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Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, cap. XXVIII, pensum A (p. 230) begins by asking the reader to fill in the blank in this sentence, with the appropriate conjunctive imperfect conjugation:

Servus dominum ōrābat nē sē verberā–.

Should it be active (verberāret) or passive (verberārētur)?


Wiktionary and the Pronomina table on p. 308 of Ørberg suggest that cannot be nominative. That would imply that verberāre should be active, with dominus the implied subject.

But then why use the reflexive pronoun? The slave is not asking that the master not give himself a beating.* Does the reflexiveness arise from the slave's asking something about himself, i.e. in connection with ōrābat? I understand that (along with its other forms sibi, suus, etc.) is often a way to refer in a subordinate clause to the subject of the main clause. But then how would the slave beg the master not to give himself a beating (with passive verberārētur)?


* Hey, look, present subjunctive in English!

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It should be the active form. The subject of the subordinate clause is the master and the object (se) is the slave. Some verbs can have a deponent variant, and for a deponent verb you should use a passive form. The entry in L&S makes no mention of a deponent variant verberari.

The reflexive se is inherently ambiguous in a subordinate clause like that. It is typically context that indicates which reading is appropriate; here se seems to refer to the subject of the governing clause (the slave) rather than that of the subordinate clause (the master).

You need a more elaborate structure to emphasize that it is a matter of the master beating himself. For example:

Servus ōrābat nē dominus sē ipsum verberāret.
Servus orabat ne dominus suis verberibus castigaretur.

The first one can still be read so that the request is that the master beat another slave instead. Again, context will tell, but with this wording it is more likely that the master is understood to beat himself. The second example is less ambiguous but perhaps a bit heavier. And in it suis seems to be only able to refer to the master, not the slave.

  • Could the second example fit "O Master, please do not be chastised by my beatings?" – Ben Kovitz Nov 29 '20 at 20:27
  • How about Servus dominum ōrābat nē eum verberārētur for "The slave begged the master that the master not be beaten"? That's not necessarily beaten by himself. I'm wondering if vs. eum is enough to make clear that the slave is not the one to be beaten. – Ben Kovitz Nov 29 '20 at 20:31
  • @BenKovitz First comment: Yes, it could be read that way. I don't see a way to completely avoid ambiguity without explaining a whole lot more. The most natural thing to do is to shift emphasis so that a different interpretation is suggested. // Second: If you use eum, my first impression is that the slave is protecting someone else from his master. But you should have verberaret here; you can't (typically) have a non-deponent passive with an accusative object. // Another thought: Maybe you could do something with nominativus cum infinitivo, but then you need a verb that uses ACI/NCI. – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 29 '20 at 20:49

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