Deponent and Semi-Deponent
Verbs, Expressions of Time and Place
The majority of deponent verbs
are in the first conjugation, and all of those are regular.
videri “seem” is
really just the passive of videre “see”, but merits inclusion
with deponent verbs because of the active sense of its passive form.
(Despite appearances, the English verbs “see” and “seem” are
not cognate with each other.) Since videri is almost always constructed
with an infinitive (e.g. felix videtur esse porcus, “The pig
seems to be happy”), it will not appear often in the exercises until
the full range of infinitives has been introduced in Chapter 21.
ulcisci means both “to
exact vengeance from” and “to exact vengeance on behalf of”. It
seems a pity to have to rely on context to determine which of these
contrasting senses is intended, as in Antonius Octavianusque mortem
Caesaris ulti sunt “Antony and Octavian avenged the death of Caesar”,
but Antonius Octavianusque Brutum Cassiumque ulti sunt “Antony
and Octavian took vengeance upon Brutus and Cassius”. It is hard not
to sympathize with St. Augustine’s suggestion that the deponent verb
faenerari should not be used in much this way, meaning both “lend
at interest” and “borrow at interest”: “it is clearer to use
faenerare [sc. the active form] for one of these senses.
Why should we care what the grammarians want? It is better that you
understand what we mean with our barbarism than that you be left bewildered
by our subtlety” (On Psalm
36.26). Augustine will have been the more frustrated since faenerari
(-e) actually does occur in both the deponent and active forms,
but both voices bear both senses.
oriri is listed as a
fourth conjugation verb because of its present infinitive, but it might
just as properly be listed in the third i-stem conjugation; note
ortus, not oritus. St. Augustine declares that he is unable
to say whether cupi or cupiri is the present infinitive
passive of cupio (Letters 3.5; in fact, its principle
parts are normally given as cupio, cupere, cupivi,
cupitum 3 i-stem).
Ancient grammarians frequently
quote Julius Caesar’s observation that mortuus is an anomaly
because the stem ends in a u, whereas the stem of the equivalent
form of all other verbs ends in an s, t or x. St.
Isidore (Etymologies 11.2.33) goes so far as to say that it is
not certain what part of speech mortuus is. Since mortus
is, in fact, occasionally found in inscriptions, that form may have
been current in colloquial Latin.
mortuus must often be
translated as “dead” rather than “having died”. heri in senatu
mortuus est Caesar might best be translated as “Caesar died yesterday
in the senate”, since “Caesar is dead yesterday in the senate”
makes little sense, but corpus Caesaris mortui in senatu heri vidi
most naturally means “Yesterday I saw the body of dead Caesar in the
senate”. Many adjectives developed from participles (discussed in
full in Chapter 19). For example, the sense “high” for altus,
-a, -um is an extension of its sense “(well) nourished”,
as the perfect participle passive of alo, alere, alui,
altum 3 “nourish”.
The passive form of the present
infinitive fieri is anomalous; no other Latin verb combines a
passive infinitive with active finite forms, and no verb combines an
active infinitive with passive finite forms.
facio itself has no
present passive system. Compounds, however, such as efficio “cause”,
perficio “complete”, reficio “repair” are found in
the present passive system in the normal way. The common interficio
“kill” is not often so used and interfio etc. is extremely
rare ; a synonym (Latin has many verbs and phrases meaning “kill”)
or an active form of a verb meaning “die” is used instead. Similarly,
passive forms of perdo, perdere, perdidi, perditum
3 “destroy” hardly ever occur, other than in the participial form
perditus, -a, -um, the passive sense “be destroyed”
being supplied by pereo, perire, perii “perish”.
Similarly, verbs of fearing
tend not to be used in the passive. As a translation of “The wolf
is feared by the pigs”, porci lupum timent or lupus porcos
terret is much preferable to
. lupus a porcis metuitur
Despite their similarity in
form and parallel morphological variation, audeo and gaudeo
are not cognate. gaudeo is the ancestor of “rejoice”: with
the abandonment of the neuter gender, gaudia, the acc. pl. of
gaudium, -i neut. “joy”, was taken over into the Romance
languages as a fem. sing. noun, the g was softened, and the
au was transformed to o; hence the Italian gioia and
the French joie. As Voltaire is credited with saying, in etymology
consonants count for very little and vowels for nothing at all. (This
observation was satirical, but in the 18th century, before the development
of IndoEuropean linguistics, it still had a strong validity.)
A famous mnemonic will help
with memorizing the list of nine irregular adjectives: UNUS NAUTA
(Unus, Nullus, Ullus,
Solus, Neuter, Alius,
Uter, Totus, Alter,
“one sailor”). The genitive and dative singular endings -ius
and -i are already familiar from the declension of unus
in Chapter 10, and will be found again in many pronouns in Chapters
17 and 18. (This affinity indicates the origin of many of these adjectives
The genitive singular of
alius is problematic. Some Roman grammarians were troubled by the
improbability of the form aliius (for all genders; compare the
reluctance to use comparative adjectives of the sort piior [see
the Fetutinae to Chapter 12]) and by the potential for confusion
with the nom. sing. masc. alius. Some preferred to use the endings
-i, -ae, -i; others, perhaps rather strangely,
maintained that it should borrow the form alterius from alter,
even though this involves a conflation of two distinct terms, “of
the other” and “of another”; others went so far as
to deny that it properly had a genitive singular at all, suggesting
that the adjective alienus, -a, -um “belonging
to someone else” should be used instead (e.g. pecunia aliena
“someone else’s money”).
nemo is rarely used
of women, but, since it is never qualified by an adjective, the question
of gender does not often arise. nemo
virum tam fideliter amavit could conceivably mean “No woman has
ever loved her husband so faithfully”, but femina nulla or
simply nulla would be more normal. The declension of nemo
is not fixed; neminis and nemine are sometimes found as
the genitive and ablative respectively, and the plural forms nulli,
nullae, nulla etc. are not uncommon. nemo occurs occasionally
as an adjective, equivalent to nullus; Plautus uses it of a woman
at Casina 182 vicinam neminem amo magis quam te “I love
no female neighbor more than you”. He was probably not thinking of
the origin of the word as a compound of the negative prefix ne-
and homo (“not a [single] person”) when he wrote nemo
homo umquam ita arbitratus est “No one has ever thought like that”
at Persa 211.
hodie is probably derived
from hoc die “on this day”, an ablative of the “time during
It is not actually certain
that deus and θεός are cognate. deus is, however,
closely related to Ζεύς (Zeus).
-ae fem. 1 “beer” (cf. Spanish cerveza) was thought
by the Romans to be derived from Ceres, the name of the goddess
of crops, esp. cereals, but it is actually a Celtic word. On the other
hand, despite the Romans’ scorn for alcoholic drinks other than wine
[the technique of distillation was unknown in antiquity], the term for
“beer” in many languages (French bière, Ital. birra,
Germ. Bier) may be cognate with the Latin verb bibere
Pliny devotes a whole book
to vines and wines, but only one paragraph to beer, which was regarded
as a drink for barbarians: “The peoples in the West have their own
sort of alcoholic drink [as opposed to wine], made of grain soaked
in water. How marvellously devious vice can be: a means has been found
by which even water can make people drunk!” (Historia Naturalis
14.149, a particularly daft piece of sanctimonious rhetoric – ancient
wine may have been rather syrup-like, but even it was made with water).
According to legend, an Etruscan
named Arruns had been the first to import wine to Gaul. He wanted to
entice the Gauls with this unfamiliar luxury to cross the Alps and attack
Clusium, because a nobleman from there had seduced his wife (Livy,
History of Rome 5.33). By contrast to the Gauls, who took avidly
to wine, the Germans, though notoriously heavy drinkers, did not permit
the importation of wine, for fear of its debilitating effects on both
the body and the mind (Caesar, Gallic War 4.2).
Expressions of Time
The Romans divided each 24-hour
period into twelve hours of daylight and four night-watches, regardless
of the seasonal changes and regional differences in the amount of daylight.
Guard-duty on a winter’s night on the Antonine Wall in southern Scotland,
at the northern extremity of the empire, must have been particularly
onerous. “Noon” is derived from nona hora “the ninth hour”,
and meant originally 3 p.m.
The Romans lacked the means
to calculate small units of time: facilius inter philosophos quam
inter horologia conveniet “Philosophers will more readily be in
agreement than will clocks” (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis 2). Similarly,
of course, they did not have the technology required to gauge heat,
the first reliable thermometer not being devised till the early 18th
century, by G.D. Fahrenheit.
The rather imprecise terms
minuta, -ae fem. 1 and minutum, -i neut. 2
(both meaning “a small thing”) were adopted by the 2nd century AD
to denote the sixtieth part of a unit in mathematics and astronomy,
and St. Augustine uses the expression minutae minutarum to denote
the result of the second operation of sexagesimal division, hence the
In 27 BC, Augustus’ second-in-command
set the inscription M. AGRIPPA L. F. COS. TERTIVM FECIT “Marcus
Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time constructed [this
building]” over the entrance to the Pantheon. (It is hard to conceive
of such self-advertisement displayed so prominently on any religious
building nowadays.) In his third consulship twenty five years earlier,
Pompey had agonized whether to inscribe COS. TERTIUM (accusative
of “time how long”) or COS. TERTIO (ablative of “time when”)
in the dedicatory inscription to his new temple of Victory, famous for
its theater. After receiving conflicting advice from several experts,
he finally asked Cicero for his opinion. Cicero did not want to cause
offence by contradicting either side, so, sitting comfortably on the
fence, he suggested that Pompey should write simply COS. TERT.
When the wall behind the stage later collapsed, even that four-letter
compromise was removed, being replaced by the simple numeral III
(Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 10.1).
abhinc annos quinque:
this word-order, abhinc, then the noun and finally the number,
is the most frequent, but not invariable. abhinc is an
adverb. The ablative might have been expected in this idiom, but it
is rarely so used.
Expressions of Place
There are no towns or small
islands in the 4th or 5th declension. The only noun from either of these
declensions with a locative is the irregular domus.
Locative is derived
from locus, -i masc. 2 “place”. The locative case
was once much more widely used in Latin, but had largely fallen into
neglect by the classical period.
As well as domus,
humus and rus, other common nouns are occasionally found
with a locative function. Particularly notable is the phrase domi
militiaeque “at home and on military service”, a stock antithesis
which speaks volumes about the early Romans’ attitude to the outside
It is not confusing that the
ablative (place from which) and locative (place in which) should so
often be identical, since sense demands that the ablative should be
accompanied by a verb of motion, whereas the locative cannot be.
Prepositions can be used with
the name of a town or of a small island, but the idea of direction is
then more general. For example, Graeci ad Troiam venerunt means “The
Greeks came to Troy”, but implies that they did not actually get into
the city. Cicero says that, in writing ad Piraea, he is thinking of
the general region around the harbor of Athens rather than specifically
of the Piraeus as a town (Letters to Atticus 7.3). Not everyone observed
the niceties of this distinction; Suetonius notes that the emperor Augustus,
who, though not the arbiter of style that Julius Caesar had been, was
no philistine, often added prepositions where normal usage did not require
Nearly 1,500 years later, Sigismund,
who was Holy Roman Emperor 1433-1437, reacted to criticism about his
careless use of Latin with the notorious retort ego rex Romanus sum,
et supra grammaticam “I am the Roman king, and above grammar”.
Augustus, acutely aware that Julius Caesar’s supposed arrogance had
contributed to his assassination, will not have intended any such suggestion
that he was supra grammaticam.
London is mentioned in classical
literary texts only once, at Tacitus, Annals 14.33, recording the utter
destruction of the town by Boudicca in AD 60/61. Since London was founded
in the wake of the Roman invasion of AD 43, the Caesar in the sentence
Caesar Londinii est will not be Julius Caesar.
The tiny Greek island of Delos
is famous out of all proportion to its size, since it was the birth-place
of Apollo and Artemis. The love-elegists Gallus, Propertius and Tibullus
wrote about their mistresses under the names Lycoris, Cynthia
and Delia respectively, sobriquets which not only disguised their
identity but also associated them with Apollo, the god of poetry:
Lycoris evokes Lycaeus, the “Wolf-god”, one of Apollo’s
cult-titles, while Cynthus is the name of the hill on Delos.
Tibullus’ Delia is perhaps particularly ingenious, since it
has the same prosody as Plania, which may be his mistress’
real name, and planus is the Latin equivalent of the Greek adjective
(delos), meaning “visible”. Ovid, the youngest of the quartet
of great love-elegists, gave his mistress a sobriquet conspicuously
devoid of such distinguished connotations: his Corinna, who may in any
case never have existed, has a name with the same prosody as puella
and may in fact simply mean “girl” (in Greek κόρη [kore]).
Delos was an important centre for slave-trading in the Roman period.
Nearly all islands are feminine, and many are second declension, the
Greek word for “island” being itself a second declension feminine
Athens is plural in
classical Greek, Latin, English, Spanish and French, but singular in
modern Greek, Italian and German.
Karthago is one of the very few Latin words which employ the letter k; the spelling Carthago is also common.