Variations in the Mood of the Verb II: cum, dum, etc.

This chapter might have been extended rather substantially by the inclusion of the various usages found with other such words as donec, quando, quia, quoad, quoniam, ubi, ut (all listed among the common indeclinable words in Appendix 3), and indeed of further uses of the words discussed here. The variety of idioms presented in the chapter is, however, typical of such subordinate clauses, and to have introduced more at this stage might have been confusing.

The conjunction cum was originally spelled quom, indicating its origin as an adverbial use of the masculine accusative singular of the relative pronoun (i.e. quem); as such, it is very closely related to the conjunction quod (“because”), which developed from an adverbial use of the neuter accusative singular of the relative pronoun.

cum ad agrum ibo (or iero), porcis cibum dabo “When I go to the field, I will give food to the pigs”. The future (ibo) or future perfect (iero) in the subordinate clause is more precise than the present tense (“go”). (The Latin future perfect tense is, in fact, found most frequently in subordinate clauses in which English typically has the present.) The use of the present tense in such clauses in English is not, however, a decadent simplification of the language; rather to the contrary, it reflects a time when English did not yet possess future tenses. There is a comparable difference in tense between English and Latin in certain conditional sentences; see Chapter 26.

A further indication of awareness of temporal perspective is the custom of writing letters from the point-of-view of the addressee, who would be reading them at a later time. This convention may strike the modern reader as slightly peculiar. For example, in a letter to his friend Atticus (5.17), Cicero means to say:

What he actually writes is:

As will be clear from the discussion of cum and dum in various idioms, the mood and tense of the verb with which they are used will very often not be sufficient to determine the exact sense of the conjunction; interpretation will be required based on the wider context. There is similar ambiguity in the use of such terms as “when” and “while”. “When the farmer arrived, the pigs were dancing” might simply indicate that the pigs happened to be dancing at the time when the farmer arrived or it might be that they were dancing because they associated his arrival with food; “I was happy while looking at my pigs” or “I was happy as long as I was looking at my pigs” might equally well refer to the time when or the reason why I was happy.

tamen is rarely placed first in the main clause except after a concessive (i.e. “Although …”) subordinate clause; the subordinate clause may, however, be concessive even without this marker or if tamen is not first word in the main clause. For example, “Although the pigs are skinny, nevertheless the farmer is happy” may be translated as:

It is not known precisely why dum in the temporal sense “while” (“during the time when”) should be used with the present indicative in violation of tense rules. It seems best to regard the present tense as a “continuous” present, emphasising that the event in the main clause occurs during the period denoted. It is sometimes supposed that this use of dum with the present indicative is influenced by the “historic” present, i.e. the use of the present tense to describe past events. This seems improbable; the two idioms cannot have had the same origin, since the “historic” present refers to completed actions, whereas dum “while” describes an ongoing situation.

The u in dum is short, and the word should therefore be pronounced like English “dumb”. Precisely because of this irrelevant association, however, it is very often, but incorrectly, pronounced like English “doom”, as if the u were long. For just such a reason, cum, num, sum and tum also tend to be pronounced, incorrectly, as if the u were long. By a similar process, the word dux (leader), which should should rhyme with “ducks”, and the verb-termination -unt, as in mittunt, which should rhyme with “grunt”, are also pronounced as if the u were long.

When modo is an adverb meaning “only”, it may be suffixed to dum or written immediately after it.

It may seem surprising that cum, constructed with the same subjunctive verb, can mean either “since” or “although”, given that “since” (= “because of the fact that”) is practically the opposite of “although” (= “despite the fact that”).

At Attic Nights 6.21, Aulus Gellius frets over just this sort of thing:

Although priusquam is generally the commoner form, Cicero uses antequam twice as often.

With its reduplication of the same syllable, quamquam may seem slightly bizarre, but Latin has many words formed in comparable ways. For example, from the classical period or earlier: qualisqualis, qualiterqualiter, quantusquantus, quisquis and quotquot, sese and tete, ubiubi, undeunde and utut, also furfur, murmur and turtur, caecae, mammam, tata, toto and vivi. It would hard to match the splendid Aeaeae (“of the woman from (the island of) Aea” = the witch Circe), used by Vergil, Propertius and Ovid.

Etymologiae Antiquae

By a standard etymological technique of explaining a word in terms of its opposite, the Romans defined a school as a place where one is not allowed to play (ludo, -ere, lusi, lusum 3). (The Greeks similarly used the same word [σχολή scholê)] for both “leisure” and “school”.) Since the Romans, understandably, knew so little about the origins of their language, etymologizing was not a very exact science, and many derivations, though proposed in all seriousness, now seem quite fanciful. bellum, -i neut. 2 “war” was associated with the adjective bellus, -a, -um “pretty”, war not being a pretty thing.

By an ironic coincidence, this etymology is not so very wide of the mark, bellus, -a, -um being a diminutive form of bonus, -a, -um “good” and “war” being cognate with “worse” and “worst”.

St. Augustine of Hippo links foedus, foederis neut. 3 “peace-treaty” with foedus, -a, -um “disgusting”, a peace-treaty (unlike war) not being a disgusting thing, but he also acknowledges the more common view which associated the term with the disgusting nature of pigs, peace-treaties being ratified by the sacrifice of a pig. St. Isidore later records an etymology of porcus, quasi spurcus; ingurgitat enim se caenoporcus, as if it were spurcus (“filthy”); for it wallows in mud”.

pueri “boys”, “children” was widely thought to be derived from puri “pure” in the sense “innocent”. Interestingly, however, the adjective paedidus “messy” was thought to be derived from παδες (paides “children”) quia pueri talis sint aetatis ut a sordibus nesciant abstineri “because children are of such an age that they cannot keep away from dirt”. So, the figurative purity and the figurative impurity of children are both drawn on for these etymologies.