I'm a novice trying to learn Latin, and I hope this question is appropriate to this forum (please let me know if it is not the case).

I tried to read this section from De Brevitate Vitae (text here):

Maior pars mortalium, Pauline, de naturae malignitate conqueritur, quod in exiguum aeui gignimur, quod haec tam uelociter, tam rapide dati nobis temporis spatia decurrant, adeo ut exceptis admodum paucis ceteros in ipso uitae apparatu uita destituat. Nec huic publico, ut opinantur, malo turba tantum et imprudens uulgus ingemuit; clarorum quoque uirorum hic affectus querellas euocauit.

Even after reading a possible translation, I still could not make sense of this sentence grammatically. several problems for me here:

1) "huic publico" - that is clearly the dative case(?) but I could not find dative to what.

2) "ingemuit" - is singular verb, so I suppose it only related to the "imprudens vulgus". so I don't understand the "et" before. The translation seem to include both: "masses and the unthinking crowd ..."

3) "opinantur" - is the substance implicit here?


  • 2
    To question 2, when a verb has multiple coordinated subjects it can be singular in form, as if it's agreeing with only one of them (especially when the subjects refer to basically the same thing, as here).
    – TKR
    May 27, 2019 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


I looked up a translation also. For clarity, here is what I found:

Nor is it merely the common herd and the unthinking crowd that bemoan what is, as men deem it, an universal ill; the same feeling has called forth complaint also from men who were famous.

"On the shortness of life", translation by John W. Basore, Wikisource)

I am also only a beginner, so I can't answer all of your questions. Here is what I understand about the grammar of this sentence:

  • I think that the verb ingemo takes a dative complement in this sentence. Lewis and Short says that that is possible: the entry includes a section "II. Neutr., to mourn, groan, wail, lament: [...] —With dat."

  • I think the dative noun phrase is "huic publico, ut opinantur, malo". "Huic" and "publico" seem to be adjectives to the neuter noun malo.

  • I think you are right about the subject of opinantur being implied rather than explicit. I think it could be understood as "homines opinantur". Zumpt 1845 says that in a certain sentence, "quibus vulgus opinantur" means "in quibus eos esse vulgo homines opinantur"(A Grammar of the Latin Language, p. 523).

    I also found a reader that comments on the meaning of the word opinantur in the sentence "Et praetextum quidem illi civilium armorum hoc fuit; causas autem alias fuisse opinantur", from De Vita Caesarum by Suetonius.

    the subject is indefinite, "people"; Eng. might use the impersonal pass., "it is believed"

    (Aeneas to Augustus: A Beginning Latin Reader for College Students, by Mason Hammond and Anne Amory, 2nd ed., p. 143).

  • thank you very much. it makes much more sense now. I think you are right with all your points. with respect to the last point, it seems my guess was right with the implied subject, I've just that a passive form should be used in that case - so I found it quite odd. The only part missing now is the usage of singular verb form ingemuit rather than the expected plural. I also find the position of the word "tantum" quite strange - but I can live with that.
    – d_e
    May 27, 2019 at 22:02
  • @d_e: "opinantur" isn't really passive, it just looks that way--it's a form of the deponent verb opinor.
    – Asteroides
    May 27, 2019 at 22:03
  • 1
    Right. I meant I expected it to be passive but it is not as the subject is missing.
    – d_e
    May 27, 2019 at 22:05
  • with respect the singular verb. I saw a comment under my question answering that.
    – d_e
    May 27, 2019 at 22:06
  • 1
    @d_e: Active verbs can be used like this, too. E.g. ferunt + a.c.i. "they say that..." or ut ferunt "as they say". As to tantum "only", as an adverb, its position is often quite free; in this case, it is somewhere near the words it modifies, which translates as follows: "not...only the crowd and the unthinking people...; but also...". Latin can do "[not the crowd only]" as here.
    – Cerberus
    May 28, 2019 at 3:34

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