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Latin/Somnum, Somnia


Hello Michael,

I would be extremely grateful, If you would be so kind to help me out to understand 'somnia' and 'somnum' in this poem:

Somnia ne cures; nam mens humana, quod optat,
Dum vigilans sperat, per somnum cernit id ipsum.

I think somnia means a dream, but which one (number)?
1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream: as
a : a visionary creation of the imagination : daydream
b : a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality : reverie
c : an object seen in a dreamlike state : vision
3: something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality <the new car is a dream to operate>
4 a : a strongly desired goal or purpose <a dream of becoming president>
 b : something that fully satisfies a wish : ideal <a meal that was a gourmet's dream>

If somnia means a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep, but then how can I say I have a dream? Or the woman of my dreams? Or believe in your dream? A dream that Martin Luther King Jr. had, or Neil Armstrong, as a young boy. And I think we all have a dream. I have a dream that one day I will be able to read Medea in its original language.

In my own research, I have found these phrases: Aegri somnia/ Qui habet somnium, loquitur ut somnium/ Amans quod suspicatur, vigilans somniat/ Etiam dormiens somniat. I think in these phrases 'somnium' is not a 'dream' I talk about.

Is that a stupid question? I'm sorry, if so ...

I thank You in advance for helping me.

Somnia ne cures; nam mens humana, quod optat,
Dum vigilans sperat, per somnum cernit id ipsum.

Don't have a care about dreams; for the human mind
While it is awake hopes for what it wants; in sleep it sees that very thing.

somnus, somni (masculine, second declension)
somnium, somnii (neuter, second declension) in the sense of #1
with perhaps a some sense of #4 by metaphor

"Somnia" in line one is the accusative plural of "somnium"
the direct object of the verb "cures".
"Somnum" in line two is the accusative singular of "somnus"
the object of the preposition "per"

When you are translating from one language to another, you pay attention to the THOUGHT, not to the WORD.  English is notorious for using one word to denote many meanings (four in your example above).  Latin is much more precise than English, which is why Latin is so useful for law, medicine, science, etc.

Thus, meaning #2 (a daydream), #3 (a wonder), and #4 (a wish) would all be expressed by different words in Latin, whereas they are all mixed up in English.

Your poem is primarily contrasting a state of wakefulness from a state of dreaming in sleep.


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Classical Languages (Greek, Latin). Conversant with Classical Greek and all forms of the Latin language: classical, mediaeval, and modern.


I have 50 years of teaching at all levels of Latin from high school through university postgraduate. I read, write, and speak Latin daily.

American Classical League.

A.B., M.A., D.Phil. (h.c.) in Classical Languages (Greek, Latin).

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