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Having just reviewed this question, I find that I am surprised by the verb agreement in this sentence:

Nam d[ecum] mīlia Americānōrum cōnāta sunt ad centiēs centēna mīlia dollāriōrum raedāriīs mittere Canadēnsibus.

"Mīlia" is a neuter plural, and so at one level, I understand the logic of the verb being neuter plural; however, the reference is to something animate and I don't recall many such neuter reference to animates anywhere else in Latin outside of references to people as property, instruments, or metaphors. Is this usage confirmed?

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  • It's ubiquitous in Caesar, to name just one author.
    – cnread
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 2:09

1 Answer 1

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It depends on who you read. I did a PHI search for #milia# ~ #sunt# to see if I could find any examples.

The first I came across is from Nepos' Life of Miltiades:

Hoc in tempore nulla ciuitas Atheniensibus auxilio fuit praeter Plataeenses. ea mille misit militum. itaque horum aduentu decem milia armatorum completa sunt

In that time no city gave help to the Athenians except the Plataeans. They sent a thousand soldiers. And so with their arrival there were ten thousand armed soldiers.

  • NB: I don't really have a good translation for complere in military language, but it has a strong sense of presence. Rolfe translates the above as "was raised to ten thousand," for example. Lewis and Short list a number of wildly different ways to translate the idiom.

You also see it all over the place in Curtius Rufus. Just one example should suffice:

Praeterea XXX milia hominum cum VII milibus iumentorum dorso onera portantium capta sunt.

Afterward 30,000 men with 7,000 pack-animals carrying loads on their backs were captured.

It seems some authors variably have masculine or neuter. Livy e.g. has masculine at 28.28.3 (milia hominum quattuor...percussi sunt) and neuter at 29.29.3 (octo milia liberorum seruorumque...sunt capta).

So yes, there is precedent for it.

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  • Whether by chance or design, all of these instances seem to be the kind of cases where the nouns could be treated as inanimate and similar to cases where the ablative of means is used with animates without the preposition ab. Livy's use of masculine plural, though late of course, still makes me wonder whether Latin speakers did not feel fully comfortable with neuter agreement with animates acting like animates. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 14:49
  • @Vegawatcher I'm not sure if it's a lack of comfort or an abundance of freedom. Hard to say, but that it occurs so frequently in the Classical period means it's certainly allowed. The Curtius Rufus one is milia hominum, which I think is hard to conceive as inanimate.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 15:50
  • But the Curtius Rufus example is talking about captured plunder, and that is why I see it as a "comfortable usage." Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 16:39
  • A few weeks back there was a question about the lack of neuter nouns referring to people other than as commodities or things to be manipulated, and I was surprised at this fact. The issue stuck in my head, since in Greek and German, neuter diminutives are normal, even though they cause problems for long-distance concord. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 19:26

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