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I am reading Erat olim …, a selection of twelve fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers translated from the original German by Franz Schlosser (whose translation style was previously discussed on this site). It is an enjoyable read and for the most part not particularly difficult (or to the extent it is, it's because the translator clearly does not believe in the idea of “limited vocabulary”). However, one sentence has me stumped.

In Cinderella (De Cinerella apologus), after the evil stepmother has scattered the lentils for the second time (I assume that most people will be familiar with the subject matter, but if not, the inclined reader is invited to peruse an English translation here) and given Cinderella an hour to pick them up again, Cinderella, with the help of various birds, performs the task in less than half the time.

The German reads: 1)

Und eh eine halbe Stunde herum war, waren sie [die Vöglein] schon fertig und flogen alle wieder hinaus.

In English (from the same translation as linked above):

and before half an hour was over they [the birds] had already finished, and all flew out again

Here is how the sentence is rendered in Latin:

Nulla semi-hora temere intercessit, cum labore acto omnes rursus avolaverunt.

Okay, first of all, I would have written intercesserat. But my main confusion stems from temere. According to Lewis & Short, it means: “by chance, by accident, at random” etc. etc. But more to the point, “Non temere, not easily, = non facile.” Among the examples, we even find:

nullus dies temere intercessit, quo non ad eum scriberet

(Nepos, Att. 20,2), but I take that to mean: “hardly a day went by when he did not write to him” (i.e., Caesar to Atticus). But literally it means “a day did not easily go by,” in other words, it was unusual when that happened. We cannot interpret that as “not even a whole day.”

So the only interpretation I can come up with is: “A half hour did not easily pass when they were already done” – and that makes no sense. What am I missing?


1) There are several German versions in existence because the original fairy tales went through a number of editions; helpfully the book includes the German version that the Latin translation is based on in an appendix. (Well, an appendix that constitutes half the book …)
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  • Wiki gives, for "temere", a number of meanings e.g. "idly"; casually"; "rashly"--the implication--no day; no half-hour was wasted.
    – tony
    Jun 29, 2021 at 11:57

2 Answers 2

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I would venture to say that this is either a post-classical usage or a confusion of terms.

Both non temere and vix can be manner adverbials meaning "with great difficulty." Vix in particular tends to have a meaning of "just barely" managing to do something. In the case of vix, a temporal meaning emerged of something having "just barely" occurred by the time something else happens. Thus, we sometimes find this construction:

vix ... [verb], cum

On the contrary, non temere developed from a manner adverbial into something more like "not frequently." Thus, nullus dies temere intercessit means rarely/hardly did any day pass...

It seems to me that either the author personally or the conventions of the author's time tried to use temere like vix, but I do not think this is appropriate classical usage.

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  • The author is a Latin teacher, who, to my knowledge, is retired but still alive, so we can probably not chalk it up to the conventions of his time ... Dec 6, 2021 at 20:38
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I believe 'nullus ... temere' is an idiomatic expression, best translated as 'scarcely ...', 'barely ...', or 'hardly ...'. So "nulla semi-hora temere intercessit" translates as something like "scarcely half an hour later".

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  • 2
    Hi GodonW and welcome. Do you have a citation for this usage? Adding one would make this a stronger answer.
    – cmw
    Dec 5, 2021 at 14:59
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    Could you give an example? I feel there is a difference between "hardly a day went by when he didnt't write" and "an hour had hardly passed before the work was done." Dec 5, 2021 at 16:34

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