Different ways to express sadness


New Member

I'm trying to understand to subtle differences between the words used to express sadness, such as:


My old school's dictionary (Gaffiot, in french) is not really helpful in giving accurate definitions, so I'm looking for insights.
Also maybe some use cases, if possible.
And of course feel free to add to this list if you think of other words.

In my current understanding, tristitia is a more generic term, just like sadness.
It may express any kind of sadness, from regular sadness to sorrow, without giving a specific context.

Maeror et maestitia would better translate to affliction.
But I cannot really get any specific difference between the two.

Luctus expresses mainly grief, the loss of someone.

And finally dolor implies a sens of deep mental or physical pain in the sadness.

I'm also wondering if there's some kind of ranking between these words.
Like: tristitia < maeror/maestitia < luctus < dolor
Or if there's no ranking at all, just different contexts.

Does that makes sense?
What's your take on this?



  • Aedilis

  • Patronus

Forcellini quotes the following passage from St Isidore's Differentiae: "Inter Tristitiam, et moestitiam. Moestitia cordis est, tristitia vultus. Moestum ergo vel moerentem animo dicimus, tristem aspectu. Item moestitia temporis est, et fit aliquando ex aliquo accidenti dolore. Tristitia vero, vitium naturae perpetuum est."


Civis Illustris

  • Civis Illustris

In addition to what Rothbard provided, you could take a look into Doderlein's dictionary of latin synonyms

Dolor; Tristitia; Mœstitia; Luctus. 1. Dolor (from θλᾶν, ἄθλιος?) denotes an inward feeling of grief, opp. to gaudium, Cic. Phil. xiii. 20. Suet. Cæs. 22, like ἄλγος; whereas tristitia, mœror, luctus, denote an utterance or external manifestation of this inward feeling. Tristitia and mœstitia are the natural and involuntary manifestation of it in the gestures of the body and in the countenance; luctus (ἀλυκτός), its artificial manifestation, designedly, and through the conventional signs of mourning, as cutting off the hair, mourning clothes, etc., at an appointed time, like πένθος. Mœror also serves for a heightened expression of dolor, and luctus of mœror and tristitia, as far as the manifestation is added to distinguish the feeling from it. Cic. Att. xii. 28. Mærorem minui; dolorem nec potui, nec si possem vellem. Phil. xi. 1. Magno in dolore sum, vel in mœrore potius, quem ex miserabili morte C. Trebonii accepimus. Plin. Ep. v. 9. Illud non triste solum, verum etiam luctuosum, quod Julius avitus decessit. Tac. Agr. 43. Finis vitæ ejus nobis luctuosus, amicis tristis; for relations only put on mourning. Tac. Ann. ii. 82. Quanquam nec insignibus lugentium abstinebant, altius animis mœrebant. Cic. Sext. 29, 39. Luctum nos hausimus majorem dolorem ille animi non 67 minorem. 2. Tristitia (from ταρακτός?) denotes the expression of grief in a bad sense, as gloom, fretfulness, and ill-humor, opp. to hilaratus, Cic. Att. xii. 40. Fin. v. 30. Cæcil. ap. Gell. xv. 9. Quintil. xi. 3, 67, 72, 79, 151; whereas mœstitia (from μύρω) denotes grief, as deserving of commiseration, as affliction, when a most just grief gives a tone of sadness, in opp. to lætus, Sall. Cat. f. Tac. Ann. i. 28. Tristitia is more an affair of reflection; mœstitia, of feeling. The tristis, like the truculentus, is known by his forbidding look, his wrinkled forehead, the contraction of his eyebrows; the mœstus, like the afflictus, by his lack-lustre eyes and dejected look. Tac. Hist. i. 82. Rarus per vias populus mœsta plebs; dejecti in terram militum vultus, ac plus tristitæ quam pœnitentiæ. Cic. Mur. 24, 49. Tristem ipsum, mœstos amicos: and Orat. 22, 74. (iii. 234.)

Dolor, see Cura.
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New Member

@rothbard That's quite enlightening, thanks a lot for sharing this!

@Adrian Wow, terrific reference, thanks a lot! I just saw it's also available in French, that's a direct order!


New Member

Thanks a lot to both of you for the references.

To sum a few things up, luctus is an external and artificial manifestation of sadness, used in mourning by the family.

Tristitia and maestitia are both external and involuntary manifestations, but maestitia is more connected to the feelings, representing a sadness that comes from the heart as opposed from another source.

So in my understanding, the deep and inner feeling of sadness can then only be translated by dolor.
It is the root feeling, that then turns into a specific manifestation (luctus, maestitia or tristitia), depending on the context.

But I'm still a little bit confused about maeror.

Doderlein first says that it is a manifestation of dolor, just as tristitia, maestitia and luctus.

Then he says:

Maeror also serves for a heightened expression of dolor [...] as far as the manifestation is added to distinguish the feeling from it.
As a non-native english speaker, I might be wrong, but I think that the french version of Doderlein's has a slightly different meaning, that would be best translated as:

Maeror also serves for a heightened expression of dolor [...] as far as the manifestation is added, instead of being opposed to it.
My own dictionary gives the following definition:

Sadness, deep affliction (with external manifestation)
So that would imply that maeror can also be this inner feeling of sadness, just like dolor, but stronger, making it have an external manifestation as well; making the inner feeling inseparable from its manifestation.

And finally there's this quote from Cicero, also in Doderlein's:

Mærorem minui; dolorem nec potui, nec si possem vellem.
Here he opposes maeror and dolor.
In the context of his letters, he seems to use maeror to mean mourning - a feeling that can fade away with time as opposed to the sadness that stays forever.

May I ask what's your take on this?
Is maeror a manifestation of dolor, or a stronger version of dolor?
Or maybe both depending on the context or era?

Anbrutal Russicus

Active Member

dolor ('emotional pain') is an invisible feeling. maeror ('grief') is the visible manifestation of dolor. maestitia is the state of someone who is visibly afflicted by emotional pain, a sadness, depression. trīstitia is not connected with emotional pain. lūctus is the vocal act of mourning or lamentation, weeping; sorrow.
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  • Censor

  • Patronus

cum doleam maestitia afflictus maereo


New Member

Thanks a lot folks for all these references!

Everything almost make sense, but I'm still a bit confused about maeror.

Most sources seem to agree it is a manifestation of dolor.
It is obviously a strong, deep affliction; a deep mental pain that is so strong that it becomes visible.

But its source is still dolor; dolor is the grief itself while maeror is an outward sense of grief.

But then we have this in Hill's:

Maeror differs from "Dolor" in being confined to mental pain, in denoting deeper distress, and in never expressing the cause which excites it.
That confuses me.
How do you understand this?