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Good day. I have been using the book Latin to GCSE 2 to study cum clauses recently. The chapter that I have been reading really drives home the point that they are used with the appropriate tense of a subjunctive verb as an alternative to the 'ubi' + indicative construction. I am reading the passages at the back of the book and have just stumbled across the following:

cum de Caesare interfecto audivit Romam quam celerrime rediit ut imperium sibi peteret.

This should translate as "When he heard about Caesar having been killed, he returned to Rome as quickly as possible to seek power for himself."

That opening 'cum' is clearly the start of a cum clause, yet it is followed by 'audivit', which is certainly not subjunctive. The purpose clause appears correct.

Would somebody be kind enough to explain this to me? This book is not without errors, so the explanation could be as simple as that.

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This is an example of a temporal cum clause (as opposed to a causal or concessive cum clause), in which the verb within the clause may take either the indicative or the subjunctive.

When the verb within the cum clause is the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive, it should be taken in a descriptive sense.. This is explained in Latin Grammar by Allen and Greenough:

546. A temporal clause with cum and the imperfect or pluperfect subjunctive describes the circumstances that accompanied or preceded the action of the main verb.

That being the case, a distinction has to be made, because the indicative can also occur with these tenses (although your example is actually with the perfect tense). The difference is that the indicative is used in a definitive sense:

545. A temporal clause with cum (when) and some past tense of the indicative dates or defines the time at which the action of the main verb occurred.

Another way to put it is to say that the indicative, in this case, answers the question 'When?', that is, it defines a specific time when the action of the main clause took place. In terms of your sentence: When did he return to Rome? When he heard about Caesar…

The subjunctive, on the other hand, serves to describe the circumstances under which something occured, without the intention of specifying a specific time. For example:

Cum id nuntiatum esset, Romam rediit.

When this had been reported, he returned to Rome.

Since the subjunctive is used, you can conclude that the purpose of the clause isn't to define the time, but merely to describe the circumstances. He returned to Rome (at some unspecified time) when the news was already out. The purpose may have been to indicate that he also had knowledge of the report, but it wasn't intended to specify the time when his return took place.

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  • Wow, you have my gratitude for such a detailed and helpful answer. It appears that the books I am using are in the habit of presenting reading material the grammar of which has not been taught. Aug 20 at 17:58
  • This is all quite correct and well explained, but I still feel the sentence is almost a textbook example for when one should use the subjunctive. Aug 20 at 20:04
  • @SebastianKoppehel - Thanks for the comment! But I'm wondering what would make it a textbook example. If I had to answer that question, I would say it depends on the author's intentions and on the context as far as being reasonably specific concerning the time when he learned about his death. If it is, in fact, sufficiently specific, it seems that would be well suited for defining the moment of his return. Am I thinking about this correctly? Aug 20 at 21:03
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    @ExpeditoBipes You are right, it ultimately depends on the author's intentions, but I think the example is very suggestive: The news of Caesar's death prompts the journey to Rome and does not just coincide with it. (For me the “litmus test” is: Could you add eo tempore? If yes, then use the indicative.) Aug 20 at 21:12

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