How can we say "a forgotten war" in Latin?

You know what I'm really getting at: I'm asking "How to make a deponent passive in meaning?" but with a specific and puzzling example. Oblīvīscor, "I forget", is a deponent verb, so oblītus can only mean "so-and-so having forgotten [something]".

Didn't the Romans ever feel the need for a past participle to express the idea of having been forgotten, generally, without specifying who forgot? Did no Roman grammarian ever curse this gap in the language?

3 Answers 3


The poets seem to have noticed this gap, and repurposed oblītus to fill it. So saith Vergil himself (Eclogues IX.53-4):

nunc oblita mihi tot carmina, vox quoque Moerim / jam fugit ipsa
Now all my songs have been forgotten, and even my voice itself now abandons me.

  • 1
    Hmm, doesn't this mean "Now I have forgotten all my songs?" But oblita does modify carmina! "Now, so many songs forgotten to me, the voice too flees Moeris." Hey, Moeris is talking about himself in the first person and the third person in the same sentence! I see that L&S marks this with "!*?" This is indeed good evidence that the Romans felt my pain.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Aug 20, 2021 at 2:15
  • @BenKovitz I took the !*? to be marking the Plautus attestation, since the Plautus manuscripts are known for having many idiosyncrasies. But indeed; I'm not sure why Moeris uses his name there, but I suspect the meter had something to do with it.
    – Draconis
    Aug 20, 2021 at 2:48
  • @Ben Kovitz You're right. This is an adjectival/resultative passive with a so-called (miscalled!) "dative of agent". Verbal/eventive passives are different. The translation you've given is correct (NB: the resultative construction is more literally rendered as: 'I have all my songs forgotten'). Verbal passives typically express agents with a by-phrase: 'all songs have been/were forgotten by me'. Is this possible in Classical Latin? I don't think so.
    – Mitomino
    Aug 20, 2021 at 3:56
  • @Ben Kovitz: In Q: latin.stackexchange.com/q/12836/1982, I had this problem, dealt with by TKR: passive, "will be forgotten", became "will fall out of memory" = "memoria excidet".
    – tony
    Aug 20, 2021 at 8:26
  • @Draconis Oops, indeed they marked Plautus. I guess I was stunned by L&S's punctuational extravagance.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Aug 20, 2021 at 23:31

Hic renovabo illud, quod ad interrogatum pristinum respondi, propositum persimplex:

bellum oblitteratum

Vocabulum «oblittero» infrequentissime dicitur litterate, immo solum fere tropice utitur praesertim Livius historicus, quam ob rem arbitror id idoneum esse, quod ad verbum «bellum» adiciatur.


Tony referred to this answer by TKR, which has this phrase:

memoriā excidet

It will fall out of memory.

I like the metaphor. Lewis & Short document a sense of simply "to slip from memory" for excidere. But there's a problem: excidere has no passive participle, indeed no passive forms at all. How was anyone able to communicate in this language??

(P.S. I had never before noticed that "fallen" is an active past participle in English.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.