3

In Allen & Greenough section 583, p.377: "Subordinate Clauses in Indirect Discourse", the following example is offered:

"cuius ingenio putabat ea quae gesserat posse celebrari" (Arch. 20) =

"by whose genius he thought that those deeds which he had done could be celebrated".

A & G explain: "Here the fact expressed by 'quae gesserat', though not explanatory, is felt to be true without regard to the quotation (Therefore, the verb is indicative--understood.): 'quae gessisset' would mean, 'what Marius claimed to have done'".

[A & G appear to be contradictory in their instructions on subordinate clauses in indirect speech: from "ALL subordinate clauses take the subjunctive..." (sect. 580; p374) to this sect. 583: exceptions: truth; an explanation; emphasis--take indicatives. (Wouldn't any writer claim that his material is true; an explanation of something; worthy of emphasis; combinations thereof? By this logic, the verbs will always be indicative.)]

A & G continue: "Such a clause in the indicative is not regarded as part of the indirect discourse; but it often depends merely upon the feeling of the writer whether he shall use the indicative or the subjunctive."

[Contradictory rules but it only depends upon the whim of the writer?]

I still don't know why "quae gessisset" = "what he claimed to have done". The natural inclination would be to translate this as, "what he should have done/ achieved/ managed". From where does "claim" come?

Any thoughts?

1
  • 1
    A&G aren't contradictory, at least according to their own definitions. They say that all subordinate clauses in indirect speech take the subjunctive, and that the clauses in the indicative are not part of indirect speech, i.e. are statements from the perspective of the writer rather than part of the speech/thought/etc. being reported.
    – TKR
    Jul 19, 2022 at 22:48

1 Answer 1

3

There is a linguistic concept called evidentiality that describes the source or authority for a statement. All languages have ways of indicating this, but in some languages it is grammaticalized and a mandatory part of some or all statements. In English, evidentiality is not grammaticalized and must be expressed through a variety of expressions. In Latin, it is grammaticalized in indirect statement.

Consider the sentence

He said that Brutus is the one who killed Caesar.

In English, this sentence is ambiguous.

It can mean: (1) "According to him, Brutus is the one who killed Caesar" or possibly "he alleged that Brutus had killed Caesar. These are probably the default interpretations. In Latin, this might be: Dīxit Brutum esse quī Caesarem occīdīsset.

The sentence above can also mean: (2) "Brutus is indeed the one who killed Caesar, and he said so too" or, possibly, "he confessed that Brutus is the one who killed Caesar." In Latin, this might be: "Brutum esse quī Caesarem occīdit dīxit." The intonation would normally disambiguate the sentences in English, but the mood does so in Latin.

Sentence (1) makes only one assertion, which is that "he" said that Brutus killed Caesar. The author takes a neutral stance on whether or not Brutus was actually a killer. Sentence (2) makes two assertions: (a) Brutus killed Caesar and (b) "he" stated this fact. The author does assert that Brutus was a killer, but is mainly asserting what "he" said about this fact.

Latin has two main ways of expressing this neutral stance to whether something is a fact: the accusative-and-infinitive construction and the subjunctive. The use of the former is obligatory by the nature of indirect speech. The use of the latter depends on whether the author needs to make a separate assertion of fact or not.

The default in indirect speech is that the veracity of everything in subordinate clauses is linked with the authority of the person to whom the indirect statement is attributed. This default is what Allen & Greenough are expressing by saying: "ALL subordinate clauses take the subjunctive...." When the pragmatics make it important for the author to separately state a fact, the indicative must be used. These latter occastions are what they term "exceptions" to the rule.

In the clause "by whose genius he thought that those deeds which he had done could be celebrated," the author is only attributing the appropriateness of the celebration to the speaker and does not want to put in question whether the deeds occurred or not. As a result, the author uses the indicative for quae gesserat to separately assert them as facts to focus the reader's attention on whether the celebration was or was not appropriate. If the author had said quae gessīsset, it would lead the reader to think that the author was attributing authority for the factuality of the deeds to the original speaker, indirectly creating doubt as to whether or not they did in fact occur.

Since English has no easy was to express this difference, Allen & Greenough have translated quae gessisset as "what Marius claimed to have done," but this overstates the pragmatics somewhat. A closer translation for the full sentence might be: "by whose genius he thought that those deeds which, according to him, he had done could be celebrated."

Since pragmatics can affect whether not a subordinate clause takes the subjunctive, Allen & Greenough say the choice "often depends merely upon the feeling of the writer whether he shall use the indicative or the subjunctive." A more exact way to express this would be to say that which mood is used affects what the author separately asserts and therefore can depend on what the pragmatic intent of the author is.

[A & G appear to be contradictory in their instructions on subordinate clauses in indirect speech: from "ALL subordinate clauses take the subjunctive..." (sect. 580; p374) to this sect. 583: exceptions: truth; an explanation; emphasis--take indicatives. (Wouldn't any writer claim that his material is true; an explanation of something; worthy of emphasis; combinations thereof? By this logic, the verbs will always be indicative.)]

Despite what grammars say, the choice between the moods is not directly driven by "truth," "a desire to explain," or "emphasis." It is driven by who the author wants to attribute the assertion to and the overall pragmatics that may indeed be connected with "truth," "a desire to explain," or "emphasis." When an author fails to accept authority for a statement, this can create an implication that the underlying truth is in question; however, this is merely a social implication.

For instance, if I say "Country X launched a satellite, which was apparently for peaceful purposes," you may wonder if I have doubts as to whether the peaceful intent is true. If I said: "Country X launched a satellite, which was for peaceful purposes," you know that I believe the explanation. If I said: "Country X launched a missile that was the first threat to world peace," you know that I am emphasizing my opinion about the reality of the threat. If I said: "Country X launched a missile that was said to be the first threat to world peace," you don't know what my opinion is about the reality of the threat. In Latin, these nuances are mostly expressed by the choice of indicative or subjunctive.

3
  • 1
    I don't think I agree with your interpretations of Dīxit Brutum esse quī Caesarem occīdīsset and Brutum esse quī Caesarem occīdit dīxit. The first means "He said that someone killed Caesar and that it was Brutus [but I, the writer, don't vouch for either statement]". The latter means "He said that someone killed Caesar and that it was Brutus [and I vouch for the former statement, but not necessarily for the latter]".
    – TKR
    Jul 19, 2022 at 22:54
  • @TKR: Considering, "dixit Brutum esse qui Caesarem occidisset" = "He said someone killed Caesar and that it was Brutus.". From where does "someone" come? If your translation is correct, how is, "He said that Brutus is he who (is the one) who has killed Caesar.", to be expressed in Latin?
    – tony
    Jul 20, 2022 at 8:35
  • @tony I was paraphrasing to capture the information structure. A focalizing construction like "It was Brutus who killed Caesar" (in English or Latin) implies that "X killed Caesar" is already shared knowledge but "X = Brutus" is not, so in that sense it contains two propositions. To your second question, both the Latin sentences could mean that, the choice depending on whether the assertion that Caesar was killed is the writer's or the speaker's.
    – TKR
    Jul 20, 2022 at 20:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.