Another question regarding a sentence from Hollard and Botting’s elem. exercisces.

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Propertius
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Another question regarding a sentence from Hollard and Botting’s elem. exercisces.

Post by Propertius » Fri Aug 02, 2019 4:40 am

Section L, Exercise CCCXXIV, Sentence III

Why do they set free the hostages which we sent?

My translation:

Cur obsides liberant quos misimus?

The answer key says:

Cur obsides liberaverunt quos misimus?

If it were past tense shouldn’t the sentence read:

Why DID they set free the hostages which we sent?

My understanding tells me that when you DO something it’s being done in the present and when you DID something it has been done in the past. Is the answer key wrong? Or am I wrong?

mwh
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Re: Another question regarding a sentence from Hollard and Botting’s elem. exercisces.

Post by mwh » Fri Aug 02, 2019 1:50 pm

No you're not wrong, the answer key is.

talus
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Re: Another question regarding a sentence from Hollard and Botting’s elem. exercisces.

Post by talus » Tue Nov 05, 2019 11:20 pm

This post suggests a possible explanation for the perfect tense liberaverunt. That is, is there any scenario that would make liberaverunt sensible?

Why do they set free the hostages which we sent? Cur obsides liberaverunt quos misimus?

The sentence is in Hillard and Botting Exercise 324 on interrogatives. In Section 3 the authors address the "double duty" of the Perfect Tense. Their example is amavi, meaning either "I loved" or "I have loved." The first use is mere past. The second use shows "an action as completed at a certain time." The authors do not say what that time is. The time is the present or just about now. In the grammars this use of the perfect is called Present Perfect or Pure Perfect or
Perfect Definite. (The online copy of the H&B textbook used for this post does not show the textbook's Grammar Notes. The textbook's Grammar Note #82 might elaborate on the Perfect.)

The spoken sentence would have vocal inflections that express the meaning. "Do," emphasized, might mean "Why is this setting free of hostages their habit or custom?" For example, the question, "Why is she running?" and "Why does she run?" could mean the same, or "Why does she run?" could be a question about her regular practice of running, her purpose and goals.
Or "do" might be a disapproving emphactic, as much an expression of exasperation as a question.
Or even more narrowly an exasperation not just at the fact of freeing but at the uninterrupted sequence of the two events, so that the exasperating question could be read to mean "No sooner have we sent them, than they have set them free."

Latin is pretty strict about tenses, so if the hostages were freed in the past after we sent them in a farther past, we would expect the perfect/pluperfect liberaverunt/miseramus. Because we do not find this pairing, then liberaverunt can only incorporate an action that began in the past and is completed just a bit ago, that is, it is Present Perfect. And given that both verbs are in the same grammatical tense, the liberaverunt either began during the misimus or followed in sequence hard upon the end of misimus.

It is natural to read misimus as Historical Perfect. This reads the verb's information as about a past fact that occurred without regard to duration in time or to resulting effects in the present. This is possible. The writers write "sent" and not "have sent." It depends on how strictly we should read their English "sent" as Historical.

But we can also view misimus, unlike a strict Historical Perfect, as an action not in isolation but prompting results right up to the present, that is, as Present Perfect. If we do read both verbs as Present Perfects then we get this meaning also, "Why have they set free the hostages whom we have sent?" In this reading the beginning of liberaverunt overlaps in time with misimus, or it is taken to be a next event in a connected sequence of events.

As for the present liberant, though the Latin present tense has a couple of special uses, when used straightforwardly as Specific Present, it is used as the English Present Continuous. Liberant would mean "They are freeing."

Each of the three pairings is correct for their purposes: liberant/misimus, liberaverunt/miseramus, liberaverunt/misimus.

Here are some grammar references for the above ideas on the use of the Perfect.
For Perfect as customary action, see Allen and Greenough §473a: "a customary action...often has the Perfect in a subordinate clause referring to time antecedent to that of the main clause." In our sentence, however, syntactically these are reversed, though in meaning the antecedent action is in the subordinate clause (missimus) and is the cause of the main clause, and the resulting action (liberaverunt) is in the main clause.
For the repitition of an act being itself the historical fact, see Zumpt §502, Note 1: ""An action often repeated, however, may also be conceived as a simple historical fact, and accordingly be expressed by the perfect."
For Perfect stating a widely known truth, see New Latin Syntax §217(1)(c): "[F]or generalizing clauses [of repeated actions] in the present the perfect indicative is the usual tense."
For Perfect as result, see Gildersleeve and Lodge §236,2: "The Perfect is used...far more frequently of the present result of a more remote action (resulting condition)." And §236, Remark: "The Pure [Present] Perfect is often translated by the English present." [Here H&B might be mentally translating back from Latin perfect to English present.]
For the speaker's viewpoint in present time, see Roby §1476(a): The Present Perfect is used for "[a]n action already completed before present time, so that the result, rather than the action itself, is present to the mind." And §1476(b): This perfect is used "sometimes with emphasis."

The above is beyond the scope of an elementary treatment. If there is a slip-up in H&B it might be in not explaining their use of the perfect. This post attempts to show how liberaverunt could fit the sentence if a person were pressed.

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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Another question regarding a sentence from Hollard and Botting’s elem. exercisces.

Post by Barry Hofstetter » Wed Nov 06, 2019 2:33 pm

Talus, I think you are way overthinking this. There are indeed occasional contexts in which the Latin "true perfect" as a primary tense approaches the use of an English present, and may even better be rendered by an English present, but such instances are not very common. Here I think MWH is right and that the answer key is simply wrong. I've seen several instances in Caesar lately where the perfect tense is used in both clauses where the grammar books make us think one should be pluperfect, but the simple past is clearly indicated, and I think the author is unconcerned about the exact sequence, just that both sets of action occurred in the past.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
The Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy
καὶ σὺ τὸ σὸν ποιήσεις κἀγὼ τὸ ἐμόν. ἆρον τὸ σὸν καὶ ὕπαγε.

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