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This is one part of a prayer traditionally said before Mass, in honour of St. Joseph:

O felicem virum, beatum Ioseph, cui datum est Deum, quem multi reges voluerunt videre et non viderunt, audire et non audierunt, non solum videre et audire, sed portare, deosculari, vestire et custodire!

Most translations into English treat "O" as a vocative particle: "O happy man, blessed Joseph ..." But that doesn't make sense, as the phrase is in the accusative case. So it has to be a simple interjection: "Oh! Happy man, blessed Joseph ..."

The next part: cui datum est Deum [...] non solum videre et audire etc. - "to whom was given not only to see and hear God etc." is understandable enough. The prayer itself is rather easy, but it's this initial part I can't make sense of. Maybe it could be an accusative + infinitive construction of some sort? "Oh! To whom it has been given, blessed Joseph not only to see and hear God etc." But that doesn't seem correct either.

Of course, this could be an error, and maybe it was supposed to read O felix vir, beate Ioseph. It is possible, but this prayer was granted an indulgence by Pius VII (reigned 1800-1823) and found its way into the Church's official prayer books. So if it is a mistake, surely someone would have commented on it, corrected it or at least mentioned it in passing, at some point? I can't find anything.

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  • Could this be the so-called "accusative of respect," borrowed from Greek, used instead of vocative to show respect?
    – JW Carvin
    Jul 20, 2023 at 14:46
  • The accusative of respect doesn't express respect, it denotes a thing in respect to which a verb (or noun) is limited; e.g. caput nectentur "they will be bound in respect to their heads" → "their heads will be bound"; nuda genu "nude with respect to the knee" → "with her knee bare".
    – Cairnarvon
    Jul 20, 2023 at 15:14

1 Answer 1

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The vocative is used when addressing someone. The fact that it isn't used in the first part of this prayer makes me think that that portion is not meant to be addressed to Joseph (unlike the "Ora pro nobis, beate Ioseph" part, which clearly is).

I would guess this is a case of "O" being used the way L&S describe as an "exclamation of joy, astonishment, desire, grief, indignation, etc.", which is not infrequently used with the accusative:

  1. With acc.: “o faciem pulchram ... o infortunatum senem,” Ter. Eun. 2, 3, 5 and 7: “o miseras hominum mentes,” Lucr. 2, 14: “o me perditum, o me afflictum!” Cic. Fam. 14, 4, 3: “o hominem nequam!” id. Att. 4, 13, 2: “o praeclarum custodem ovium, ut aiunt, lupum!” id. Phil. 3, 11, 27: “o rem totam odiosam,” id. Att. 6, 4, 1: “o Bruti amanter seriptas, litteras,” id. ib. 15, 10.—

That would not be ungrammatical. To express the sense of astonishment, it might work to translate it into English as something like "How happy a man" or "What a happy man".

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  • 7
    Cicero's famous o me miserum! (Oh, poor me!)
    – cmw
    Mar 10, 2022 at 5:29
  • 4
    @cmw and Cicero's infamous o fortunatam natam me consule Romam! Mar 10, 2022 at 8:50

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