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(From Ovid Apollo and Daphne, book 1 of Metamorphoses)

ut canis in vacuo leporem cum Gallicus arvo
vidit, et hic praedam pedibus petit, ille salutem;
alter inhaesuro similis iam iamque tenere
sperat et extento stringit vestigia rostro,
alter in ambiguo est, an sit conprensus, et ipsis
morsibus eripitur
tangentiaque ora relinquit

I looked up this verb eripio in Wiktionary: ""I rescue; I deliver; I take by force; I snatch; I rob; I escape". But this is passive, and the 6th entry in Wiktionary also thus offers another possibility: "(passive) to die suddenly, to be suddenly taken away, to be suddenly snatched away".

Since this is indicative, it can't continue the subjunctive "whether it may be caught..." phrase, so appears to indicate something which "happens next" in this narrative using "present for past".

But what exactly does happen? The final phrase, "tangentiaque ora relinquit" means (I believe) "it leaves behind the touching mouth" (Ovid singular for plural, as I understand it).

But I'm struggling with the previous phrase: it seems to me that it could mean "it is snatched away/killed by those bites" or "it is delivered from those bites".

It seems more likely that it would be consistent with the second part of the line, which I believe is unambiguous, but as the Latin reader reads the first part of the line, would they be in any doubt about what was actually happening (whether the hare gets away)? Does Ovid deliberately make that phrase ambiguous? Or have I misread things?

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  • I don't feel qualified to answer a poetry question (especially if my answer would amount to saying somebody should give this Ovid person a copy of Lewis & Short so he'll learn proper Latin), but just looking at the L&S entry, I'd say in prose at least, I would certainly have expected the reflexive form morsibus se eripit (morsibus dative), and eripi very commonly stands for death (morsibus ablative). Nov 30, 2021 at 20:06

1 Answer 1

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This is obviously a difficult question to answer with any confidence. Something to note, though, is that at least in the L&S entry, the examples with the "die suddenly" meaning always have some context that explicitly makes it clear that this is the intended sense: "he was snatched away in the prime of life" or the like. That may suggest that this sense of the word may not have become conventionalized to the extent that it could be used outside such a context.

In English, too, you can say e.g. "he was snatched away from us in the prime of life" to mean "he died unexpectedly", but probably in a sentence like "the hare was snatched away from the teeth of the pursuing dog" that sense of the phrase wouldn't occur to you. (Especially as it's rather bathetic to talk about a hare in this way.)

Given this my guess would be that most Roman readers wouldn't have noticed this potential ambiguity. But my guess could well be wrong.

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  • Another thing struck me about the two phrases: the first, eripitur is passive, but relinquit is an active action by the hare. Being a very lowly Latinist I can't know whether the dual phrase "it is delivered from the teeth and it leaves behind the touching mouth" sounds as incongruous in Latin as it does in English. From my readings so far of Ovid, though, and as far as I can tell, his reputation as a poet seems well-deserved. It'd be nice to hear more from other proper Latinists. Dec 1, 2021 at 11:34

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