Christian Wolff was a German philosopher in the 18th century who wrote many works in Latin. As part of his work, he wrote a set of three volumes all called Horae subsecivae Marburgenses (Marburg is a place in Germany). The subtitle of all three volumes is a year followed by quibus philosophia ad publicam privatamque utilitatem aptatur. You can view the Google Books listing here, and an image from one of the title pages is below.

These volumes are collections of philosophical essays on various topics, many of which Wolff discusses elsewhere. The essays are divided into groups belonging to a single trimestre, like trimestre brumale or trimestre vernale.

I would like to know if anyone has any ideas about how to translate the phrase horae subsecivae in the title of the work. Lewis and Short (1781b) tell me that subsecivus can mean "remaining," but also "occasional, incidental." I'm assuming the horae part refers to the seasons at which Wolff either wrote the essays or read them in public, but I'm not sure.

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2 Answers 2


If a book has a cryptic title like that, it is always a good idea to look whether perhaps the author explains the title in the preface.

The preface starts thus:

Etsi magna negotiorum mole quotidie me obrutum esse non ignorent, qui labores meos perspectos habent; in felicitatem tamen generis humani pronus cum id unice mihi datum esse existimem, ut aliis inserviendo consumar, Patronis jubentibus, amicis rogantibus, facile me adduci passus sum, ut speciminibus docerem, quomodo philosophia ad publicam privatamque utilitatem aptanda sit, cum longum iter per praecepta, breve per exempla deprehendatur. Tempus igitur huic labori impendendum ordinariis negotiis detrahere debui, quasi animum labore fessum recreaturus, cum voluptatem noverim nullam, nisi quae ex studio aliis inserviendi proficiscatur. Atque ea ratio est, cur specimina ista sub titulo horarum subcesivarum per trimestria intervalla in lucem prodeant. Cum vero Marburgi hoc otio mihi perfrui datum sit, quo non ad pompam, sed ad utilitatem philosophari licet; horas istas subsecivas Marburgenses appellandas esse duxi, ut omnes intelligant Marburgum esse eam Musarum sedem, ubi non ventositati, sed soliditati ac utilitati litatur.

Although those who know my work in and out will know that I am daily overwhelmed by the great weight of my business, yet disposed as I am toward the happiness of the human race, as I reckon it is uniquely given to me to be employed in the service towards others, I suffered it gladly to be prevailed upon, by order of my patrons and by the appeal of my friends, to teach by examples how philosophy may be adapted for public and private use, for the long road is taken by way of rules, the short one by way of examples. The time, then, to be expended for this work, I had to take away from my normal business, as if to refresh the mind exhausted by work, given that I know no joy but that which originates in the exertion to serve others. And that is the reason why these examples are brought forth, in three-month intervals, under the title of overtime hours. And since it is in Marburg where I am given this opportunity to use to philosophise, not for showiness, but for usefulness; I hold that these overtime hours ought to be called Marburgian, so everyone will know Marburg is that seat of the Muses where we dedicate ourselves not to blowing hot air, but to solidity and usefulness.

I chose the translation overtime hours. The meaning from Lewis & Short which best applies here is:

Of that which is done in extra time, etc., accessory work, over-work

The only problem I see is that Wolff explicitly says he had no time to spare and had to take the time away from his ordinary business, so … it's not really overtime? But I think that is the general sense. Perhaps one could also say “extra hours.”

Note that Wolff once spells the word subcesivarum and then subsecivas, which is wild. (Both forms are attested, but come on, choose one.)

  • About the two forms subcesivarum and subsecivas: look at the context. The one follows horarum, where the other follows horas which are different declensions of the word hora. The first is the genitive for the plural form, the other is the nomative for the plural form. Nov 19, 2020 at 16:02
  • Subsecivas is not the nom(in)ative, it's the accusative, but in any event, I was wondering what's going on with the C and S exchanging places. Nov 19, 2020 at 20:58
  • Could it be that the C, since it's before i/e, would be pronounced like in English, i.e. like an S? I know in Medieval Latin it had more of an tch (tʃ) sound, but at some point in English and French at least it became a full sibilant. I'm not sure what was going with Latin in Germany or if whoever wrote the title (publisher if not Wolff) made the error for that reason.
    – cmw
    Mar 1, 2021 at 18:16

I think for this time, the correct translation is "Nebenstunden" as books are titled in this time containing short essays of less importance, reserved for the spare time beside the serious work. Compare titles as "Nebenstunden" by Darjes and others.

  • An excellent observation. Nebenstunden is not a common word in contemporary German, but it can be found in the DWB, which has the curious habit of giving Latin definitions for many words, and defines Nebenstunde as “tempus succisivum.” An English translation would be “spare time.” Mar 4, 2021 at 20:10

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