1

As a follow-up question of two previous posts (cf. here and here), I was wondering if an Ablative Absolute construction like portā clausā is ambiguous in Early Latin as it is in Classical Latin. For example, as pointed out by Longrée (2014), the well-known categorial ambiguity of a participle like clausă in Portă clausă est (cf. its verbal nature 'the door has been/was closed' vs. its adjectival one 'the door is closed') can also be claimed to hold for its corresponding Ablative Absolute construction portā clausā: e.g., cf. the verbal reading 'once/after the door was closed (by someone)' with the adjectival one 'with the door closed' (NB: please leave the irrelevant/also adjectival reading 'with the closed door' aside. This attributive reading is of course irrelevant because in that case we would not be dealing with an Ablative Absolute. So only the predicative reading of the adjective is relevant here).

I think that the existence of the abovementioned ambiguity of portā clausā commented on by Longrée (2014) is clear in Classical Latin but I'm not so sure whether it is also ambiguous in Early Latin. I'd say that only the adjectival reading ('with the door closed') is possible in Early Latin. For example, is there any {expert on/fan of} Plautus to confirm this point?

To put an example of the issue above, if I'm right, the interpretation of the participle victis in victores victis hostibus legiones reveniunt domum (Plaut. Am. 188) must be adjectival, i.e., resultative ('with the enemies defeated, the victorious legions return home') rather than verbal, i.e., eventive ('after the enemies were defeated, ...'). I hope you'll be able to find clearer examples...

Similarly, a construction like demisso capite has been said to be potentially ambiguous in Latin (see Lavency (1986) and Longrée (2014), i.a.) depending on whether the participle has a verbal reading (in this case this construction would be to some extent commutable by a cum-construction: cum caput demisisset) or an adjectival reading ('with his head down', i.e., 'downcast') (for example, see Lavency's original quote below).

I was wondering if the potential ambiguity of demisso capite exists in Early Latin. Again I'd say that it doesn't (only the adjectival reading is possible) but is there any {expert on/fan of} Plautus to confirm this point? NB: I've just singled out this playwright because I guess that many fans of Latin can consider him as their favorite author of that period but, of course, please feel free to comment on attested examples from other authors (Terentius, Cato, ...). Perhaps there is even variation among these authors with respect to the issue of the present question.

To conclude, notice the direct connection of the present question with a previous post: assuming that in Early Latin the participle in portā clausā or portā fractā can only have an adjectival nature, the addition of an agentive by-phrase (e.g., a Gaio) is not expected since it would trigger ungrammaticality. In contrast, agentive by-phrases in Ablative Absolute constructions are expected (and are indeed found!) in Classical Latin because their participle can have a verbal nature (NB: in fact, or rather should I say "unsurprisingly", something similar happens in my native language, Catalan; e.g., cf. the grammaticality of the verbal (i.e., eventive) participial construction una vegada {oberta/trencada} la porta per la Maria 'lit. once {opened/broken} the door by Mary' with the ungrammaticality of the adjectival (i.e., resultative) participial construction *amb la porta {oberta/trencada} per la Maria 'with the door {opened/broken} by Mary' (NB: ungrammatical on the predicative reading of the adjective). Probably, something similar happens in your native language as well (if so, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks!)).


Some relevant sources follow:

Lavency, Marius (1986). “Le paradigme syntaxique de l’Ablatif absolu”. In F. Decreus & C. Deroux (eds.). Hommages à Josef Veremans (Latomus, 193). 184-191. Bruxelles.

E.g., see Lavency (1986) on the potential ambiguity of the example Fabricius demisso capite discesserat (Cic. Clu. 58): “L’expression demisso capite ferait figure d’un Ablatif absolu si, l’organisant en proposition commutable avec cum caput demisisset, le lecteur comprenait ‘Fabricius baissa la tête (dans la situation ainsi faite), il partit (la tête baissée ou non) (...) L’interpretation la plus obvie –Fabricius garde la tête baissée- repose sur un autre type de construction syntaxique: le paradigme de l’épithète détachée [Praedicativum: Mitomino], où contrairement à l’Ablatif absolu, ...”.

Longrée, Dominique (2014). “Demisso capite: ablatif absolu ou épithète détachée? Réflexions sur la description d’un syntagme à deux constituants obligatoires”. In C. Cabrillana & Ch. Lehmann (edd.). Acta XIV Colloqui Internationalis Linguisticae Latinae. 361-372. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas.

Your Answer

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

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.