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In a piece of fiction my wife recently read, she encountered this bit of latin

carminibus coelo possent deducere luman

Is coelo in ablative or dative case? Assuming both carminibus and coelo are ablative, I translate as

They can bring light with songs of heaven

But my wife disagrees, seeing coelo as dative and carminibus as "spells", interpreting it as

They can bring light to heaven by means of spells

I'm not particularly interested in the "spells" vs "songs" difference, but coelo being ablative or dative seems difficult to me. Interestingly, Google Translate takes an entirely different view, using carminibus as the subject of the sentence:

spells could bring the light to heaven

1 Answer 1

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The original sentence comes from Vergilius:

Carmina vel caelo possunt deducere lunam (Eclogae 8.69)

'Poems can lead even the moon down from the sky'.

In this original sentence carmina is the plural nominative subject of possunt. Note also that the direct object of deducere is lunam (acc. sg. 'the moon'), not "luman" (?) nor lumen ('light'). Caelo can be naturally interpreted as an ablative of separation.

As for your slightly different sentence, the one your wife encountered, I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that the "piece of fiction" referred to in the first line of your question is "The stolen child" by Keith Donohue (published in 2006). Here is the relevant fragment from chapter 1:

"There exist in this world a range of sublunary spirits that carminibus coelo possunt deducere lunam, and they have been divided since ancient times into six kinds: fiery, aerial, terrestrial, watery, subterranean, and the whole class of fairies and nymphs".

In this new (con)text, carminibus is a plural instrumental ablative ('with their songs') and the subject is some "sublunary spirits" that "can lead the moon down from the sky with their songs". As noted, in both sentences, Virgil's original one and Donohue's revised one, the noun caelo/coelo (the latter form being more typical of Medieval Latin/Neo-Latin) is naturally understood as an ablative of separation.

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  • Hah, yep luman vs lunam was indeed a typo, and the text does have lunam. Also looking back at the context, it does appear that "they" are some form of spirits. Getting the right base words sure makes declining easier. Well done on seeing through my mistake! Mar 23 at 18:21
  • @Indigenuity I'm not sure I'm reading you correctly, but there are no "they" in this sentence and no spirits are involved. Mitomino meant that your original incorrect sentence created that impression (which seems totally random to me tbh). The actual sentence says carmina possunt "songs/poetry can". Mar 23 at 21:02
  • @Unbrutal_Russian I assumed, perhaps incorrectly (see my question mark at the end of my answer), that the "piece of fiction" referred to by Indigenuity in the first line of his question is "The stolen child" by Keith Donohue (see the link at the end of my answer). Here is the relevant fragment from chapter 1: "There exist in this world a range of sublunary spirits that carminibus coelo possunt deducere lunam, and they have been divided since ancient times into six kinds: fiery, aerial, terrestrial, watery, subterranean, and the whole class of fairies and nymphs".
    – Mitomino
    Mar 24 at 2:22
  • @Mitomino Oh I see, I hadn't opened the link - but then the subject is not elliptical and the example introduced with "e.g." isn't random but almost certainly the one. I think it's best to include such assumptions in the reply so that the readers can understand the rationale behind your answer; and for the OP to include the source, which would show us the subject of the sentence, explain why it differs from Virgil's original and just generally allow us to make sense of the whole question. Otherwise this Q-A gets a bit too subliminal :-) Mar 24 at 7:33
  • Btw I've found at least two previous uses of this exact expression in occult literature, by the 16th century writers Robert Burton and Jean Riolan, but I doubt that's what the OP was reading)) At least the expression is good Latin and has good pedigree. Mar 24 at 7:44

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