeros!
    Angeli sint tibi prope!
    Superi te tueantur!

    4. The subscription

    Tuus Nicolaus
    Tuus et Vester Аntonius
    Totus Tuus Andreas
    Amicissimus tuus Robertus
    In caritate tuus…
    Sincere tuus…
    Medullitus Te salutat…
    Te amplector…

    5. The date

    In a Latin letter the city / town (don't forget the locative!), the day of the month, the month and the year are commonly stated. It is preceded by a form of the verb dare: dabam (sc. epistulam), datum, data (sc. epistula):

    Datum Romae die 6 Iunii a. D. 1999.
    Data Aponi die 27 mens. Aug. anno 1998.

    This form is used at the end of the letter before or after the subscription. But if the date is at the beginning of the letter, it is abbreviated as possible:

    Kal. Iul. a. MM (Kalendis Iuliis anno MM)
    Alexandriae, d. Iun. XXV a. 2000.
  5. Hurin New Member

    Thank you very much Quasus!

    This has been most helpful!
  6. Matthaeus Vemortuicida strenuus

    • Civis Illustris
    Mi Quase, quidnam tu hoc 'MIM' intelligi vis? Fortasse '2000' tibi 'MM' scribendum esset?
  7. Quasus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Águas Santas
    Arbitror te recte dicere. Bonum est quod hoc animadvertisti! Non meapte manu illa exempla scripsi, verum ex eae paginae transcripsi. Eum lapsum emendaturum sum.
  8. Matthaeus Vemortuicida strenuus

    • Civis Illustris
    Hunc lapsum emendaturus sum.

    Em igitur nondum emendavisti? :?
  9. Quasus Civis Illustris

    • Civis Illustris
    Águas Santas
    Gratias tibi iterum ago. Unum lapsum emendavi, alterum autem non aspexi. Attentior esse debeo. Illud "emendaturum" turpe relinquam, ut me pudeat. :oops:
  10. Chamaeleo New Member

    Here's another point:

    If we look at the letters between Trajan and Pliny the Younger, during Pliny's governorship of Bithynia & Pontus, we can note that he salutes the emperor each time with:


    and the replies come back with:


    The subordinate provides himself with a prænomen, and the addressee with his title of ‘commander’. His master has no need for such things. He is more concise and to the point. There is a similar difference of style in the very content of the letters.
  11. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    One other detail: Some classical letter writers use epistolary tenses, a pretence where they set the tense of verbs from the perspective of the person reading it, e.g. using imperfect tibi scribebam to mean "I am writing to you".

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