In Jerome's Epistola 22 ad Eustochium, the famous one where God tells him that he (Jerome) is not a Christian but a Ciceronian, Jerome writes, after being whipped and then offered lenience if he won't read any more Gentile books:

Ego quī in tantō cōnstrictus articulō, vellem etiam majōra prōmittere, dejerāre coepī, et nōmen ejus obtestāns, dīcere, Domine, sī unquam habuerō codicēs saeculārēs, sī lēgerō, tē negāvī.

Translating very literally, I understand that as:

I, who [being] squeezed in such a moment, would have willingly promised even more, began to swear an oath, and, beseeching His name, to say, "Lord, if I ever have worldly books, if I [ever] read [them], then I have denied you."

My question is: given that habuerō and lēgerō are in future tense, why isn't negāvī in future perfect tense (negāverō)? I thought this was the classic situation where the future perfect is called for. Is this just a kind of acceptable sloppiness with tenses (maybe displaying his newfound anti-Ciceronian Latin) or does the perfect tense here mean something special?


As @Draconis and @Joonas pointed out, habuerō and lēgerō are future perfect, not simple future. That's what I get for skipping the exercises for the chapters on these tenses in Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata. "They're so simple! I won't have trouble remembering these!"

When reading this passage, I simply assumed from sense that the tenses would be future, future, and future perfect. Then I noticed that negāvī was (past) perfect and was led to ask this question, and never bothered to think about the other two verbs—even when typing them in! This makes me wonder how many other passages I've misread because I assumed the tense from sense and not from the verbs' actual endings.

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    Surely habuerō and lēgerō are future perfects themselves, not just future?
    – Draconis
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 5:41
  • @Draconis Oops! Yes. I'm going to leave my mistake in the question, so others can learn from it. I'll add a note about it right now. (I'll correct the short e in legerō, though.)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


Both habuerō and lēgerō (not legerō, as there is no such form) are future perfect forms. A very literal translation of the end of the quote would be:

Sī unquam habuerō codicēs saeculārēs, sī lēgerō, tē negāvī.
If I will ever have had secular books and if I will have read them, I have denied you.

That is, Jerome can only possess and read such books if he denies God first. That is why the denial (perfect tense) comes before the possession and reading (future perfect tense).

This strikes me as an unusual use of the future perfect tense. It usually indicates actions before what was described with the future tense, but no future forms are to be found here. Allen and Greenough state that the future perfect has an aspectual difference to the future, giving emphasis on the action being completed in the future. Perhaps this was Jerome's intention, or perhaps the idiomatic use of this tense had changed from the classical time to his.

  • Ah, this explanation at least makes some sense: indicating the sequence of future events that Jerome hopes never occur. The future perfect on habuero seems very strange, though, because codices habere isn't the sort of action that gets completed. Even legere in context doesn't mean actually finishing reading any of the books. Responsum tuum consistere committo sine accepto quoad aliquis explicationem Hieronymi grammaticae definitivam proposuerit, ille tamen dies probabiliter numquam veniet.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 3:21
  • Also, thanks for the correction of the vowel quantity in legerō! I just corrected it in the question (so I don't teach anyone any bad habits).
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 3:23
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    @BenKovitz One interpretation that springs to mind is that codices habui means a point-like action rather than a continuous one (habebam) and could be translated as "I received books" or "I came in possession of books" or "I got books". This would make sense to me, but I did not find this sense of habere in L&S. Yet.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jan 30, 2021 at 10:44

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