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For example, the way of the cross in Latin is via crucis, but how would one go about saying the beginning of the way of the cross? Would both via and crux be in the genitive, yielding principium viae crucis? Is this usually how consecutive genitive constructions are formed?

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  • 1
    Welcome to the site - great question!
    – Adam
    Jul 30 at 18:04
  • 2
    An alternative can be to render one of the "of"s as an adjective, e.g. principium viae crucialis. I suspect the Romans would consider too many (how many?) genitives ugly. Religious texts might care less.
    – Cerberus
    Jul 31 at 0:44
  • @Cerberus I feel like that would make a great question of its own of the Latin Community of Stack Exchange.
    – Adam
    Jul 31 at 3:19
  • The most famous “stacked” genetive is probably the papal title Servus servorum Dei (Servant of the servants of God). Aug 1 at 7:35
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A genetive depending on another genetive is relatively rare, and traditonally grammarians taught that it should be avoided; however, that is sometimes difficult to do, and so double (and triple) genetives can occasionally be found in the best prose writers.

For example:

patimur hebescere aciem horum auctoritatis
we let the edge of their decree become blunt

(Cicero, In Catilinam 1,4)

neque alia ulla fuit causa intermissionis epistularum nisi quod ubi esses plane nesciebam
and there was no reason for the pause in my letters other than that I had no idea where you were

(Cicero, Ad Familiares 7,13)

And the famous German grammarian Karl Gottlob Zumpt writes:

Und es fällt bei Livius in der praef. nicht eben auf, zu lesen: juvabit me ipsum consuluisse memoriae rerum gestarum principis terrarum populi
And it does not particularly stand out to read this from Livius in the praefatio: [⋯]

(Check the Google Books link! Someone wrote in the margin: “It does not?”)

That's a triple genetive: the account of the history of the most distinguished nation of the earth.

Zumpt recommends to avoid multiple genetives only where it would lead to ambiguity. His negative example: magna erat multitudo spectatorum ornamentorum fanorum. Were the people who looked at the temples richly bejewelled? Or did lots of people look at the trappings of the temples? It is the latter, so Zumpt recommends: multitudo eorum, qui ornamenta fanorum spectabant.

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Stacking genitives is usually avoided, though it is grammatical.

I originally gave the example of stacking genitives as “for the sake of loving my dog”: “Canis mei amandi causa”, but as @Sebastian Koppehel pointed out, while my example was correct, it was not stacking genitives. Canis mei agrees with amandi and therefore this construction works, but here amandi is a gerund, a verbal adjective, and not a verbal noun like I intended it to be. If amandi were a noun, it actually would take an accusative and not a genitive, and we'd see Canem meum amandi causa.

Sometimes adjectives are used instead of genitives as discussed in this question, answered in detail by @Joonas Ilmavirta. While it's true that an adjective might sometimes be best to avoid stacking genitives, I would say in the specific case of “crux”, the genitive is best. The root of crux usually carries a sense of torment or torture. Via cruciaria might sound like “Torturous path”, which is not, I assume, what you want to be saying.

I hope I’ve answered your question well, and welcome to the sight!

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  • Canis mei amandi causa ← I think that's just agreement. You would also say in cane amando (and not canis). Aug 1 at 11:34
  • That's a fair point actually. I'll have to edit this answer. I happened to give a grammatically correct answer, but not for the reasons I thought. I construed this as genitive gerundive + objective genitive, but I've now realized that gerundives do not take objective genitives.
    – NanoEta
    Aug 1 at 15:31

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