Classical Salutations and Closings
in Greek and Roman Letters,
Adapted to Electronic Mail

John Opsopaus


I. Introduction

Throughout Classical Pagan Antiquity, the salutations and closings of Greek and Latin letters (Gk. epistole or grammata, Latin epistola or litterae) assumed regular forms. In later centuries, these forms began to break down, but that is not my concern here. Here I have summarized the regular forms and included some comments on their use in electronic communication. Greek texts are shown in Roman transcription and in
{beta-codes}. (See A Brief Guide to Ancient Greek Pronunciation for pronunciation suggestions.)

II. Salutatio

General

Salutations were generally expressed in the third person (as though the letter or its bearer were doing the greeting); in the 2nd-4th centuries CE there were some experiments with using in letters the imperatives (khaire, salve) that were used in everyday speech, but they were abandoned. However, just because they didn't work for ancient letter writers doesn't mean they won't work for us!

A notation such as <recipient-dat> means the recipient's name and other attributes in the dative case. For example, "to his friend Apollonius" is Apollonioi toi philoi {)*APOLLWNI/W| TW=| FI/LW|} in Greek, or Apollonio suo amico in Latin. Whether you want to bother learning these datives is up to you!

Greek

The regular Greek salutation uses an infinitive (khairein, to greet) with an omitted finite verb:
<sender-nom> <recipient-dat> khairein {XAI/REIN}.
= <sender> sends <recipient> greetings.
To show deference, the sender's name might be placed last. Hence,
<recipient-dat> khairein {XAI/REIN} <sender-nom>.
= To <recipent>, <sender> sends greetings.
For example,
Areia Apollonioi khairein. (Areia sends Apollonios greetings)
Cynndarai khairein Apollonios. (To Cynndara, Apollonios sends greetings)
hekastois khairein Apollonios. (To each, Apollonios sends greetings)
These salutations are indirect forms of everyday spoken salutations (for greeting or parting): khaire {XAI=RE} (singular), khairete {XAI/RETE} (plural), with the literal meaning "Rejoice," "Fare well," "Hail."

Adverbs can be used to modify the greeting, e.g.:

polla {POLLA\} = many
pleista {PLEI=STA} = much
For example Nom Dat polla kharein {POLLA\ XAI/REIN} = "N sends D many greetings."

In more formal (bureaucratic) correspondence the following was sometimes used:

<recipient-dat> para {PARA\} <sender-gen> = To <recipient> from <sender>.
For example,
Tois sebousi para Apolloniou
= To the Sebontes (Worshipful ones) from Apollonios

Latin

The ordinary Latin salutation comprises <sender-nom>, <recipient-dat> and a phrase, which was often (extremely) abbreviated, stating that the sender says Salus (health, well-being) to the recipient. The corresponding common spoken greeting would be Salve (singular) or Salvete (plural) with the literal meanings "Be in good health" or "Be well." The following will give the pattern of phrases used with <sender-nom> and <recipient-dat>:
salutem dicit = says "salus," sends greetings
salutem. ("dicit" understood)
salutem plurimam (or multam) dicit = says "much salus," sends many greetings
S.P.D. = salutem plurimam dicit
S.D. = salutem dicit
S. = salutem
The order of the <sender-nom>, <recipient-dat> and the rest of the salutation can vary. The verb dicit is commonly omitted, except in the abbreviated form (D.). Thus we have written salutations such as these:
Cynndarae Apollonius salutem. (To Cynndara, Apollonius sends greetings.)
Areia S.P.D. Apollonio. (Areia sends many greetings to Apollonius)
Omnibus salutem dicit Apollonius. (Apollonius sends greeting to everyone)
In later times, any wish or promise might be expressed by a phrase in the accusative case (analogous to salutem). For example, bonam fortunam (good fortune) or excusationes (apologies).

III. Formula Valetudinis

General

The salutation was often followed by a wish of good health, which might be combined syntactically with the salutation.

Greek

A short wish might be appended to the salutation, and so would also be an infinitive. For example, after khairein:
kai errosthai {KAI\ E)RRW=SQAI} = and wishes soundness/health
kai hugiainein {KAI\ H(GIAI/NEIN} = and wishes health
The infinitive might be preceded or followed by dia pantos {DIA\ PANTO/S} = continued (through all time).

Other wishes might stand as an independent sentence, for example:

eukhomai se hugiainein {EU)/XOMAI/ SE U(GIAI/NEIN} = I pray you are well.
A longer common Greek formula was:
ei errosai (or hugiaineis), eu an ekhoi, kai autos d' hugiainon.
{EI) E)/RRWSAI [or U(GIAI/NEIS], EU)= A)\N E)/XOI, KAI\ AU)TO\S D' U(GI/AINON}
= If you are sound (or healthy), that is well; I myself am healthy.

Latin

A common Latin formula was:
si vales, bene est, ego valeo = If you are sound, that is well; I'm sound.
This was often abbreviated S.V.B.E.E.V.! Another:
si vales, gaudeo. ego valeo recte.
= If you are well, then I'm happy. I am right well.

IV. Closing

General

In both Greek and Latin, closings take the form of a wish for well-being in the imperative, possibly preceded by a prayer for well-being. In ancient letters, the closing was typically followed by the date, but that is not necessary in electronic communication, unless there is some reason to emphasize the date of writing. The writer's name was not put in the closing.

Greek

As a simple imperative we have:
erroso {E)/RRWSO} (sing.), errosthe {E)/RRWSQE} (plur.)
= be healthy/sound/vigorous, fare well
These are more formal closings:
eutukhei {EU)TU/XEI} (sing.), eutukheite {EU)TUXEI=TE} (plur.) = be prosperous, fare well
dieutukhei {DIEUTU/XEI} (sing.), dieutukheite {DIEUTUXEI=TE} (plur.) = be continuously prosperous
The closing may be preceded or replaced by a prayer:
errosthai (or hugiainein) se eukhomai (or boulomai)
{E)RRW=SQAI/ [or U(GIAI/NEIN] SE EU)/XOMAI [or BOU/LOMAI]}
= I pray (or wish) you to be sound/healthy.

khairiei sautou epimelomenos {XAIRIEI= SAUTOU= E)PIMELO/MENOS}
= Favor me by taking care of yourself (sing.).

seautou epimelou hin hugiaineis {SEAUTOU= E)PIMELOU= I(/N U(GIAI/NH|S}
= Take care to stay well (sing.).

The recipient's name in the vocative could be added to these. The closing wish for health might be preceded by ta d' alla {TA\ T' A)/LLA} = for the rest. So, typically,
ta d' alla, seautou epimelou hin hugiaineis
= For the rest, take care to stay well.
Finally,
erromenon se hoi theoi diaphulattoien = May the Gods guard your well-being.

Latin

The Latin closings are essentially translations of the Greek:
vale (sing.), valete (plur.) = be sound, vigorous, healthy; fare well.

cura ut valeas (sing.), curate ut valeatis (plur.)
= take care that you fare well.

di te incolumem custodiant (sing.), di vos incolumes custodiant (plur.)
= May the Gods guard your safety.

Adverbs can be used for modification, e.g. bene vale = good bye.

V. References

  1. Lanham, Carol Dana. Salutatio Formulas in Latin Letters to 1200: Syntax, Style, and Theory. Munchen: Arbeo-Gesellschaft, 1975, pp. 7-22, 69-75.
  2. White, John L. Light from Ancient Letters. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986, pp. 193-213.

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Last updated: 2006-01-20