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In later Latin, as ipse started to lose its force, Petronius uses ipsimus for emphasis:

Tamen ad delicias ipsimi [domini] annos quattuordecim fui. Nec turpe est, quod dominus iubet. Ego tamen et ipsimae [dominae] satis faciebam. Scitis, quid dicam: taceo, quia non sum de gloriosis.

Well, I was my very own [master]'s beloved at age fourteen. It's not shameful, whatever your master orders. And, well, I also used to do enough for my very own [mistress], too. You all know what I mean—I won't say any more, because I'm not the boastful type.

(Translation mine—this is from the mouth of Trimalchio, who uses intentionally bad Latin at times.)

Much more recently, Aleister Crowley uses a form ipsissimus in his esoteric writings:

And this is the Opening of the Grade of Ipsissimus, and by the Buddhists it is called the trance Nerodha-Samapatti.

Both seem like standard superlative forms from ipse, treating it like a normal adjective.

But are either of these good Classical style? Is there a "correct" superlative form attested in non-Vulgar Latin? And if so, which is it?

  • FWIW, ipsissimus seems like a more regular construction – Rafael Jul 15 at 12:49
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Joonas is correct: those forms don’t belong in good classical style.

Peter Stotz’s Handbuch zur lateinischen Sprache des Mittelalters mentions that Donatus explicitly forbade comparatives and superlatives from pronouns (note 180 in the linked page) but I could not find the citation online.

The same source says that Plautus’ ipsissimus was “certainly” (gewiß) modeled after Greek αὐτότατος.

To my knowledge there are no reflexes of ipsissimus in Romance languages, while the origin of Italian medesimo, French même, Spanish mismo, Sardinian matessi, etc. can be traced back to egomet ipsimus “I myself in person”, reanalysed as ego *metipsimus, so maybe ipsimus had some currency in colloquial Latin.

  • Related question: latin.stackexchange.com/questions/5039/… – Rafael Jul 15 at 14:59
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    @Rafael Oh, I see now that this question is part of a larger conversation, which I had missed. Bene, repetita iuvant... – Dario Jul 15 at 15:30
  • I fail to see how being a calque on the Greek disqualifies ipsissimus from being good classical Latin. After all, it is used by Plautus. – fdb Jul 15 at 15:57
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    @fdb What disqualifies ipsissimus is its low frequency. Being a calque on the Greek justifies its very existence. Unfortunately, we cannot know for sure how the comic poets’ public reacted to that word: maybe it was a joke in itself, and later readers didn’t get it... – Dario Jul 15 at 16:18
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    Very nice! I honestly would interpret that part of Donatus differently, though: he treats nomina (nouns+adjectives) and pronouns as separate categories, and forbids using superlatives of certain types of nomina — but ipse isn't a nomen to begin with. – Draconis Jul 15 at 20:45
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Classical corpus searches suggest that ipsimus is only attested in Satyricon and ipsissimus is used once by Plautus and once by Afranius. There are not enough attestations to decide which is correct, or whether both superlatives should be dismissed as improper classical Latin.

Since nothing is found in the best classical authors, I would say that in good classical style the superlative does not exist. I think a superlative of ipse would be something Cicero would have most certainly found use for, but his abstinence from this word signals that he did probably not consider it proper Latin. This is a matter of taste of course, but we should at least agree that the word is very rare in classical Latin.

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    For my taste, Petronius is one of the "best classical authors". But de gustibus non disputandum est. – fdb Jul 15 at 22:48
  • Joonas llmavirta: Wiktionary gives; "ipsimus" : from a theoretic "ipsissimus" (ipse + -issimus) attested in Satyricon. The implication is that Petronius invented "ipsimus" (a theoretic); but; both Plautus & Afranius lived in earlier time periods. The oldest, Plautus (died 184BC) invented it, pushing the barriers of his own language? The others copied it; but it did not catch on, universally? Therefore, is it strictly true that "the superlative does not exist"? – tony Jul 17 at 10:05
  • @tony I do stand by "in good classical style the superlative does not exist", but I recognize that different people will have different opinions of what "good classical style" means. For example, if Cicero had considered the superlative proper Latin, I am quite sure he would have used it, but he didn't. The word does exist, but the question is: in what kinds of Latin does it exist? – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 17 at 10:50

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