5

Modern translations of medieval texts frequently translate the Latin verb 'sit' as he/she/it is. However, 'sit' is the subjunctive mood of the verb 'sum'. In my view it should be translated as he/she/it be as in: "Videtur quod pater non sit in filio ..." which is frequently translated as "It seems the father is not in the son." Instead I prefer "It seems the father be not in the son." Comments please.

  • 2
    you are correct that "sit" is subjunctive and that the present subjunctive of be is "be". However, just because Latin uses subjunctive in a given case doesn't mean that an English translation will. They are conceptually similar ideas (some degree of uncertainty/unreality) but not identical. – eques May 9 at 20:06
6

The trick is the context.

In this case, you have a subordinate clause with videtur "it seems" and quod "that". This is mostly a mediaeval-Latin construction; in Classical prose I would expect ut or an accusative-plus-infinitive instead.

But in mediaeval Latin, videtur quod generally takes the subjunctive. See this answer by brianpck (and the question itself) for some further analysis. In particular:

The moment we depart from such words and move on to verbs like cogito and (especially in medieval Latin!) videtur, the subjunctive predominates.

On a philosophical level, you could say that the subjunctive is because "it seems" to be a certain way, it isn't necessarily fact. But linguistically, it's easiest just to say "this is a construction that puts its verb in the subjunctive".

In English, on the other hand, the subjunctive is nearly extinct and very rarely used. The English impersonal "seems" always takes an indicative: "it seems like he wasn't here", not *"it seems like he weren't here" or *"it seems like he be not here".

So in this case, I would say "it seems that the Father is not in the Son" without reservation. A phrasing like *"the Father be not in the Son" just sounds somewhere between archaic and ungrammatical to my Modern English ear.

  • Thank you, I had used the "modern" versions but wanted to be truer to the original, even though it "sounds as you correctly say, somewhat ungrammatical." My quandary also comes from the manner in which the verb to be "esse" and there for 'est', is used. It seems to be that these Scholastic authors employed 'sit' to differentiate from 'est'. – Gene May 9 at 18:18
  • 2
    @Gene Being true to the original is a good goal, but the grammar of the target language also has to be taken into account. Modern readers won't necessarily understand that *"the Father be not" means the Latin verb in question took the subjunctive, while "the Father is not" means the Latin verb in question took the indicative: it's just a distinction that's not really important in English. If the subjunctive/indicative distinction does become important in the translation, like in a conditional or a main clause, modals like "might" or "should" will get the idea across more clearly… – Draconis May 9 at 18:34
  • 1
    …than archaic grammar will. – Draconis May 9 at 18:34
  • 1
    If you have a dial with a needle on it and a scale reading from “fully real” to “fully hypothetical”, a very large part of the scale is coloured “indicative” in English and a very small part coloured “subjunctive”. Much the same in French. For a modern language that divides the scale like Mediaeval Latin, try Spanish, where most of the scale is coloured “subjunctive”. – Martin Kochanski Jun 8 at 9:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.