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Oblique madness

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Oblique madness

Postby Rhapsody » Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:48 pm

I have a question about the oratio obliqua: In a long indirect discourse, when I have a verb in the third person singular, the pronoun "se" is in the singular and the person which he talks with is in the third person singular as well(scilicet "eum"). How do I know who is performing the action showed by the verb?
Is the "se" guy, or the "eum" guy? Do I infer this only by the context?

I'll be glad if someone could answer this to me.
Last edited by Rhapsody on Fri Jan 23, 2004 3:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby benissimus » Fri Jan 23, 2004 2:37 am

Yes, I would like to know this too. I'm not sure if I'm talking about the same thing you are but take these two sentences for example:

The man said that the boy loved himself.
Vir dixit puerum amare se.

The man said that he (himself) loved a woman.
Vir dixit se amare feminam.

So my question is... "Can se sometimes refer to the subject of the main sentence and at other times to the subject within the indirect statement?"
flebile nescio quid queritur lyra, flebile lingua murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae
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Postby Rhapsody » Fri Jan 23, 2004 3:41 am

Yes, that's it. I think Caesar has lots of this examples.
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Postby Rhapsody » Fri Jan 23, 2004 3:46 am

But it's even worse when there are lots of sub-clauses!!!
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Postby Ulpianus » Sat Jan 24, 2004 9:24 pm

In classical Latin at least se can be ambiguous in OO, and one must determine meaning from context. Nicely put by E.C. Woodcock A New Latin Syntax at section 36

[W]hen both the direct and the indirect reflexive are required in the same sentence, ambiguity arises. One cannot say in Latin without ambiguity "Cicero ordered his slave to wash his (Cicero's) feet", for in the sentence: Cicero servum suum iussit pedes suos lavare the reflexive suos might be either direct or indirect, referring to Cicero or to the slave. If there was no hope of the context making the sense clear, some other method of expression would be adopted ... But Latin authors do not, in fact, seem to have been much worried by the ambiguity, if the sense was clear from the context. Cf. Cic. de Or. 2, 273 cum rogaret eum (sc. Maximum) Salinator ut meminisset opera sua se Tarentum recepisse ... "When Salinator asked him to remember that it was by his (Salinator's) aid that he (Maximus) had recovered Tarentum ..." Also Caes B.G. 1, 36, 6 Ariovistus respondit neminem secum sine sua pernicie contendisse. "Ariovistus replied that no one had opposed him (Ariovistus) without bringing about his own downfall.'

The statement sometimes made, that the ambiguity is avoided by the use of ipsum for the indirect reflexive, is erroneous, at least for classical Latin.


Woodcock regards ipse as invariably an intensifying pronoun in classical Latin, but notes (section 37) that in later Latin ipsum is sometimes used for se without any intensifying force in order to avoid the ambiguity referred to above. He gives as an example Q. Curtius illi nec de fide nec de potentia regis ipsos dubitare respondent "They replied that they doubted neither the King's good faith nor his power". I haven't checked the context, but it seems to me that ipsos could be intensive, if there was an implicit contrast with someone else who did have such doubts "They, for their part, doubted neither ..." But I'm probably wrong.
Last edited by Ulpianus on Sat Jan 24, 2004 11:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Skylax » Sat Jan 24, 2004 10:05 pm

Does Woodcock say something about B.G., I, 40

"Cur de sua virtute aut de ipsius diligentia desperarent, "why (he asked) should they despair of their own courage or his diligence?" (quoted by Allen and Greenough, § 300)" ?
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Postby Ulpianus » Sat Jan 24, 2004 11:25 pm

Skylax asks:

Does Woodcock say something about B.G., I, 40

"Cur de sua virtute aut de ipsius diligentia desperarent,"


Yes, he does. He says that ipsius

does not stand instead of the indirect sua, in order to avoid the ambiguity, but is required to emphasize the sua which is understood.


In other words, ipse is being used not primarily as a device for disambiguation, but emphatically. The "plain" reflexive pronoun disappears as unnecessary. The emphasis is itself disambiguating, but it is emphasis nonetheless. (Perhaps one should translate "Why should they lose confidence in their valour or his own attentiveness" in order to place the emphasis in that way.)

No question: ipse does disambiguate. But it does seem doubtful that it is used simply for that purpose.
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Postby MickeyV » Wed Jan 28, 2004 2:19 pm

Yet, if I may use Skylax example, it does appear to be quite likely -and this is exactly what Allen and Greenough assert- that Caesar did use "ipsius" in that sentence to the specific end of clarifying the indirect reflexive application of "diligentia", applying therefore to Caesar as the subject of the main clause. As we know, in Latin, the reflexive personal and possessive pronouns may either serve to refer to the subject of its own clauseor, when the reflexive is positioned in a subordinate clause, to the subject of the main clause. The first usage is said to be direct, the other indirect. This is exactly what may cause obscurity, and, assuming that Caesar did in fact use the intensifying "ipsius" for clarity's sake, it's much to his credit that he did. :)
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Postby MickeyV » Wed Jan 28, 2004 2:33 pm

It may, on a different note, be remarked that many of the ambiguities that occur in a acc+inf clause such as the ones benissimus supplied can be avoided by rendering such a clause passive. You might, e. g., render "vir dixit se amare feminam" into "vir dixit feminam a se amari". Of course, strictly speaking "se" may still refer to either "vir" (and being thus indirectly reflexive) or "feminam" (in which case it is directly reflexive), but the amount of possible translations at least has been reduced from three to two (providing I didn't miss any :wink: ):

-"vir dixit se amare feminam"
1. The man said he loved the woman.
2. The man said the woman loved him(self).
3. The man said the woman loved herself.

In the passive rendition, it is at least clear that the object (not in a syntactical sense) of "the love" is the woman, not the man. Only the subject (again, not in the syntactical sense) "(a) se" is left somewhat in the dark, yet even that ambiguity seems diminished. One is more likely to interpret "se" as referring to "vir".
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Postby Ulpianus » Wed Jan 28, 2004 11:07 pm

"vir dixit se amare feminam"
1. The man said he loved the woman.
2. The man said the woman loved him(self).
3. The man said the woman loved herself.


You are right of course that the passive can remove ambiguity. Would the change be that you suggest, though? I would have thought it most likely (unless the context required something different) for the sentence you give to mean (1). The passive change I would more likely expect would be if one wished to express (2). (3) I would have thought would be so improbable that one could realistically dismiss it anyway.

Can word order come into it too? I would be inclined to take vir dixit se feminam amare one way and vir dixit feminam se amare the other -- but perhaps I am wrong.

We are probably straying some way from the original topic. I'm quite sure there are many ways ambiguity can be reduced or avoided: but there is no single, simple way of telling what a reflexive pronoun in OO refers to.
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Postby MickeyV » Fri Jan 30, 2004 10:12 pm

Ulpianus wrote:
"vir dixit se amare feminam"
1. The man said he loved the woman.
2. The man said the woman loved him(self).
3. The man said the woman loved herself.


You are right of course that the passive can remove ambiguity. Would the change be that you suggest, though? I would have thought it most likely (unless the context required something different) for the sentence you give to mean (1). The passive change I would more likely expect would be if one wished to express (2). (3) I would have thought would be so improbable that one could realistically dismiss it anyway.

Can word order come into it too? I would be inclined to take vir dixit se feminam amare one way and vir dixit feminam se amare the other -- but perhaps I am wrong.

We are probably straying some way from the original topic. I'm quite sure there are many ways ambiguity can be reduced or avoided: but there is no single, simple way of telling what a reflexive pronoun in OO refers to.


Well, indeed, the 3rd meaning is quite unlikely, but as a matter of strict interpretation, it is correct. In fact, íf one would desire to put the OR "femina se amat" in OO, then the result will be "X dixit feminam se amare". Of course, "ipse" might prove usefull here, although it is indeed not per se appropriated to expressing a reflexive meaning in one way or the other. Regardless, it seems to help: "vir dixit se ipsam feminam amare", for (3).

And, I agree word order can serve to nullify ambiguity as well, although the same must be said of this solution as for "ipse". :)
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Postby Rhapsody » Tue Feb 03, 2004 10:16 pm

Yeah, now I've got it! It's so much easier when you have already learned it!
thanks for the help
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