Particular Uses of Cases
The list of idiomatic uses
of cases without prepositions given in this chapter might have been
extended much further. (In Hermann Menge’s Lehrbuch der lateinischen
Syntax und Semantik, the standard authority for German students
of Latin, the ablative alone is analysed under thirty-six different
headings. This number would have been greater, were Menge’s examples
not drawn very largely from just two prose writers, Cicero and Caesar.)
Only the most important usages are discussed here. Many of the others
can easily be understood from their context.
It may at first seem confusing
that case-endings should be used to convey so many different senses,
but a little experience quickly leads us to expect particular senses
for particular cases when we encounter them in particular settings;
e.g. verbs meaning “value” or “buy” are regularly accompanied
by a noun in the genitive or ablative respectively. A Roman would presumably
have had much the same initial difficulty with the many and various
uses to which prepositions are put in Romance languages, which have
largely dispensed with inflection.
Consider, for example, the
different senses of de in the following simple Spanish sentence,
a translation of “A thousand men could steal a thousand pigs from
the piggeries of Blandings Castle at two o’clock in the afternoon”
(P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred in the Springtime, Chapter 13):
Un millar de (partitive)
hombres podrían robar un millar de (partitive) cerdos de
(place from which) las pocilgas de (possessive) Blandings
Castle a las dos de (temporal) la tarde.
The partitive genitive is also
known, rather more accurately, as the genitive of the whole.
These examples may help clarify
the distinction between the subjective and objective genitive:
Caesar nihili fecit; rigorem mortis in senatu passus est.
“Caesar placed no importance
(nihili, genitive of value) on fear of death (mortis,
objective genitive [Caesar did not fear death]; he suffered rigor
mortis (subjective genitive [death stiffened Caesar’s body]) in
plenus, -a, -um
can be constructed with an objective genitive (plena aquae est urna)
or with an ablative of means (plena aqua est urna). (Quintilian
suggests that this use of the ablative is a relatively recent development
[Education of the Orator 9.3.1].) The genitive and ablative of
description are also largely interchangeable, the main difference being
that the genitive was not used in the classical period with reference
to physical characteristics. Such doublet-idioms are fairly rare in
Latin, in which the choice of case is usually very rigid and distinct.
(Sanskrit, on the other hand, is remarkable in the freedom which it
allows in interchange between cases.) Latin restricts the various cases
to rather more sharply defined uses than does either Greek or Sanskrit.
Other words used in this idiom
signifying worthlessness are naucus, -i masc. (or naucum,
-i neut.) 2, “a thing of little value” and pilus,
-i masc. 2, “a hair”; hence floccinaucinihilipilification,
which was the longest word in the first edition of the OED, and
which, rather curiously, does not use the letter e, though that
is the commonest letter both in English and in Latin. nihil
is a compound of the negative prefix ne- and hilum, -i
neut. 2 “a small quantity”. The origin of hilum
is unknown. Varro speculates that it may refer to the pithy core of
the stem of the asphodel plant (Fragments of Roman Grammar
362, 429). Elsewhere, however, he equates hilum
with filum “thread” (On the Latin Language
5.113). Isidore (Origines 19.29.5) repeats this association,
adding that fila may be so called because they are made ex
pilis animalium “from the hair [pilus, -i masc.
2] of animals”. It may therefore be that nihili facere is a
technologically more sophisticated alternative to both flocci facere
and pili facere.
The dative of reference is
also known as the dative of advantage or disadvantage.
The predicate dative is so-called
because it is used as a predicate, defining the subject in much the
same way as do the adjective pinguis and the noun animal
in the sentences porcus est pinguis “The pig is fat” and
porcus est animal “A pig is an animal”. It is sometimes known
as the dative of purpose. (Some grammars, perhaps over-subtly, distinguish
two separate idioms.) Since the predicate dative is almost always accompanied
by a dative of reference, the idiom is also known as the double dative
construction. Although more than two hundred nouns are used occasionally
as predicate datives, only those used most frequently are listed in
A noun which is commonly used
as a predicate dative is rarely used as a predicate in the nominative,
even though the meaning would be much the same; Vergil, who uses
exitio as a predicate dative three times elsewhere, has idem
(see Chapter 17) amor exitium pecori pecorisque magistro “The
same love is a destruction to the flock and to the master of the flock”
at Eclogues 3.101. (He may have wished to avoid internal rhyme
[see the Fetutinae to Chapter 20] with exitio ... magistro.)
The legal principle cui
bono? is applied as a way of establishing who had most to gain from
a crime. The phrase is frequently supposed to mean “for what good?”,
cui being construed as an interrogative adjective (see Chapter 18)
qualifying bono. In fact, the predicate dative is rarely qualified
by adjectives other than magnus and parvus, and cui
is an interrogative pronoun (see Chapter 18) in the dative (of respect):
“To whom (is it for) an advantage?” This famous principle was attributed
by Cicero to Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla (“Dark Eyes”), a leading
jurist of the 2nd century BC.
When a Roman knight was accused
of swearing a false oath by the divinity of Augustus, Tiberius ruled
that his father had not been deified in order for that honor to be used
to destroy citizens. In any case, the gods could look after themselves:
deorum iniuriae deis curae (Tacitus, Annals 1.73, literally
“Wrongs done to gods [objective genitive] are [for] a concern [predicate
dative] to the gods [dative of reference]”).
Distinguish the accusative
of exclamation o porcum pigrum! “What a lazy pig!” from the
vocative address o porce piger! “You lazy pig!” The
nominative is sometimes used instead of the accusative in exclamations:
o porcus piger!
The accusative of respect is
also known as the Greek accusative, because it was first used frequently
by the poets of the Augustan period in imitation of Greek.