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:
I am dictating this letter
in my carriage, just as I am setting out for camp, from which I am two
days away. Within a few days I will have reliable people to whom I may
give the letter, so I am checking my impatience till then.
What he actually writes is:
I dictated this letter in my carriage, just as I was setting out for camp, from which I was two days away. Within a few days I had reliable people to whom I might give the letter, so I checked my impatience till then.
hanc epistulam dictavi
sedens in raeda, cum in castra proficiscerer a quibus aberam bidui.
paucis diebus habebam certos homines quibus darem litteras. itaque eo
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:
cum graciles sint porci, tamen felix est agricola
cum graciles sint porci, felix tamen est agricola
cum graciles sint porci,
felix est agricola.
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
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:
Why it is that the phrases
quoad vivet [as long as he lives] and quoad morietur [until
he dies] indicate the very same time, although based upon opposite things?
"quoad"que "morietur" cur id ipsum temporis significent,
cum ex duobus sint facta contrariis.
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.
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 caeno “porcus, 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 παῖδες (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.