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Latin Prose

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Latin Prose

Postby Lucus Eques » Sat Jul 31, 2004 1:16 am

Salvete, omnes!

I had a question about the time used in Latin prose. I've read how the Romans occasionally used the "historical present" tense in narration, rather than the perfect tense. How often did they use this? Would they have used it for a lengthier narrative composition such as in the genre of a short story or novel, or instead the past perfect?

Gratias!
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Postby Turpissimus » Sat Jul 31, 2004 2:27 am

Looking through my grammar (Gavin Betts' Teach Yourself Latin) I also see that the Romans used a historic infinitive. It says "this was regarded as producing a vivid effect (cf. vivid present)....The construction is normally confined to main clauses." Interesting, so the Romans had two options for conveying a feeling of immediacy.

As for the vivid present, Allen and Greenough give as an example a passage from Cicero's oration against Verres -

"Affertus nuntius Syracusas; curritur ad praetorium; Cleomenes in publico esse non audet; includit se domi" (this is on p306 of the pdf)

If you cut and paste that into Perseus' search tool, you might be able to get some enlightenment out of the Latin around the example there. Perseus doesn't seem to want to work for me today *sob*

It's just a feeling of mine but I think that use must have been fairly rare and restricted to fairly short passages - otherwise the first chapters of beginner's books would be full to the brim of examples of this.
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Postby Lucus Eques » Sat Jul 31, 2004 3:40 am

It's just a feeling of mine but I think that use must have been fairly rare and restricted to fairly short passages - otherwise the first chapters of beginner's books would be full to the brim of examples of this.


I think that's an excellent point. It's also encouraging for me, since, when I do attempt narrative compositions (and you can bet this is the first place I'll be coming for constructive criticism ;) ), I would much prefer to use the perfect tense and proper, more meaningful grammar.
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Postby whiteoctave » Sat Jul 31, 2004 8:21 am

the historic infinitive was generally used to substitute an imperfect event rather than simply some aoristic occurrence. it was therefore used especially in a rapid list of successive actions of a given subject, where the sense of 'they kept Xing' is in need of especial emphasis.
it can, of course, only be used with a nominative subject.

the historic present is much moregeneral, so much so that when used the ancient writers were in two states of mind as to whether it takes primary or secondary sequence. the purpose of this usage is more to bring an event to life, colouring it with the novelty of the present. like those old women on the bus "so she says to me, blah blah etc."

~D
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