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I'm trying to find the correct translation of the phrase Sapiens dominabitur astris.
Or, perhaps, an explanation why it is not Passive voice.

The phrase is usually translated as

The wise [man] will rule/prevail over the stars.

However, grammatically it seems more like

The wise [man] will be ruled by the stars.

As far as I understand, the verb has the form:
dominabitur = domino + 3rd Person singular indicative future passive.

If it were the active voice, it would be dominor (Present) or dominabur (Future).

This corroborates with the form of astris, the doer of the action in phrases with passive voice:
astris = astrum + Plural + Dative/Ablative


This question was inspired by the logo of Main Directorate of Intelligence of Ukraine

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    To me it looks like their motto should rather be: Russiam ingenti gladio pulsare volumus 😉 Oct 11, 2022 at 19:10

1 Answer 1

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The verb isn't domino, it's dominor.

So what's going on?

Dominor (or dominari, to use the infinitive) is a deponent verb, which is a short way of saying that only the passive forms are used, but the meaning is active. Latin has lots of these.

So you say:

  • dominor – “I rule”
  • dominatus sum – “I ruled”
  • dominabar – also “I ruled” ;-)
  • and so on …

There are also some forms that only exist in the active voice; these are used, but it doesn't affect the meaning, e.g. dominans (ruling). So the meaning in this case is, indeed, “The wise man will rule the stars.”

By the way, this phrase was often incorrectly attributed to Ptolemy, but is probably considerably younger. Apparently it dates back to thirteenth-century debates about the merits of astrology.


The fine print:

  1. The question in what way the meaning is really “active” tends to spark extended discussions that (in my opinion) are not very helpful from a practical point of view, but in any event it is not the passive version of another, active meaning, and the ablativus auctoris as you envision for astris is not generally used. Astris is the dative here.
  2. An active form dominare does exist in a few instances in the existing literature. Not only are active forms like dominabunt found, but also passive forms with a clearly passive meaning (“to be ruled”). These are rare cases, though; the deponent dominor, on the other hand, is a pretty common word in Classical Latin.
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    Very good answer: +1! However, let me make a remark on your point 1, when saying that "extended discussions" on the meaning of deponent verbs "are not very helpful from a practical point of view". This can be true but note that some linguistic analysis can also be helpful when trying to work out why dominor 'I rule' (from dominus 'master') is deponent. Probably, the same linguistic (sub)generalization accounts for other similar denominal verbs like ancillor ‘I serve’ (from ancilla ‘servant’), famulor ‘I serve’ (from famulus ‘servant’), or furor ‘I steal’ (from fur ‘stealer’).
    – Mitomino
    Oct 11, 2022 at 0:13
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    In the examples above note that the following descriptive subgeneralization relating form with meaning applies: the nominative argument acquires the characteristics of the nominal element, i.e., it is identified with the nominal root. This descriptive (sub)generalization can be formulated in a more explanatory/technical way but I agree that this could not be helpful from a practical point of view... However, note that the non-technical descriptive subgeneralization can be helpful even "from a practical point of view".
    – Mitomino
    Oct 11, 2022 at 0:24

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