Strictly speaking, there is
no future infinitive passive in Latin, and the form described here,
amatum iri etc., is a periphrasis constructed to compensate for
this deficiency. In Lily’s Royal Grammar, the standard Latin
textbook in England for centuries, amatum iri “to be about
to be loved” is rendered, rather more felicitously, as “to be loved
hereafter”. The indeclinable fore is used as the future infinitive
active of sum as an equivalent to futurum esse. puer
dicit se piratam futurum esse and puer dicit se piratam fore
both mean “The boy says that he is going to be a pirate”. For the
avoidance of the future infinitive passive by means of the idiom
fore (futurum esse) ut
…, see Chapter 28. That construction is much commoner than forms
such as amatum iri, little favored by writers other than Cicero.
Further permutations are possible
in the construction of infinitive forms: for example, discipulus
dicit magistrum porcos semper laudaturum fuisse (“the student
says that the teacher has [or had] always been about to praise pigs”)
employs a hybrid compound of the future participle and the perfect infinitive.
English occasionally constructs
an indirect statement with a noun in the object-case and an infinitive.
In the American Declaration of Independence, for example, “We
hold these truths to be self-evident” is followed by several clauses
introduced by “that”, “that all men are created equal, that they
are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness etc.”
The potential for ambiguity
in the accusative and infinitive construction is discussed repeatedly
by ancient grammarians. The most celebrated instance of such ambiguity
is the deliberately misleading oracle devised by the Latin epic poet
Ennius, purporting to be the response given to Pyrrhus, king of Epirus,
in the early third century BC, when he asked the oracle of Apollo at
Delphi whether it would be advisable for him to invade Italy and attack
aio te, Aeacida, Romanos vincere posse.
Pyrrhus took this to mean
I say that you, descendant
of Aeacus, can defeat the Romans.
He did in fact win two battles
against the Romans, but suffered extremely heavy losses in doing so
(hence the expression “Pyrrhic victory”, a victory so costly as
to be no better than a defeat). When Pyrrhus inspected the Roman corpses
after one of his victories, he was intimidated to find that they all
had their wounds on the front of their body, an ominous sign of Roman
determination, and is said to have raised his hands to heaven and said
that he could have conquered the whole world if he had been lucky enough
to have such soldiers (Eutropius, Breviarium 2.11). The Greek
phrase equivalent to “Pyrrhic victory” is “Cadmean victory”,
found first in the 5th century BC (Herodotus, Histories 1.166),
referring either to the Spartoi, the “Sown Men”, who arose from
the dragon’s teeth sown by Cadmus, the founder of the city of Thebes,
or, perhaps more probably, to the wasteful fraternal strife between
Eteocles and Polynices, princes of Thebes.
His invasion of Italy was unsuccessful,
and the true sense of the oracle was seen to be “I say that the Romans
can defeat you, descendant of Aeacus”.
The construction and consequent
ambiguity would have been the same in Greek, the language spoken by
the Delphic Sibyl, though it is highly probable that Ennius invented
the oracle himself. Galen cites an example of ambiguity which turns
on this use of two nouns in the accusative case, one as the subject
and the other as the object of an attendant infinitive: γένοιτο
καταλαβεῖν τὸν ὗν ἐμέ (genoito katalabein ton hun
eme) “May it happen that I catch the pig” and “May it happen
that the pig catches me” (On Fallacies in Diction 1).
Numerous other such examples
are cited by ancient grammarians. Quintilian quotes Ennius’ line,
and also the statement Lachetem audivi percussisse Demean, which
can mean either “I heard that Laches has struck Demea” or “I heard
that Demea has struck Laches” (Education of the Orator 7.9);
Donatus cites audio secutorem retiarium superavisse, which can
mean either “I hear that the chaser defeated the fighter with the
net” or “I hear that the fighter with the net defeated the chaser”
(Ars Maior 10).
An obvious solution to this
ambiguity presents itself to a speaker of any language regulated more
by word-order than by inflection: why did the Romans not simply agree
that the first accusative be the subject, the second the object? Alternatively,
clarity might be achieved by using a passive construction: e.g agricola
dixit porcum a magistro amari “The farmer said that the pig is
loved by the teacher”. Quintilian suggests precisely this solution:
audivi a Lachete percussum Demean “I heard that Demea was struck
A further infelicity arises
in the accusative and infinitive when the subject of the main clause,
the subject of the indirect statement and the object of the verb in
the indirect statement all refer to the same person, as, for example,
in the sentence “He says that he will kill himself” dicit se
se interfecturum esse (with the first se as the subject of
the infinitive, the second se as its object) would not be elegant,
but such clumsiness is easily avoided by slight rephrasing: e.g.
dicit se sua manu esse periturum “He says that he will perish
by his own hand”.
Reflexive forms, however, give
Latin an advantage over English in some contexts. The English sentence
“He thinks that he will be king” could stand equally well for “Brutus
thinks that he (Caesar) will be king” or “Caesar thinks that he
(Caesar) will be king”, whereas putat eum regem fore and
putat se regem fore are quite unambiguously distinct.
As the above discussion makes
clear, the accusative and infinitive construction was not entirely effective,
being susceptible to ambiguity, obscurity and simple clumsiness. Not
surprisingly, the Romance languages largely rejected it, preferring
to introduce a finite clause with a conjunction, as in English:
I know that the girl is beautiful
Je sais que la fille est belle
So che la ragazza è bella
que la muchacha es hermosa etc.
That construction, with the
conjunction quod [which became que, che] and a
finite verb, usually in the subjunctive (see Chapter 22), occurs occasionally
in classical Latin, and was presumably a common feature of less formal
Classical Greek had more complex
rules, using both an acc. (or nom., if the subject of the main clause
and of the subordinate phrase is the same person) + inf. (or participle,
if the main verb is a verb of perception) and also a finite clause.
Modern Greek has done away with infinitives almost entirely.
As an illustration of the way
in which context prevents confusion, consider the following sentence
from Caesar’s Gallic Wars: Ariovistus respondit
… neminem secum sine sua pernicie contendisse “Ariovistus replied
… that no one had contended with him without (bringing about) his
own destruction” (1.36.6). Caesar has already made clear the German
chieftain is boasting of his own prowess: the reflexive pronoun se
refers to Ariovistus as the subject of the main clause, but the reflexive
pronominal adjective sua reflects back only as far as neminem,
the accusative subject of the indirect statement.
The proprietary name Formica
has nothing directly to do with ants, and means simply what it says:
it is a substitute “for mica”, which is an orthosilicate
of aluminum and potassium. Even so, it is interesting that “a formica
is so called because it carries [fert] crumbs [micas]
in its mouth” (formica dicta est ab eo, quod ore micas ferat
Servius on Vergil Aen. 4.402).