Second Declension Nouns

In this course, 2nd declension nouns in -ius and -ium (filius, ingenium etc.) are treated as being regular in the gen. sing.; till the end of the Republic, however, the forms filī, ingenī etc. were more usual than filii, ingenii etc. At all periods, masculine nouns in -ius (filius, Antonius etc.) conflated their final vowels in the vocative singular, giving the forms filī, Antonī etc. The vocative singular of deus, which would be dee, is not found in classical Latin; a god was addressed either by his name or as dive, the vocative of divus, an alternative to deus. In St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible (the Vulgate, written in the early 5th century), deus is used as the vocative.

At Attic Nights 14.5, Aulus Gellius records how he once heard two distinguished grammarians wrangling vehemently but inconclusively over the correct ending in the vocative singular masculine of adjectives which end in –ius in the nom. sing. masc.: should egregius (‘excellent’) change to egregie or to egregi? Eventually, Gellius just “left them to it, not thinking it worth while to listen to them any longer as they shouted and fought with each other about the same things over and over” (non arbitratus ego operae pretium esse eadem istaec diutius audire clamantes conpugnantesque illos reliqui).

Roman writers, especially poets, tended to retain the Greek form of Greek names, thereby adding an attractively exotic color to their writing. Almost no change is required in transliterating into Greek such splendid lines as Vergil’s Amphion Dircaeus in Actaeo Aracyntho (Eclogues 2.24 = μφίων Δίρκαιος ν Άκταί ρακύνθ) or Ovid’s Amphiareiades Naupactoo Acheloo (Fasti 2.43 = μφιαρειάδης Ναυπακτώ Άχελώ).

Since Greek is closely akin to Latin, most Greek forms are very similar to Latin forms, and they are easily learned. The majority of nouns in other declensions with special vocative forms are Greek proper names. The vast majority of vocatives in Latin are not distinct from the equivalent nominative forms. In modern texts of Latin, editors usually isolate vocatives with commas, as in English. In Greek, vocatives are not only more frequently distinct from nominatives in form, but they are more often than not introduced by the interjection (o). o is very much rarer in Latin; in the more than 500,000 words that comprise the surviving books of Livy’s history of Rome, it occurs only once, in a speech by the Delphic Sibyl, which will have been delivered originally in Greek.

Cicero uses o with only 2% of his vocatives. It appears in some of his most famous utterances, o tempora! o mores! (Oh, the times we live in!, Oh, the corruption!), o fortunatam natam me consule Romam! (see the Fetutinae to Chapter 20), but these are not constructed with the vocative. For the accusative of exclamation, see Chapter 16.

None of the very few second declension neuter nouns which do not decline like saxum will appear in this course. Among the commonest such nouns are pelagus “the open sea”, virus “poison” and vulgus “crowd”, all of which are defective, in that they do not occur in all cases.

Second declension masculine nouns which, like puer, retain the e are not very numerous; other common examples are adulter, adulteri “adulterer”, gener, generi “son-in-law”, liberi, liberorum “children” (found only in the plural; see Chapter 10), socer, soceri “father-in-law”.

magister is cognate with the third declension feminine noun maiestas, maiestatis (see Chapter 8), the origin of the English word “majesty”. When he was sent into exile, Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, set up a school in Corinth, for he was quite incapable of living without exercising some authority (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations 3.12). Even so, most teachers, if not actually slaves, had a humble social standing and were very poorly paid. In the late 2nd century AD, a Senatorial decree allowed for the granting of a bonus of 500 sestertii to a victorious gladiator, if he was a free man, of 400, if he was a slave (Select Latin Inscriptions 5163.29ff.); Juvenal complains in the concluding lines of his seventh Satire that a schoolteacher might make about this amount in a year. (Since the purpose of the decree was to limit the costs of gladiatorial games, we may infer that such bonuses were usually rather more generous.)

The form vir is unparalleled as the nominative and vocative singular of a second declension masculine noun, ending neither in -us/-e nor in -er, but it is not strictly irregular. Very few nouns in Latin have an irregular declension.

Festus On the Latin Language p. 261 tells us that “in earlier times, women were called virae”.

Roman grammarians were at least partly correct in observing that, in general, only useful, i.e. domesticated, animals had distinct masculine and feminine forms; hence, for example, a cow hippopotamus would be hippopotamus femina. That there is a distinct feminine form lupa may be largely attributable to the she-wolf’s prominence as the symbol of Rome, Romulus and Remus having been reared by one; lupus femina is, however, used by the early epic poet Ennius with reference to this very she-wolf. lupa is also one of many words for “prostitute”, and there was in fact an alternative version of Rome’s foundation-myth that the twins were reared by a prostitute; if we had fuller information about everyday speech, no doubt even more such terms would be known.

equus and ππος (hippos; cf. hippopotamus “river horse”) are both derived from the same IndoEuropean ancestor. The derivation of “horse” is uncertain; it may be related to the Latin verb currere “to run”. The German word Pferd is cosmopolitan, being derived from the late Latin term paraveredus, which is a hybrid of the Greek preposition παρά (para) “beside” prefixed to the Celtic ve “under” and reda “cart”, i.e. the horse under one side of the yoke of a cart-pulling pair.

The primary meaning of liber is “the bark of a tree”, indicating an early writing-material. “Bible” is derived from the Greek word for “book” (βίβλος biblos), the basic sense of which is “the inner bark of the papyrus” (from which we derive the word “paper”). “Book” is similarly thought to be cognate with the Germanic word for a “beech-tree”. Our word “parchment” is derived from (carta) Pergamena “writing material from Pergamum”, the practice of using animal skins for writing having become current there when papyrus from Egypt came to be in short supply. The elder Pliny comments on the vital importance of papyrus: “To deal with the frequent shortages of paper, commissioners were appointed as long ago as Tiberius’ rule to control its distribution, since otherwise life would have been in chaos” (Historia Naturalis 13.89).

Although the words are cognate, servus should not be translated as merely “servant”, for that would give a misleadingly bland impression of Roman society. By the end of the 1st cent. BC, perhaps more than 30% of the population of Rome were slaves, subject to the absolute control of their owners.

The word servus was thought to be derived from the verb servare “to save”, prisoners of war being sold into slavery rather than put to death; the word “slave” reflects the conquest of the Slavic peoples in Eastern Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Some beginning students have difficulty distinguishing the conjunction “for”, equivalent to nam, namque and enim, from the preposition “for”, sometimes used in translating nouns and pronouns in the dative case: