There are basically 3 approaches:

  1. Specta mihi in oculos
  2. Specta me, in oculos
  3. Specta (in) oculos meos

Probably, there is no "correct" translation, but maybe there is more natural and precise one. For me, the expression "look me in the eyes" is pretty emphatic (and begs for strong personal attention to the speaker) compared to "look at my eyes" which may be used also in technical sense: "look at my eyes, there is something on it". This expression is somewhat odd in English grammar-wise, but it attested also in other languages that we can use the dative (I would say that also in the English expression"look me in the eyes", me is the dative case (not the accusative)). I don't know if, theoretically, in this example (in English and other languages) this dative should be called the "dative of possession", but effectively it is, as the reference is to the my eyes. (maybe it is even the dative of purpose?)

The trigger of this question is the expression "mihi in oculos" that was used by Vives in his Dialogues:

Nescio quid incidit mihi in oculos, ita videor eos habere plenos arenae.

reading that the usage of the dative of possession is usually when we want to stress the fact of possession, I had found the usage of the dative in that context somewhat odd and less-obvious, but I could tolerate that, and moved on. However, today, on further inspection - thinking of expressions in other languages - I think it might be more natural to use the dative, just as the case of the English "look me in the eyes".

So my question, can we the dative of possession more naturally when in cases where there is context of action that effecting (to)someone, such as Vive's "incidit" which had it's effect of the entire being, rather than the eyes specifically; or, "specta", where we really mean "look at me" (attend to me) and not specifically at the eyes, hence "specta mihi in oculos"?

what would be your translation of the phrase?

  • 1
    I'm not sure which translation would be most natural. But I would call your dative a dativus ethicus, the dative "of the person concerned", rather than possessive (which I would rather expect with sum).
    – Cerberus
    Jun 21, 2020 at 2:08
  • @Cerberus, thanks for your input. Not sure I understand what do you mean by "expecting with sum". And, if that's indeed not a possessive dative, should we expect to include meos also?
    – d_e
    Jun 21, 2020 at 16:10
  • 1
    Oh, what I meant is this: the dativus possessivus normally occurs with a form of sum, e.g., mihi multa pecunia est. // I don't know whether adding meos to your mihi examples would make them better or worse, but I should think the latter; in modern languages, adding the possessive pronoun would be unidiomatic, as in Dutch or German or French. You would say, in French, il me lave les pieds, not *il me lave mes pieds. Similarly, in Dutch, you would say iemand in de ogen kijken, whereas *iemand in zijn ogen kijken would be less idiomatic.
    – Cerberus
    Jun 21, 2020 at 16:36
  • @Cerberus In Latin grammars the dative in Nescio quid incidit mihi in oculos is often referred to as a "sympathetic dative" (e.g., books.google.es/… ). In these cases there is a relationship of inalienability between a body part (e.g., oculos) and the dative. NB: in Romance linguistics it is true that this dative is often (mis?)classified as a "possessive dative".
    – Mitomino
    Jun 21, 2020 at 20:37
  • @Mitomino: Noted. I suppose some (sub)classifications of the Latin cases are somewhat open to interpretation, and possibly less useful...
    – Cerberus
    Jun 22, 2020 at 0:15

2 Answers 2


I believe your third approach is the best one, because it put focus on your eyes being the aim of the view. You do not want the person to spectate you by looking in your eyes, but you actually want them to spectate your eyes. Therefore, I also would not use "in", but rather have "oculos meos" as an accusative noun.


I recommend using inspicio rather than specto for this, for the simple reason that the Romans never passed up an opportunity to put a prefix on a verb.

Juvenal uses the phrase faciem inspicit to mean "he peers into (your) face" or looks into your eyes (Satires 1,97). So to copy your suggestions:

  1. Inspice mihi in oculos would be fine

  2. Inspice me, in oculos would also be fine, "Look into me, into my eyes"

  3. Inspice oculos meos and Inspice in oculos meos. Either of these options would be best, in my opinion.

  • 1
    How can both the dative, "mihi", (1) and accusative, "me", (2) be correct? Mitomino seems to think that the dative is the correct one. Do you agree?
    – tony
    Aug 12, 2022 at 8:21
  • @tony when a verb has a prefex which is a preposition, you can often make that virtual preposition take an object by using a dative. Thus inspice mihi means virtually the same thing as inspice in me. A lot could be said about this, too much for a comment. I should expand my answer and add a reference. But not tonight; it's too late.
    – Figulus
    Aug 13, 2022 at 3:36
  • 1
    Interesting: the dative becomes a direct object. In Q: latin.stackexchange.com/a/18612/1982, (in comments) the dative, "mihi", becoming an indirect object after "irrideo"; the ridicule directed, by prefix, "ir", to me/ to someone. Seb pointed out that "irrideo" can also select accusative, "me", as well (confirmed by Lewis & Short). It could get confusing.
    – tony
    Aug 13, 2022 at 9:24
  • @tony I promised you a reference. Here it is: Woodcock #58(1)(c) and #62. The rules he lays out are much more complicated than I remember them, but I don't think what I wrote above is wrong, I just left out a bunch of complications. A lot more could be said about it, but it is something of a digression from the OP's question, so I'll wait and maybe ask a question (and answer it) later.
    – Figulus
    Aug 20, 2022 at 3:14

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