Originally "conscius" meant "knowing something with someone, sharing the knowledge of something with someone". (Ref: Gaffiot Dictionnaire Latin Français).

This may explain why a pronoun ("sibi") was necessary to distinguish this first usage from an ulterior one , in which the word expresses the idea of "intimate knowledge" : "... cum sibi nullius essent conscii culpae" (Virgil, Aen., I, 604). I suppose that the reflective pronoun aims at indicating that, here, no relation to another person is at stake.

But why is this additional pronoun in the dative case?

Wouldn't have been more logical the pronoun to be in the ablative case? ("conscius" in the modality of a relation to oneself, not to another person)

Incidentally: how to translate "sibi conscius"? is it possible to give an equivalent that would still express the "dative case" idea; I suppose that "aware to oneself" does not make sense.

  • 1
    Note that your example cum sibi nullius essent conscii culpae is from Cicero (Off. 3, 73). The one that corresponds to the ref. (Virgil, Aen. I, 604) is the following one: mens sibi conscia recti.
    – Mitomino
    Dec 2, 2019 at 1:22
  • The line from Aeneis 1.604 is incorrect. The actual line is si quid 603| 604 Usquam iustitiae est, et mens sibi conscia recti. You quote the Wikipedia article: "There were, however, many occurrences in Latin writings of the phrase conscius sibi". Wish Wikipedia would have quoted them! Best regards. Nov 15, 2023 at 19:49
  • 1
    It is dative because guilt is being given or transferred to someone. When there is a transfer of something from one person to another then it is dative. So here guilt is being assigned to sibi. Also, the quote from what I can tell is: "sibi autem nullius essent conscii culpae" (however, they were conscious of no guilt to themselves) Nov 15, 2023 at 20:22
  • @RichardHawleyTrowbridge Here you go!
    – cmw
    Nov 16, 2023 at 0:12

1 Answer 1


I think that the dative sibi can be crucially related to the presence of the preverb con-. A typical use of the dative case is found with some compound verbs and adjectives.

sibi ipse cōnsentit (Cic. Off. I.5) 'if he is in accord with himself'

So note that the the same dative you see with adjective conscius also appears with the related verb conscire:

nil conscire sibi (Hor. Ep. 1, 1, 61) lit. 'to be conscious with himself of nothing', i.e., 'to be conscious of no guilt'

It can also be useful for you to take a look at what is summarized in the wikipedia entry of consciousness. Here is a copy&paste of the relevant fragment:

"The earliest English language uses of "conscious" and "consciousness" date back, however, to the 1500s. The English word "conscious" originally derived from the Latin conscius (con- 'together' and scio 'to know'), but the Latin word did not have the same meaning as our word —it meant "knowing with", in other words "having joint or common knowledge with another". There were, however, many occurrences in Latin writings of the phrase conscius sibi, which translates literally as "knowing with oneself", or in other words "sharing knowledge with oneself about something". This phrase had the figurative meaning of "knowing that one knows", as the modern English word "conscious" does. In its earliest uses in the 1500s, the English word "conscious" retained the meaning of the Latin conscius. For example, Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan wrote: "Where two, or more men, know of one and the same fact, they are said to be Conscious of it one to another." The Latin phrase conscius sibi, whose meaning was more closely related to the current concept of consciousness, was rendered in English as "conscious to oneself" or "conscious unto oneself". For example, Archbishop Ussher wrote in 1613 of "being so conscious unto myself of my great weakness". Locke's definition from 1690 illustrates that a gradual shift in meaning had taken place".

Finally, if you're interested in philosophical issues, you can also take a look at this link.

  • North & Hillard Ex. 204; Q1: "If he had not mocked me, I should perhaps have forgiven him." Impossible conditions; past tense. Answer Book gives: "nisi mihi irisisset forsitan ei ignossem". Was about to submit a Q on why "mihi" and not "me" given that "irredeo" does not take dative. Is this a case of "intimate knowledge of self"?
    – tony
    Dec 3, 2019 at 11:49
  • @tony: interesting point! The use of dative with the compound verb irridere sounds quite natural, doesn't it? In fact, this use is found in some Latin textbooks (e.g., books.google.es/… ). However, as you point out, it seems that the dative use is not attested in real texts. I did not carry out any extensive search but I've been unable to find an example of this use. Go ahead with raising this interesting question!
    – Mitomino
    Dec 4, 2019 at 1:30
  • Thank you. Found: "Grammar of Expression 'Mihi Cordi Est' ". Joonas: Someone who benefits or suffers from an action can be indicated by dative e.g. potesne mihi auxiliari. In Allen & Greenough "Dative of Reference" (377-79): "laudavit mihi fratrem" = "he praised my brother out of regard for me"; "laudavit fratrem meum" would imply no such motive.
    – tony
    Dec 4, 2019 at 12:43

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