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I am currently working on a translation passage adapted from Livy 43.4 by Ashley Carter, titled Hortensius at Abdera, but got stuck only a few lines into it. Here is the sentence that I am struggling to translate:

cives, cum tantam pecuniam non haberent, ab eo petiverunt ut sibi permitteretur ut legatos de ea re ad consulem Hostilium, qui in Graecia quoque esset, et Romam mitterent.

So far, I have gotten:

Since they did not have money of such size, the citizens asked from him that he...

I'm not really sure why I'm so confused about the rest of it, as the grammar and vocab are both familiar to me already, but I hope someone can help me decipher this sentence.

To help, here is the passage in its entirety, along with the English context sentences that are given directly before it. I have put the sentence I am asking about in bold.

The citizens of Abdera try to save the city from the greedy Roman praetor, Hortensius. Hortensius now fell into disgrace.

Hortensius, praetor Romanus, qui bellum in Graecia gerebat, ad oppidum Abdera advenit. ibi, praedam quaerens, centum milia denariorum plurimumque frumentum a civibus poposcit. cives, cum tantam pecuniam non haberent, ab eo petiverunt ut sibi permitteretur ut legatos de ea re ad consulem Hostilium, qui in Graecia quoque esset, et Romam mitterent. qui simulatque ad consulem pervenerunt, audiverunt oppidum suum captum, principes occisos, ceteros venditos esse. tum legati Abderitae Romam ad senatum venerunt lacrimantes. querebantur oppidum suum ab Hortensio praetore sine iusta causa expugnatum ac direptum esse. haec res indigna senatoribus visa est. decreverunt Abderitas, qui iam servi essent, liberandos esse oppidumque restituendum esse. duo legati missi sunt qui haec facerent. iisdem mandatum est ut et Hostilio consuli et Hortensio praetori nuntiarent senatum decrevisse iniustum bellum contra Abderitas gestum esse; omnes cives qui adhuc vivi essent in libertatem restituendos esse.

The translation that I have gotten so far (i.e. the first two sentences) is this:

Hortensius, a Roman praetor, who was waging a war in Greece, arrived at the town of Abdera. There, looking for plunder, he demanded one hundred thousand denarii and very many grain from the citizens.

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You have the cum clause pretty well figured out, so I'll skip that.

The citizens asked him (ab eo petiverunt) for something. What was that thing? Instead of supplying some noun as the direct object of petiverunt, Livy provides a noun clause (jussive noun clause) that gives the substance of the request, ut sibi permitteretur: they want something to be permitted to them. (Here, sibi refers to cives, the grammatical subject of the sentence's main verb, petiverunt.)

And what was it that they want to be permitted to them? Again, instead of supplying some noun to serve as the subject of permitteretur, Livy gives another noun clause, ut legatos...miterent: they want to send envoys.

The envoys are described as being sent de ea re: (to handle discussions, etc.) about that matter; and the citizens want to send them both to a specific person (ad consulem Hostilium) and to a place (Romam).

Finally, along the way, we get a relative clause to provide a detail about Hostilius, qui in Graecia quoque esset: he was in Greece too. The subjunctive form esset could be meant to signal that this detail was actually included in the request that the citizens made rather than being information that the narrator is supplying for our benefit; or it could be just as a sign of subordination.

  • Ah okay, so 'permitteretur' is more impersonal in this sentence (i.e. it may be allowed)? I think one of the reasons I was confused was because I thought it would be something like 'he may be allowed/permitted'. Thank you! – Hafsah H Dec 6 '19 at 21:20
  • @HafsahH - Yes, it's more impersonal (though, as I said, the grammatical subject is really the ut...mitterent clause). Note that although in English we can change '(someone) permits him (to do something)' to a passive by saying 'he is permitted (to do something),' in Latin, if the verb permittere is used, the person that you permit to do something is dative, not accusative; so 'he' wouldn't become the subject of the passive verb but would remain the dative indirect object. – cnread Dec 6 '19 at 21:51

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