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 as pronouns.)

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 which” .

It is not actually certain that deus and θεός are cognate. deus is, however, closely related to Ζεύς (Zeus).

cerves(i)a, -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 “to drink”.

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 term “seconds”.

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 world.

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 them.

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 δλος (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 noun (νσος [nesos]).

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.