Variations in the Mood of the Verb I: Conditional Sentences

The terms protasis and apodosis are Greek, meaning respectively “proposition” (or “premise”) and “response (to a proposition)”.

Latin, unlike many languages, does not have any specific “conditional” tenses.

Perhaps contrary to expectation, it is the imperfect subjunctive which refers to the present in “contrary to fact present” sentences (compare e.g. “If I were in Rome now”), whereas it is the present subjunctive which refers to the future in “future less vivid” conditional sentences (compare e.g. “If I were to be in Rome tomorrow”); if anything, the tense-usage in English is even more surprising, with “If I were ...” referring to the future in the second of these examples..

Note that the translation given for the apodosis of both the fourth and the sixth type of conditional sentence is the same (“I would be unhappy”), but there is a difference of perspective: the former refers to something which may be happening now, the latter to something which may happen in the future.

“If the farmer would have come with me, he would have seen the wolf” is a non-standard but common formulation in American English: with “would have” in both clauses, it is much like the use of the pluperfect subjunctive in both clauses in “contrary to fact past” sentences, si mecum agricola venisset, lupum vidisset.

Roman Humor

Perhaps encouraged by the Romans’ own tendency to set him up as a personification of Rome’s good old days, and influenced also by the fact that his grand historical epic is his most substantially surviving work, we rather view pater Ennius as a solemn representative of archaic and old-fashioned times. In fact, however, he had his playful moments. It is unfortunate that we cannot be sure of his authorship of the marvelous half-line saxo cere comminuit brum “with a rock he split his brain” (cerebrum, -i n. 2 “brain”). Vergil, for one, admired that expression enough to imitate it, though without going so far as to divide the brain in two: the victorious boxer Entellus sacrifices an ox by striking it between the horns with his fist: effracto ... cerebro/... procumbit humi bos “with its brain crushed, the ox falls to the ground” (Aeneid 5.480f., where the unusual rhythm of the monosyllable at the end of the line matches that in brum and well conveys the image of the ox falling with a thud). The boxers in Aeneid 5 wear iron-clad boxing-gloves, and it has generally been assumed from that description that this was normal Roman practice, but this seems improbable.

“Drink this Falernian, it’s forty years old”:

Falernian was generally regarded as the best of all wines. It was produced in southern Latium and northern Campania. It had an unusually high alcohol content: Pliny observes that it is the only wine which can be set alight (Historia Naturalis 14.62). A price-list on the wall of a Pompeian tavern offers wine for one as, better wine for two, and Falernian for four (CIL 4.1679). The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius notes that even Falernian wine is really just grape-juice (Meditations 6.1). Horace parodies the pretentious sophistication of gourmets by having a dinner-host commend a wild boar as having been captured when a gentle south wind was blowing (Satires 2.8.6f.).