I take up now — all books being closed — a sentence of very simple structure,
of which every word and every construction are familiar, say a certain
passage in Livy.1
I tell the story of the context: Two assassins have got admission,
on the pretext of a quarrel to be decided, into the presence of Tarquin.
One of them diverts the attention of the king by telling his tale, and
the other brings down an axe upon the king's head; whereupon they
both rush for the door.
In order that the interpretation shall be done absolutely in the order
in which a Roman would do it, without looking ahead, I write one word at
a time upon the board (as I will again do upon the board before you), and
ask questions as I go, as follows : —2
. "What did Livy mean by putting that word at
the beginning of the sentence?"
"That the person mentioned in it is at this point of conspicuous importance."
"Where is Tarquinium
"In the accusative singular."
"What does that fact mean to your minds?"
Here most of them are somewhat dazed, not being used to that word meaning
the very word that ought constantly to be used in dealing with syntax,
or so-called "parsing." So I very probably have to say, "May it mean the
duration of time of the act with which it is connected?"
They say, "No."
I ask, "Why not?"
Somebody says, "Because the name of a person cannot indicate time."
I say, "Give me some words that might indicate time." They give me dies, noctes, aetatem,
etc. Then I ask, "May it mean extent of space?"
They say, "No," give me similar reasons for their answer, and, upon my asking for words
that might indicate extent of space, they give me, perhaps, mille passuum,
Then I ask, "May it indicate the extent of the
action of the verb, the degree to which the action goes?" They say,
"No," for a similar reason. But when I ask for words that might
mean the degree of the action, they commonly cannot tell me, for the reason
that, strange to say, the grammars do not recognize such a usage;
though sentences like "he walks a great deal every day" (multum cottidie
) are even more common than sentences like "he walks three miles
every day" (cottidie tria milia passuum ambulat
), and the accusatives
mean essentially the same thing in both sentences.
Then I ask, "May
it mean that in respect to which something is said, — as regards Tarquin
— the accusative of specification?" To a question like that, I am
sorry to say that a great many always answer yes, for students get very
vague notions of the real uses of the accusative of specification.
Somebody, however, may be able to tell me that the name of a person is
never used in the accusative of specification, and that in general the
use of the accusative of specification, in the days of Cicero and Virgil,
was mostly confined to poetry. "What words were used in the accusative
of specification in prose?" Here I never get an answer, although
the list is determinate, short, and important. So I have to say,
"I must add to your working knowledge a useful item; write in your
note-books as follows: partem, vicem, genus
or a pronoun (quod, hoc, id
, the relative
and the interrogative quid
, are used in Latin prose
in all periods as accusatives of specification. Here, then, is a
bit of definite information which may enable you, when you first meet one
of these words again (you will do so quite early in your first book of
Livy), to walk without stumbling through a sentence where you would otherwise
trip." Then I go back to Tarquinium. "May it be," I ask, "an
accusative of exclamation?"
They say, "Possibly so."
I say, "possibly yes, though in historical narration you would hardly expect
such an exclamation from the historian." Next I ask, "May it be a
To that they answer, "No"; telling
me, perhaps with some help, that "the name of a person cannot be in any
sense a restatement of an act, — cannot mean an activity."
"Well, then, what does this accusative case mean?"
By this time a good many
are ready to say: "Object of a verb, or in apposition with the
object." But I ask if one thing more is possible, and some one
says: "Subject of an infinitive."
"Yes," I answer; "and one thing more yet?"
"Predicate of an infinitive," someone suggests.
"Now," I ask, "what have we learned from all this? Given the name
of a person or persons in the accusative with no preposition, how many
and what constructions are possible?" All are ready now to answer,
Object of a verb, or subject or predicate of an infinitive
"Good," I say. "Keep those possibilities always fresh in your mind,
letting them flash through it the moment you see such a word; and
that having been done, WAIT
, and NEVER
which of these possible meanings was in the mind of the Roman
speaker or writer until the rest of the sentence has made the answer to
that question perfectly clear. Now tell me what constructions are
possible for an accusative like hiemem
They answer, "duration of time, apposition, object of verb, subject or predicate of an infinitive."
"For an accusative like pedes
They answer, "extent of space, apposition, object of verb, or subject or predicate of an infinitive."
"For an accusative like multum
"Extent of action, apposition, object of verb, or subject or predicate of an infinitive."
"For an accusative like vitam
"Cognate accusative, apposition, object of verb, or subject or predicate of an infinitive."
Now I ask, "Can any one tell me what constructions we may expect if the verb
turns out to be some word like doceo
all give the answer, and therewith I have already passed in rapid review
practically the whole matter of the accusative constructions; and,
what is more, — and this is vital, — I have done it from
a very practical standpoint
. I have not asked a student
to "parse" a word after seeing its full connection in the sentence
(an exercise which loses four-fifths of its virtue by this misplacement),
but I have demanded anticipatory parsing
— I have put my questions in such a way that my students have learned for
all accusatives what instantaneous suggestions of the possible parts a
word is playing in the sentence they may get, at first sight of the word,
from the very nature of the word.
Then I pass on. "We have our King Tarquin before our eyes, as
the person on whom the interest of the sentence centres, and we know that
he is the object of an action, or the subject or predicate of an infinitive
action; or, possibly, in apposition with such an object, subject,
or predicate. To proceed, the next word, moribundum
, is what
and where made?"
"Adjective, nom. sing. neut., or acc. sing. masc. or neut."
Don't smile at all this. The habit of getting a young student to think all these things out, even where he could not
go astray if they were not asked of him, saves many a getting lost in difficult
places. "What is probable about moribundum
, as we have it
in this particular sentence?"
"That it belongs to Tarquinium."
"Right. Now keep that picture in mind: Tarquinium moribundum
the King, breathing his last, acted upon or acting
Now for the next word: Tarquinium moribundum cum
?" Some say, with perfect readiness, "preposition,"
some say "conjunction."3
"But," I answer, "if you are used to the right spelling, you know with
an instant's thought that no Roman that ever lived could tell at this point
whether it was preposition or conjunction. In order to tell, you
must wait for — what?"
"Ablative or verb," they answer.
Then we go on, "Tarquinium moribundum cum qui
. What does qui
at once tell us about cum
"Right. What do we know now, with almost absolute certainty, about Tarquinium
What part of the sentence does it belong to?"
Here, I grieve to say, a chorus of voices always answers, "Main verb"; for, in some
mysterious way, students arrive at the universities without having learned
that the Romans delighted to take out the most important word, or combination
of words, from a subordinate introductory sentence, and put it at the very
start, before the connective, — a bit of information worth a great deal
for practical reading. That habit of expression I now tell them,
and then ask, "Given a sentence beginning with mors si
, what do
"That mors is the subject or predicate of the verb introduced by si."
"Given a sentence introduced by Hannibali victori cum
"That Hannibali depends on something in the cum-sentence."
Now we go back to our sentence, and the word qui
part of speech is it?"
"Relative," they say.
"Or what else?" I ask.
"Where is it made?"
"Nom. sing. or plur., masc."
"If it is a relative, where in the sentence as a whole does its antecedent lie?"
They should answer, "Inside the cum-clause." The cum
serves as the first of two brackets
to include the qui
"If, on the other hand, it is an interrogative, what kind of a question is alone here possible?"
"Indirect, and in the subjunctive," they answer.
"In that case, what kind of a meaning, speaking generally, must the verb introduced by cum
"It must be able to imply asking of some kind."
"Rightly said; perhaps we may have such a sentence as, “"When everybody inquired who these men were"”
— Cum qui essent omnes quaererent
or perhaps we shall find that qui
is relative. The next word
, — Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa
part of speech is it?"
"What then may it do?"
"It may modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb."
We proceed: Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa erunt
"What, now, about circa
"It modifies erant
"What was the number of qui
"Was it relative or interrogative?"
"How do you know?"
"Because erant is not subjunctive."
"Right. Now qui circa erant
is as good as a noun or a pronoun, — an indeclinable noun
or pronoun, in the plural. Think of it in that way, as we go on. Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa erant excepissent
. I don't
ask to-day the meaning of the mode of excepissent
, because the world
is in so much doubt about the question of the history and force of the
-constructions. But what was Livy's meaning in writing
the accusative Tarquinium
"Object of excepissent
"Yes, and what was the subject of excepissent
"The antecedent of qui
"Yes; or, looking at the matter more generally,
the subject was qui circa erant
"Before going on, what picture have we before us? What has the
sentence thus far said? This:
See Tarquin, dying! See the bystanders! See them pick him up!
Our curiosity is stimulated by the very order. The next word is illos
— “Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa erant excepissent
What does the position of illos
, first in the main sentence proper,
"That the people meant by it are of special prominence at this point."
"Who do you suppose these illos
more distant persons, thus set in emphatic balance against Tarquinium
each leading its clause?
"The assassins," the whole class say.
"What do we know about Livy's meaning from the case?"
Now they all answer in fine chorus and completeness, "Apposition, object of main verb,
or subject or predicate of an infinitive."
We proceed: “Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa erant excepissent,
” ... "What part of speech is fugientes
"Then you see a running-away going on before your eyes. What gender?"
"Masc. or fem."
"Then you see some two or more men or women running away. What case?"
"Nom. or acc."
"On the whole, do you feel sure you know the case?"
"Belonging to what?"
"Because of course the assassins, the illos
, would run away."
"Yes," I say; "but it cannot possibly
mislead you to wait until there isn't a shadow of a doubt. We will
go on: “Tarquinium moribundum cum qui circa erant excepissent, illos
” ... Here you have another set of people, the
king's body-guard. In what case?"
"Nom. or acc. plural."
"Which?" They do not know. "Well, then, can illos
, if you consider forms alone?"
"In that case, fugientes
would have to go with illos lictores
, wouldn't it?"
"But would the lictors run away?"
"Would the assassins?"
"Certainly. Then fugientes
does not belong with lictores
, and does belong
; and illos
seems to be, just as we suspected
at first sight of it, the assassins. However, we must ask ourselves
one more question, Is apposition possible between illos
"No; for they are very different people."
"Is any relation of a predicate possible between them? Can the one be the predicate
of an infinitive of which the other is the subject?"
"No; because, as before, they are very different people."
"Still it is possible that lictores
is accusative. If it is, it may
be object, in which case illos
is necessarily subject, for, as we
have seen, they cannot be in apposition; or, it may be subject, in
which case, for the same reason, illos
must be object. In
either case, they must be in direct opposition
to each other, one
of them (we don't yet know which) being subject, the other, object;
while, if lictores
is nom., you still have the same relation, only
you know which is subject and which is object. In any event, you
see they are set over against each other, together making subject and object.
Now keep the results of this reasoning ready for the countless cases in
which such combinations occur. Given two nouns like bellum Saguntum
what are the constructions?"
"One is the subject of a verb, and the other the object, and we can't yet tell which."
"Right. Now I will give you a still more involved combination, but of a very commonly
occurring kind, — quae nos materiem
. What do you make out
Some clever boy will say, "Nos
must be the subject of
a verb, either finite or infinitive, and quae
are object and
"Good. Then what kind of meaning does the verb probably have?"
"One of calling."
"Right. The words are from Lucretius, and the verb he used was vocamus
Treasure up that combination and the meaning of it."
"Now we go back to the assassins who are running away, and the king's
body-guard. I will inform you that there is just one more word in
the sentence. What part of speech is it?"
"Active or passive?"
"Right. What does it tell?"
"Tells what the lictors do to the assassins."
"What mode, then?"
"What two tenses are possible?"
"The perfect and the historical present."
"Right. Now the situation is a pretty dramatic one. Which of these two tenses
should you accordingly choose, if you were writing the story?"
"So did Livy. Now tell me what you think the verb is."
," somebody says. "Capiunt
another, hitting the idea but not the right word, which is comprehendunt
get hold of them well, — "nab 'em"; or, as our tamer English
phrase might put it, "secure them."
"Now let us render into English the sentence as a whole, translating
not merely Livy's words, but the actual development of the thought in his
Tarquin; moribundum, he's a dying man;
cum qui circa erant, you see the bystanders about to do something;
excepissent, they have caught and supported the king;
illos, you turn and look at the assassins;
fugientes, they are off on the run;
lictores, there are the king's body-guard; we hold our breath in suspense;
— comprehendunt, THEY'VE GOT 'EM!
So, then, that Latin order,
which looks so perverted to one who is trained to pick the sentence to
pieces and then patch it together again, gives us the very succession in
which one would see the actual events
; weaves all the occurrences
together into a compact whole, yet keeping everywhere the natural
order; while any order that we may be able to invent for a corresponding
in English will twist and warp the natural order
into a shape that would greatly astonish a Roman."
"Finally, with the understanding and sense of the dramatic in the situation,
which we have got by working the sentence out as Livy wrote it, compare
the perversion of it, which we get by working it out correctly on the first-find-your-subject-of-the-main-sentence-and-then-your-predicate,
the lictors secure the assassins
as they run away, when those who were standing by had caught and supported
the dying Tarquin
The facts are all there, but the style
, the soul
, is gone."