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A commonly found Latin idiom is ad conventus agendos, found for example in multiple locations in Caesar. Should I understand this as dual accusative or as agendos modifying conventus, or to conventus modifying agendos somehow. In other words, which of the three meanings is intended:

(he went to attend) to those-people-assembled AND those-things-to-be-done

or does it mean something more like the following (conventus modifying agendos):

(he went to attend) to the-collective-things-to-be-done

or does it mean lastly (agendos modifying conventus):

(he went to attend) to the-collected-people (who) must-be-managed
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    Uhm, no, it says ad conventus agendos! Nov 18, 2021 at 18:33
  • @SebastianKoppehel I have corrected the text, but I don't understand how conventus, which appears to be nominative, can be the subject of "ad" which always takes the accusative. Nov 19, 2021 at 1:54
  • @TylerDurden It's not nominative. It's 4th declension, the u-declension, the accusative plural of which is long -ūs. The ending for 2nd declension, the o-declension, is -us. Not the difference between the short vowel in the 2nd decl and the long vowel in the 4th decl.
    – cmw
    Nov 19, 2021 at 5:02
  • You can see the endings here: dcc.dickinson.edu/sites/default/files/4th_decl_nouns_0.jpg
    – cmw
    Nov 19, 2021 at 5:03

2 Answers 2

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Rather than the phrase being ad conventos agendos, it is actually ad conventus agendos, where conventus is the accusative plural in agreement with agendos:

Quieta Gallia, Caesar, ut constituerat, in Italiam ad conventus agendos proficiscitur.

Lewis and Short specifically address the expression agere conventum with reference to Caesar. It means "to hold a court":

b. A judicial assembly, court of justice: “agere conventum,” to hold a court, Cic. Verr. 2, 5, 11, § 28; Caes. B. G. 1, 54 fin.;

Therefore, in the phrase ad conventus agendos, agendos is a gerundive agreeing with conventus, the obect of the preposition. This is a common way to express what would otherwise be the gerund agendos with a direct object conventus.

In other words, ad conventus agendos can be interpreted as if conventus were the direct object of agendos:

to hold court (or meetings)

This usage is noted in ¨*Allen and Greenough*:

503. When the gerund would have an object in the accusative, the Gerundive is generally used instead. The gerundive agrees with its noun, which takes the case that the gerund would have had.

parātiōrēs ad omnia perīcula subeunda (B. G. 1.5)
readier to undergo all dangers

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  • I guess I don't understand 503 above. A gerund is a kind of a noun, so a gerund does not have an object, so what exactly is A&G talking about? Also, objects are always in the accusative, so when would something not "have an object in the accusative" as it says in the paragraph? Nov 18, 2021 at 17:16
  • @TylerDurden -But a gerund may take a direct object. In their words: "502. The gerund expresses an action of the verb in the form of a verbal noun. As a noun the gerund is itself governed by other words; as a verb it may take an object in the proper case." To answer your second question, it wouldn't have an object when it's not actually a gerund, because it isn't. It's actually a gerundive, but it is interpreted as if it were a gerund with a direct object. Nov 18, 2021 at 18:31
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    @TylerDurden Gerunds in English can also take an object: Running a business is hard. 'Running' is the gerund, 'business' is its object.
    – cmw
    Nov 18, 2021 at 18:50
  • As for this well-known statement ("when the gerund would have an object in the accusative, the Gerundive is generally used instead"), note that an important distinction must be drawn between omnia pericula subeundi, which is not (as) ill-formed (as) compared to that of *ad omnia pericula subeundum (see my comment above on Vegawatcher's post). The ultimate explanation of this difference is a bit mysterious to me...
    – Mitomino
    Nov 20, 2021 at 1:01
  • @Mitomino - I don't understand what you're getting at. In the phrase ad omnia perīcula subeunda, do you agree that subeunda is a gerundive, and therefore doesn't actually have a direct object? Nov 20, 2021 at 1:35
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The syntax and meaning of the expression "ad conventus agendos" are actually both quite settled. What is not clear, as you have discovered, is how you get from one to the other. To explain this I'll have to go through several levels of explanation and two seeming digressions. I'm basing my explanation primarily on Woodcock's A New Latin Syntax, pp 160-163.

First, gerundives and infinitives have basically the same semantics, which are roughly equivalent to the gerund in English. For example, "cantare me delectat" ("singing pleases me") and "veni cantandi causa" ("I came for the purpose of singing"). The difference between the two is that they are in complementary distribution. Infinitives must be used when the nominative is called for, and the gerund must be used for all the other cases.

Latin has many ways to express purpose. One of those that works well for short phrases is using "ad" with a gerund. By this logic, the phrase in question should rightly be "*ad conventus agendum." "Agendum" is a gerund in the accusative case as the complement of "ad," and "conventus" is in the plural accusative as the object of the verbal noun "agendum." The literal meaning is "for (the purpose of) holding the (judicial) meetings."

As I understand it, "*ad conventus agendum" is good Latin; however, the use of a gerund with an accusative object was avoided during the period of Classical Latin. Apparently, speakers/writers thought it odd to have two different uses of the accusative right next to each other and with endings that did not agree. To remedy this oddness, they had to change the expression, by using a gerundive instead of the gerund.

Here is the first digression.

Gerundives, despite the similarity in names and occasional usage, may have had a different origin from gerunds. The endings used to create gerundives were originally used even with adjectives and intransitive verbs, such as "iucundus," "moribundus," and "secundus." When used with transitive verbs, the ending created a kind of participle associated with modal meanings. Usually it is said that the meaning has to do with necessity, as in "Delenda est Carthago!" (Carthage must be destroyed!); however, the meaning can be vaguer, including fitness (e.g., "nunc est bibendum", an impersonal neuter nominative and not a gerund in the nonexistent nominative case.) ("Now is the time to drink"), and even mere passive progressive or passive future ("quod erat demonstrandum").

End of first digression.

Speakers/writers wanting to avoid the clash of two different accusatives with different agreement in the expression "*ad conventus agendum" could turn to the similar sounding gerundive and change the expression to "ad conventus agendos." This expression solves the problem by having two nominal expressions in agreement as part of the complement of the preposition "ad," but seems to create three new problems: (1) Gerundives are active in meaning, whereas gerundives are passive, (2) gerundives have this meaning of necessity/fitness/futurity that doesn't apply to gerunds at all, and (3) the object of "ad" used to be a verbal idea (i.e., "holding"), but now it is just a mere concrete noun modified by something akin to a participle (i.e., "meetings to be held"),

Here's how each of these problems is resolved.

(1) The switch from the active to the passive is momentous syntactically, but unimportant semantically, since in either case the same "object,"--i.e., the "meetings"--is involved. As an example, saying either "I have things to do" or "I have things to be done" basically expresses the same meaning, regardless of whether we use an expression that is active or passive in form. Latin does this all the time by using past participles in ablative absolutes, where active participles would logically seem more appropriate. Greek has such participles and uses them often. Latin generally doesn't and so just uses equivalent expressions in the passive. In the case of deponent verbs, where Latin actually does have "active" past participles, it doesn't hesitate to use them.

(2) When the gerundive is used in place of the gerund, the gerundive's special modal semantics can simply be dropped and replaced by those of the plain gerund. In expressions of purpose, such as the one in question, the semantics of fitness and futurity are even somewhat helpful to express purpose and so don't need to be completely ignored in this case.

(3) In the gerund expression "*ad conventus agendum, the complement of "ad" is the verbal idea of "holding"; while in the gerundive expression "ad conventus agendos," the complement of "ad" is simply the meetings themselves. This seems in appropriate on the surface, since Caesar was not simply going for meetings, but for the purpose of holding meetings himself. In Latin, the semantics are clear that Caesar will hold the meetings and not someone else. The solution is how Latin often treats nouns accompanied by participles.

Begin second digression.

Latin uses and expression called the ablative absolute to express the circumstance that accompany or lead to something else. For instance, you can say: "Urba condita, rex factus est Romulus" ("With the city having been founded, Romulus was made king"). Notice that there is no word that expresses circumstance; nevertheless, the meaning is not "With the founded city, Romulus became king." The phrase "urbe condita" is promoted beyond a nominal idea ("the founded city") to a verbal idea ("the founding of the city").

This type of "promotion" is not limited to ablative absolutes. For instance, one way of identify the year was to calculate it from the founding of the city, i.e., "ab urbe condita." Again this does not mean "from the founded city," but from the founding of the city. The nominal expression has been promoted into a verbal idea.

This type of promotion also occurs in certain expressions in English, where you can say "The city having been founded is something that pleases me (even though I think the city itself is actually ugly and unappealing)." ("Urbs condita me delectat...") Even though the syntax makes it look like your talking about the city, your are actually talking about the founding of the city.

Even when we translate the ablative absolute "urbe condita" literally as "with the city having been founded," we really mean "with the founding of the city." Again, its the verbal idea and not the mere modified noun that we are referring to.

End second digression.

In the expression "ad conventus agendos," "agendos" acts like a progressive/future passive participle. Although syntactically "conventus" is the complement of "ad," semantically it is the verbal idea of "holding the meetings" that is the true complement, just as "ab urbe condita" doesn't mean "from the founded city," but rather "from the founding of the city." Thus "ad conventus agendos" means "for the purpose of holding (judicial) meetings. (By the way, a more technical translation of "conventus" in this case would be "assizes," which is basically a term for periodic, pop-up courts that could be held in varying locations. Apparently, Caesar had to hold court every year to judge whatever cases were pending within his jurisdiction.)

This long explanation was a very complicated way of saying that speakers/writers of Classical Latin found it awkward to use an accusative gerund with an accusative object and so replaced it with a gerundive in gender and number agreement with the object, since they found that the gerundive had semantics that were similar to the gerund.

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  • The construction *ad conventus agendum can be said to be "good Latin" to us (e.g. as learners of Latin as L2) but the possibility that this was ungrammatical for some native speakers (and not just stylistically unacceptable) is not to be discarded. Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that what was avoided was not "a gerund with an accusative object", but crucially a prepositional gerund +acc. obj. See latin.stackexchange.com/questions/1144/…
    – Mitomino
    Nov 20, 2021 at 0:36
  • I don't think you're right when saying "speakers/writers thought it odd to have two different uses of the accusative right next to each other and with endings that did not agree". Note that the prepositional gerund in ablative + acc. obj. (e.g. in conventus agendo) was also avoided.
    – Mitomino
    Nov 20, 2021 at 0:38
  • You may be correct, but let me quote Woodcock: "The gerund of a transitive verb governing an accusative object is rare in classical Latin, but common in early and colloquial Latin" (p. 159). "...in the literary language, from about the time of Cicero onwards, the gerundive in agreement almost completely ousted the gerund with an accusative object, except under special circumstances. The gerund continued to be used, however, in the common language of the people and by less careful writers." (p. 161). The special circumstances involve neuter pronouns and neuter adjectives. Nov 20, 2021 at 1:31
  • Woodcock's (1959) handbook is indeed excellent (in fact, note I also recommended it in the link above). As for the comment "The gerund of a transitive verb governing an accusative object is rare in classical Latin, but common in early and colloquial Latin", note that what was VERY rare in Classical Latin was a prepositional (accusative OR ablative) gerund + acc. object. The genitive gerund of a transitive verb governing an accusative object is not so rare (although the gerundive alternative is preferable).
    – Mitomino
    Nov 20, 2021 at 15:44

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