The other day, I came across a poster from the 1700s warning people of Italy of the plague. I've copied down the first paragraph of the message, taking the liberty of replacing long-s's with normal s's:

Accertati gl’illustrissimi Signori Conservatori di Sanità della strage cagionata dal mal del Vajolo ne Greggi esisteni a pascolo sopra le Montagne di Calf, Tremonzio, e Valceruteno dette il Monte Vione distretto di Valle Camonica hanno determinato di devenire a soliti opportuni provvedimenti diretti non meno alla pubblica, che alla privata discesa de Greggi di questo Dominio Serenissimo da tanto tempo, la Dio Merce, illesi, e sani.

I do not speak very good Italian, so I've very roughly translated the above using an Italian-English dictionary:

Make certain the illustrious Conservatoires of Health of the massacre caused by the variolate ache and Greggi existed in pasture over the Mountains of Calf, Tremonzio, and Valceruteno said the Monte Vione district of Valle Camonica have determined to deviate to usual appropriate measures directed no less to the public, than to the private descent of Greggi of this very Serene Domain for so long, the God Merce, unharmed, and healthy.

This translation certainly seems to give a common theme, but upon closer inspection is somewhat nonsense. I think I have the general themes of the sentences down, but the grammar and structure wrong. What am I missing here? Is it a product of the archaic speech, or a bad translation?

  • 1
    Welcome to Italian.SE!
    – Charo
    May 14, 2018 at 19:36
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    High quality content in this post. This page is a perfect example of how translation questions on this site should look in my view. It is about a sentence which is not trivial to translate with a vocabulary or Google Translate; the asker gave some context and a first attempt at translation and elaborated on where his/her problem is. The answer by @DenisNardin provides both a literal translation and one which flows better, and discusses all the difficult key points with care and detail. I just wanted to congratulate both of you. May 14, 2018 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


The sentence is in a very formal Italian, with many implicit subordinates that is not easy to translate in English (a language rather uncomfortable with complex syntax). In particular some adjectives that are quite far from the noun they are referring to are related back to it thanks to the concordance in gender and number (e.g. the illesi e sani) and the same holds for subject and verb (Conservatori and hanno determinato).

The word order also is different from the standard English one. Moreover, you missed the meaning of a couple of words (Greggi, herds and Mercé, mercy). The archaic orthography of some other words of course doesn't help.

The main problem here is that it is not enough to know the meaning of the words, you need to be steeped in the syntax of the language, which is the art of putting those words in relation with each other, else the sentence becomes, as the Romans said, arena sine calce, sand without lime, which cannot be used to build walls.

The following is my best shot at a literal translation

The Most Illustrious Lords Protectors of Health[1], after having been informed of the carnage caused by the smallpox in the Herds puts to pasture on the Mountains of Calf, Tremonzio and Valceruteno called Monte Vione, in the district of Val Camonica, determined to resort to the usual appropriate measures with the aim of the public as well as private descent of the Herds of this for a long time, thanks to God's mercy, Most Serene Domain unharmed and healthy.

Note the big (and frankly ungrammatical in English) aside starting with after having been informed and ending with Val Camonica. Also, I'm not quite sure how to convey it in English but the final words unharmed and healthy are referred to the Herds, not to the Domain. If I had to make it in more understandable English I would turn the sentences a bit to make

After having been informed of the carnage caused by the smallpox in the Herds puts to pasture on the Mountains of Calf, Tremonzio and Valceruteno called Monte Vione, in the district of Val Camonica, the Most Illustrious Lords Protectors of Health determined to resort to the usual appropriate measures with the aim of making all the Herds come downhill, unharmed and healthy, both public and private, of this heretofore Most Serene Domain, thanks to God's mercy.

It's still not great, but I don't think I can make it more legible without chopping off some formalities (e.g. the thanks to God's mercy).

[1] Lord Protectors of Health is a literal and a bit silly translation of Signori Conservatori della Sanità, but it is probably just some title for the public officials in charge of health matters

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    Thank you so much! The next section opens with the word “Esseqvendo”, which I cannot find anywhere. Do you have any idea what it means?
    – Nico A
    May 14, 2018 at 19:14
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    I'm afraid that's not enough. That's the problem with these very formal sentences, sometimes the key word to understand it is buried after three lines of stuff.
    – Denis Nardin
    May 14, 2018 at 19:34
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    @TheFox You're mixing up us and vs. The words are, respectively, Divino (Divine), umanità (humanity), diversi (numerous), and dilatando (spread) [translations only in this context, in different contexts other translations are appropriate]. Are you sure you're reading the typeface correctly? These old character sets can be very weird from time to time.
    – Denis Nardin
    May 14, 2018 at 19:58
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    “Dominio Serenissimo” refers to the Republic of Venice, which ruled over Valcamonica for some centuries.
    – egreg
    May 14, 2018 at 20:30
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