In Pliny’s letter 1.12, when he describes his meeting with his Domitian-hating friend, he mentions how all servants would leave when close friends came by, and even his wife ‘who was fully capable of keeping any secret’. I get the meaning of the phrase, but I cannot wrap my head around the grammar. Here is the full quote:

Servī ē cubiculō recessērunt (habēbat hōc mōrīs, quotiēns intrāsset¹ fidēlior amīcus); quīn etiam uxor quamquam omnis/omnīs sēcrētī capācissima dīgrediēbātur.
The servants left the bedroom (one had this habit, every time a very close friend would enter¹); further, besides, the wife, even though she was fully capable of keeping any secret, used to leave [the room].

I see the following options:

  1. omnis sēcrētī: genetives governed by capācissima
  2. omnīs sēcrētī: accusative followed by genitive

Option 2 seems flawed: ‘all things of a secret’? It sounds like Brian-Latin. But if it is option 1, the only way I am able to explain it, is if capāx can take a genitive object. This seems possible according to the L&S entry:

căpax, ācis, adj. [capio, that can contain or hold much, wide, large, spacious, roomy, capacious […] […] With gen.: circus capax populi, Ov. A. A. 1, 136: cibi vinique capacissimus, Liv. 9, 16, 13: flumen onerariarum navium capax, Plin. 6, 23, 26, § 99; 12, 1, 5, § 11: magnae sedis insula haud capax est, Curt. 4, 8, 2.

If this is the case, my conclusion is that capācissima holds the subject, the verb esse (est) is missing, and the object (omnis sēcrētī) is in the genitive. Is this correct, or am I missing something?

P. S.: I am unsure of my translation of quīn etiam; they seem to more or less double each other. Comments on that would be most welcome.

Note 1: Is this perhaps a conjunctive as used for relaying a story? (I do not have my grammars at hand, so I cannot check what the correct terminology for this is.) If so, it should instead be translated to the indicative.

  • 1
    You seem to have answered your own question? capax indeed does take the genitive...
    – brianpck
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 17:24
  • 1
    The L&S entry for quin mentions quin etiam, translating it archaically as "nay, even," i.e. "...not only that, but even...."
    – brianpck
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 17:26
  • @brianpck Well, sort of, the problem was I didnʼt understand how and why. The translation I ended up with was mostly Loeb.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 23:13

1 Answer 1


Omnis secreti is genitive with capax, which means 'most capable of holding' (OLD definition 2). Although capax is generally used in this sense to describe objects, it's being used to describe a person here. I would translate, as you did, 'most capable of keeping any secret.' I suppose you could supply a form of the esse, but quamquam is not uncommonly used with a participle or an adjective as an alternative to quamvis (that is, as an adverb).

Both the quin and the etiam are emphatic, but they work at different levels in the sentence: quin is emphasizing (and amplifying) at the level of the whole clause, whereas etiam is emphasizing just uxor: 'In fact, even the wife, though [she was] most capable of keeping any secret, would leave.'

As to intrasset, this use of the subjunctive is treated in 520.3 in Allen and Greenough's grammar as part of the 'Conditional Relative Clauses' section:

In later writers (rarely in Cicero and Caesar) the Imperfect or Pluperfect Subjunctive in the protasis and the Imperfect Indicative Indicative in the apodosis (§518.c)

One of the examples given is very similar to the Pliny example:

quocumque se intulisset, victoriam secum trahebat (Liv. vi. 8), wherever he advanced, he carried victory with him. [Past General Condition.]

Section 518.c, which is referred to in 520.3, notes that this construction is used 'to state a repeated or customary action in past time (Iterative Subjunctive).'

Cf. Sherwin-White:

Pliny uses the subjunctive (as often in 'silver' Latin) in dependent clauses denoting frequent acts...in past tenses. In 40.1 he uses the indicative for the present tense.

I'm a little unclear why you've given 'one' as the subject of habebat: the subject is a specific person, Corellius Rufus.

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    Quin etiam is also a common fixed expression, for which L&S, firmly in the 19th century, suggest: "yea indeed, nay even." Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 19:38
  • Considering @SebastianKoppehel’s comment on quīn etiam, is there any way to know whether we are dealing with a fixed expression or whether they apply to different segments of a sentence as you explain? And is this description you provide a general rule of thumb? As the explanation reads now, it is not clear whether this is how it usually should be interpreted, or rather on a case by case basis.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 14:45
  • @cnread: In the Livy example why would "se (intulisset)" and "secum" be in the same sentence: "he carried himself (accusative, "se") victory with him ("secum")?
    – tony
    Commented Jul 19, 2023 at 10:21

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