In Genesis 1:20 in the Vulgate:

Dixit etiam Deus : Producant aquae reptile animae viventis, et volatile super terram sub firmamento caeli.

why is it not reptiles animas?

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    Do you have a link handy for the passage? It might help to have the source you're looking at in the event it's different for some reason.
    – Adam
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 16:56
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    I edited your question a bit to give the passage at hand, but I do think we need more clarity from you, especially with regards to why you think it ought to be reptiles animas. Can you add in the additional details?
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 17:03
  • It seems that animae is the object of producant. The translation is in the plural: animals. "animae" is nominative plural, and accusative, animalas, seems better or animalis if we use a dative object of a compound verb. The adjective reptile, which is in the ablative singular, modifies animae so it seems that the adjective and the noun it modifies do not agree in either number or case. The quote, which is complete above (thanks), is from the Douay-Rheims version of the bible of 1609 published by Baronius Press in 2008. Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 19:05
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    @StephenPerencevich You seem to believe anima means "animal," but it doesn't (the Latin word for "animal" is, believe it or not, animal). Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 19:12
  • Just in case it isn't clear from the answers, reptile is a neuter accusative singular here, not an ablative.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 20:03

2 Answers 2


Jerome probably prefers to stick to the original Hebrew that uses the singulars both for "reptile"(*) and volatile which are grammatically adjectives but used here as substantives. Interestingly enough, in both cases L&S dictionary explicitly lists examples from the Vulgate of using those as substantive (1, 2) - so it appears to be late Latin and not so much classical.

The accusative reptile here is attached with the genitive phrase animae viventis that describes the nature of our substantive reptile. meaning: reptile of a living soul.

Sebastian Castellio translated those words with: "Deinde jussit Deus, ut aqua natatiles ederet animantes...". I find this way of expressing is more in line with what you have expected: natatiles animantes here is plural (noun + adj).

(*) the very use of reptile here is controversial to say the least. This word posed, it appears, some difficulties to the translators. Others took different approach in translating this word.

Castellio in trying to justified not using reptilia like others wrote a note about this verse concluding: "Nos tam late patens verbum non habemus" i.e., the Hebrew word is so wide in meaning that we (the Latinists) do not have a well corresponding word.

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    Thanks, this is very illuminating. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 12:50

I understand the phrase producant aquae reptile animae viventis to mean something like "let the waters bring forth the creeping/crawling thing of living breath." In more idiomatic English, I would say: "Let the waters bring forth creeping life."

The meaning of anima (genitive form: animae) varies between "breath," "breath of life," and "soul." It does not mean "animal," for which Latin could use the related word animale or bestia.

The word reptile does not mean the same thing as "reptile," but refers to anything that crawls or creeps. I guess it makes sense in the singular if used generically to mean something like "the creeping/crawling one."

The corresponding phase in the Greek Septuagint is Ἐξαγαγέτω τὰ ὕδατα ἑρπετὰ ψυχῶν ζωσῶν, which means "Let the waters bring forth creeping/crawling things of/with breaths that live." I find the plural for "creeping/crawling things" normal, but the plural of "breaths" surprising. Also worthy of note is that the overall phrase in the Septuagint has plural forms for "creeping thing" and "breath" where the Vulgate has the singular. Lastly, the Greek explicitly makes the word for "creeping/crawling things" indefinite. These differences from the Latin do not explain Jerome's rendering.

The Hebrew has יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה . I understand this to mean "let the waters abound in/team with swarms of/with living breath" or "swarms of living beings." The Hebrew word נֶ֣פֶשׁ is difficult to translate precisely, because its precise meaning can vary a lot, but often refers to "breath," life," "soul," or "living being." The word is used here in the singular, but it is quite possible that it is meant in a collective sense, in the same way we might use the word "life" in saying "Let the waters swarm with life."

Neither the Latin nor the Greek seems to translate the meaning of "abound/team with" but simply use words meaning "bring forth." There might be two reasons for this. One is that שֶׁ֖רֶץ seems to mean swarms of small things, particularly things like insects. The translators may have extending this meaning to "creeping/crawling things in general." Secondly, in verse 21, there is the more complete Hebrew phrase כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת (Latin: omnem animam viventem atque motabilem and Greek: πᾶσαν ψυχὴν [ζῴων ἑρπε]τῶν) . I understand the Hebrew as "every living being/all life that crawls/creeps/squirms." The word הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת is a much better fit for reptile, and so the translators may have been anticipating in verse 20 the phrasing in verse 21. By the way, I think that the Hebrew word might refer to the movement of fish as "squirming' or "slithering" and so may be broader in meaning than "creep" and "crawl."

It seems possible that Jerome understood the Hebrew phrase שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה as referring to "swarming life." If he could find no Latin word that would fit the meaning of "swarming," he translated it with the more specific word reptile, as was done in the Septuagint, anticipating verse 21. He then might have gotten in the concept of נֶ֣פֶשׁ ("breath," "life," "soul," living being" and of הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ("living") by using the genitive phrase animae viventis. He kept reptile as singular because the corresponding Hebrew words are grammatical singular, even if collective in meaning.

  • Small correction: ψυχῶν ζωσῶν is "of living souls"; ζωσῶν is a present participle, and I don't think ψυχή ever literally means "breath" (though it's presumably related to ψύχω "breathe, blow").
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 19:48
  • Thanks for the correction, but how is ζωσῶν present? What is the stem? Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 22:11
  • The verb is ζάω, so the feminine present participle is ζάουσα, which contracts to ζῶσα .
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 22:16
  • Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I learned a lot. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 12:50
  • Thanks TKR. It did seem strange to have a future participle there. I will correct my post. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 18:11

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