In "Captivi" Act 3, Scene 4 (Plautus), between lines 40-45 there is the following dialogue:

HEGIO: plus quidem quam tibi aut mihi nam ille quidem, quem tu hunc memoras esse, hodie hinc abiit Alidem ad patrem huius.

ARISTOPHANTES: quem patrem qui servos est?

TYNDARUS: et tu quidem servos es,

The translation (Perseus Pl. Capt. 3.4):

HEGIO: More indeed than either you or myself for he, in fact, who you say that he is [pointing to Tyndarus] has set out hence today for Elis, to this person's father.

ARISTOPHANTES: What father, when he's a slave?!

TYNDARUS: And so are you a slave,

Context: In Roman society slaves were not considered to have any legal existence; and, therefore to have neither parents nor relations. Hence the shock-horror reaction of Aristophantes.

In "quem patrem qui servos est" why is a sentence beginning with an accusative? Is the reader to understand that Aristophantes has repeated a word ("patrem") from Hegio, with an embellishment ("quem") in a mocking way? Alternatively, is "ad" to be understood, "ad quem patrem..." = "To what father..."?

The expected line would be "quis (adjectival form = "what") pater, qui servus est".

Why, in the relative clause, "qui servos est", is "slave" given as accusative plural?

Firstly, there is only one person under discussion ("pater"/ "patrem"); secondly, in this relative clause "when he's a slave"/ ("who is a slave") is a state of affairs, requiring a nominative ("servus"); not the action of a verb on a noun, requiring an accusative ("servum"/ "servos").

To add to the confusion, Tyndarus replied to Aristophantes with, "et tu quidem servos es", using the accusative plural "servos".

What is going on, here?

  • 2
    You might be interested in this question about servos, about those very same instances of the word.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 26, 2020 at 12:49
  • @Joonas llmavirta: A touch embarrassing; something similar has been asked before; though I was interested in the "quem patrem" thing, as well as "servos". All's well that ends well.
    – tony
    Aug 27, 2020 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


In this case, servos (with a short o) is actually an archaic nominative singular, not an accusative plural. (Compare to the Greek nominative singular ending -ος.) You'll find this happens a lot in Plautus.

And you are right that he says quem patrem to agree with the case of the previous statement. If someone says, "Dedi aliquid filio meo." the proper query is "Cui?" not "Quis?" if you want to know who the son is.

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