Cicero's "In Verrem" 2.2.162:

"per vim multitudinis factum esse videretur. cum hoc consilio statuas Centurpini publice sustulissent, audit Metellus; graviter fert; evocat ad se Centuripinorum magistratus et decem primos; nisi restituissent statuas, vehementer minatur."

Translation (Perseus):

"When, in pursuance of this design, the people of Centurpia had publicly destroyed his statues, Metellus hears of it. He is very indignant; he summons before him the magistrates and the ten principal citizens of the Centurpians. He threatens them with measures of great severity, if they do not replace the statues."

The last line:

"nisi restituissent statuas, vehementer minatur".

I first met this in Allen & Greenough section 592[2] "Informal Indirect Discourse". (A & G):

"He threatens them violently unless they should restore the statues.";

(A & G) continue: "Here the main clause, "that he will inflict punishment", is contained in 'minatur'".

This, then, is an example of the present tense ("minatur") being used to represent the future.

The problem, for me, is why is the pluperfect subjunctive (restituissent) being used to represent the future?

In the Wikipedia article "Latin Tenses", there are examples of the pluperfect subjunctive being used to represent the future e.g. as an epistolary verb: Roman letters were sometimes written in the past tense to benefit the receiver, for whom, upon receipt, the events described would already be in the past.


"sperabam, cum has litteras accepisses, fore ut ea quae superioribus litteris a te petissemus impetrata essent." (Cicero Att. 16. 16E. 2) =

"I hope (epistolary imperfect) that by the time you receive this letter, what I requested from you, in my earlier letter, will have been granted."

Of course, the use of "fore ut" = "it would be the case that" will drive all the meanings/ tenses of the verbs into the future. The example from Verres is not a letter, but an oration; though, never delivered.


"In other sentences the pluperfect subjunctive is a reflection of a future-perfect indicative, put into historic sequence. The original words of the following sentence would presumably have been":

"tu, si aliter feceris (future perfect), iniuram Caesari facies (future)."

A conditional sentence: simple conditions: the protasis will be completed before the apodosis can begin.) =

"If you do (will have done) otherwise, you will be doing Caesar a disservice."


"eum, si aliter fecisset (pluperfect subjunctive), iniuram Caesari facturum dixit." (Cic. "ad Familiares" 8.11.2). =

"he said that if a man were to do otherwise, he would be doing Caesar a disservice."

Why/ how is a pluperfect subjunctive (an historic tense) a reflection of a future-perfect indicative (a primary tense) creating this confusion?

Why not just say:

"eum, si aliter facturus esset....dixit." =

"he said that if a man would do otherwise...";

giving the required sense of the future?

Similarly, returning to Verres, why was pluperfect subjunctive ("restituissent") used to represent the future, in what was meant to be an oration--the audience hearing it in their own present?

  • 2
    The imperfect subjunctive can represent unreal present circumstances that are ongoing; likewise, the pluperfect subjunctive can represent unreal present circumstances that are complete. It seems to me that that's what's going on here. That is, it's in a past tense because it's irrealis, and it's in a perfect tense because the meaning requires a sense of completion.
    – Anonym
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


Here is my theory:

This is the effect of pretty ordinary sequence-of-tenses rules. In the Ad familiares example that is easy to see, in the In Verrem example it is mightily obscured by several complications, but the same principles apply.

Let's take the easier example first:

eum, si aliter fecisset, iniuram Caesari facturum dixit.

The protasis must be subjunctive and follow c.t., being as it is subordinate to an infinitive. Which sequence? Well, future and present infinitives (unlike perfect ones) do not affect the sequence, so you have to look for the next verb that does, which is dixit, so it is secondary sequence. But what relationship is expressed? The original (we imagine) future perfect expresses anteriority with respect to the apodosis, so... pluperfect subjunctive it is!

Now for the first example you showed.

nisi restituissent statuas, vehementer minatur

You write:

(A & G) continue: "Here the main clause, "that he will inflict punishment", is contained in 'minatur'".

This, then, is an example of the present tense ("minatur") being used to represent the future.

Not really. The threatening is still happening in the present (or rather the past, as this is an historical present). The future is in what remains unsaid. If the threat were made explicit, it would read: nisi restituissent statuas, se poena eos affecturum vehementer minatur or something to that effect. We know it must be future because that is the nature of threats.

To determine which sequence to apply, we again have to look for the next finite verb, which is minatur. That is present, but Cicero is telling a story from the past, so it is actually an historical present, which sequence-wise can go both ways: primary because of the grammatical tense, secondary because of the actual semantics. Let's say we go with secondary sequence.

Just as in the first example, we want to express anteriority, so, again, pluperfect subjunctive it is.

  • 1
    Thank you. The nearest example to the Verres-quote is in Allen & Greenough p.303; section 484 [2(c)], "He showed that if they should come (should have come) many would perish." = "demonstavit, si venissent, multos interituros.". Changing the Verres, slightly, to, "He threatens them violently, unless they should restore the statues, many would perish.". This would be, "nisi statuas restituissent, vehementer minatur, multos interituros." Is that correct?
    – tony
    Commented Jul 17, 2021 at 11:41

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