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I became curious about this question as I was translating a passage written by a textbook author. The passage begins,

Poeta Ovidius fabulam de dea Latona et de femina Niobe narrat. (Latin via Ovid)

You can see how the author moved the conjunction "et" outside the prepositional phrase.

I wanted to know, in classical Latin, is it bad style to place the conjunction "et" within a prepositional phrase? e.g.

Poeta Ovidius fabulam de dea Latona et femina Niobe narrat.

I suspect it is bad style, but I wanted to make sure.

I find this to be an interesting contrast with the English language, where such constructions are okay. It also reminds me of a question I asked on Greek recently, where we determined it is probably bad style to do so. If this is true in Latin as well, then I wonder whether this convention comes from Greek.

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An alternative way to phrase the question is to ask whether a preposition should be repeated after et. I went through a book for all the examples of et used with prepositions in a way that would allow both options. I excluded the preposition inter because it would make little sense to say inter Sequanos et inter Helvetios instead of inter Sequanos et Helvetios. I chose the first book of Caesar's Commentarii de bello Gallico, and I found these:

  • 1.5: ab Sequanis et Helvetiis
  • 7.4: ab iniuria et maleficio
  • 9.4: sine maleficio et iniuria
  • 11.1: per angustias et fines
  • 13.5: ex calamitate populi Romani et internecione exercitus
  • 21.2: cum duabus legionibus et iis ducibus
  • 26.1: ad impedimenta et carros
  • 34.1: de re publica et summis utriusque rebus
  • 37.1: et legati ab Haeduis et a Treveris
  • 41.3: cum tribunis militum et primorum ordinum centurionibus
  • 47.4: et propter fidem et propter linguae Gallicae scientiam
  • 48.2: ex Sequanis et Haeduis
  • 53.6: de tanta voluptate et gratulatione

Based on this sample, it seems that the dominant option is not to repeat the preposition — or, in other words, to place et inside a prepositional clause. There are two exceptions: 37.1 and 47.4. Both of them use the emphatic et…et instead of a single et.

Caesar's style, at least in this particular book, seems to be to always place et inside a prepositional clause, with the sole exception of using et…et in the sense of "both…and".

Based on this sample, constructions like de Latona et de Niobe without a preceding et are not used. The sample is way too small to rule out anything like this definitively, but Caesar seems to avoid this. So, quite opposite to your guess, my little study suggests that your first option is bad style and the second one is good style. (The adjectives "bad" and "good" are to be taken with a grain of salt.)

If what you suspect to be bad style is indeed bad style, then Caesar has consistently bad style in this respect. Other authors may have different idiosyncrasies, but at least you are not required to repeat the preposition unless you want special emphasis.

  • Great answer! Thanks. It seems likely that my initial guess was wrong, and it's in fact the opposite. Also, I should have done a better job of separating the case of et ... et ... from a single et, as style may differ for these cases. – ktm5124 Oct 19 '16 at 18:16
  • @ktm5124, thanks! I only realized the difference between double et and single et when I had worked through the book. I would not have made the distinction myself, either, without already knowing the answer. (It's also possible that my list contains some errors, but I think my conclusion is fairly well supported.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 19 '16 at 18:23
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    This actually lines up well with the Greek pattern we discussed in the other question: when there is et ... et / καί ... καί you get the repeated preposition, but not when there's a single *et*/καί. (Btw, Joonas, did you automate this search in some way? Or did you actually read through the book?) – TKR Oct 19 '16 at 21:46
  • @TKR, I used the linked HTML page which contains the entire book, and searched for all instances of "et " (including the space to reduce noise) with the browser's search. The method may not be optimal, but it's simple and fast enough. I hope to learn more about search possibilities in the corpus question. – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 20 '16 at 5:53
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    @TKR: I would say repeating the preposition can have two different purposes: one, for emphasis, which goes well with et...et; two, to mark the parallel in a very long constituent, such as we have not seen here. – Cerberus Aug 12 '17 at 5:15

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