Chapter 50 of Lingua Latina per sē illustrāta: Rōma Æterna contains this from Livy 33:

. . . mājus gaudium fuit quam quod ūniversum hominēs acciperent.

What is ūniversum doing here? Its ending suggests that it's modifying gaudium to mean "universal joy," but putting an adjective in a clause subordinate to the clause in which its noun appears seems very strange.

I can't figure out anything else, though, for it to mean.

  • I believe that some commentators suggest an alternative reading as universim, which would make some sort of sense.
    – Tom Cotton
    Sep 25, 2016 at 11:21
  • Ah—that would at the very least offer a way to parse the sentence grammatically. Sep 25, 2016 at 12:39
  • This translation has "joy greater than men could grasp in its entirety".
    – TKR
    Sep 25, 2016 at 16:24
  • That would fit with universim. Sep 25, 2016 at 16:32
  • 1
    I can see it working as an adjective: "maius gaudium fuit quam quod universum [gaudium] homines acciperent."
    – brianpck
    Sep 25, 2016 at 19:47

1 Answer 1


An adjective of number, a superlative or an emphatic adjective that describes the antecedent is often put in the relative clause (or "attracted to the Clause of the Relative", as Kennedy phrases it). The adjective will agree with the relative pronoun. Examples:

si veniat Caesar cum copiis quas habet firmissimas

if Caesar comes with the strongest troops that he has

librum quem recentissimum habebat mihi dedit

he gave me the newest book that he had

So, the position of the adjective is entirely normal. Thus, I would put universum with gaudium – universal joy (pace Evan T. Sage who has evidently translated it as an adverb!).

Given that a comparative (quam) +/- a relative pronoun + the subjunctive suggests a result/consecutive clause, a literal translation could be:

there was a universal joy so great with the result that the men couldn’t accept it

or more polished:

there was universal joy greater than what the men could accept

Ref: Kennedy's Revised Latin Primer, p.156, point 332, note 2; and Colebourn, Latin Sentence and Idiom, p.115, point 375; and Morwood, Latin Grammar, p. 100, point 6

  • My (idiomatically translated) understanding of the phrase is different: "The joy was too great for men to accept it entirely." A subtle but important difference, since you seem to imply that no man can accept it...
    – brianpck
    Sep 29, 2016 at 13:35
  • But @brianpck, now we're back to square one! :) I guess universum could be an adverb but using Occam's razor, I reasoned thus: an adverbial accusative is more likely to be found in poetry (Kennedy); my dictionary didn't list universum as an adverb; there are adverbial forms, universe and universim, but they mean "in general"; "entirety" might be better rendered with totus; there could be a textual variant but who knows; while the explanation for the placement of universum was simple; moreover, it's a common, well-documented Latin construction.
    – Penelope
    Sep 29, 2016 at 14:21
  • No, I agree it's an adjective, but I was translating it as an adverb. To preserve the awkward structure in English: "The joy was greater than that men could receive it whole."
    – brianpck
    Sep 29, 2016 at 14:23
  • 1
    How about "there was complete joy, more than the men could possibly take on board"?
    – Penelope
    Sep 29, 2016 at 14:29

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