Consider the Vulgate of Acts 20:1:

Postquam autem cessavit tumultus, vocatis Paulus discipulis, et exhortatus eos, valedixit, et profectus est ut iret in Macedoniam.

The Douay-Rheims renders this as:

And after the tumult was ceased, Paul calling to him the disciples, and exhorting them, took his leave, and set forward to go into Macedonia

I'm noticing that the translators have inserted the helper phrase "to him", which I don't see anywhere in the original (right?). I am furthermore recalling that Latin sometimes omits words that, when translated into English, we expressly provide in order to make the sentence sound natural. For instance lex rex is commonly rendered into English as "The law is king", and the "is" verb is supplied in English but only implied in the Latin. The omission of an implied state of being verb seems to be common enough that I now consider it when attempting to grasp the meaning of a sentence that lacks a verb.

Is the phrase "to him" a similar Latin convention, perhaps implied by a particular Latin construction or phrase, e.g., the dative or ablative? Or is this simply the translators providing some additional clarification English because they felt it made the sentence more natural, and not necessarily a pattern that repeats itself throughout Latin literature?

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    Nice question, but it would not be my first question with that sentence. What, eruditissimi fratres sororesque, would we answer to someone who came to this website and said: Hey, I wrote a sentence that goes: Vocatis Paulus discipulis, et exhortatus eos, valedixit – is this good Latin? Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 21:31
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    @SebastianKoppehel, is that the position of Paulus in the middle of Ablative Absolute?
    – d_e
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 21:54
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    @d_e Not just that; imagine if we sorted out the word order: Discipulis vocatis, Paulus et exhortatus eos valedixit. – the et is hanging in the air and the eos refers to the object of the AA, which is a no-no; I could be wrong here, but that does not look good to me. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 21:55
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    @SebastianKoppehel There's an odd discrepancy between the Latin and the Greek. Even the Greek is different between the Textus Receptus and Westcott-Hort.
    – cmw
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 22:21
  • @SebastianKoppehel I read et as a cooperating conjunction with postquam. "Afterwards, the tumult ceased. And Paul..." But perhaps I'm all wet. Can postquam mean adverbial post in biblical Latin? I don't think it can in classical Latin.
    – Figulus
    Commented Feb 13, 2023 at 3:01

1 Answer 1


I think you're overthinking this. It sounds pretty reasonable to me to translate vocare as "to call to oneself". It depends on context whether it makes sense to add a prepositional phrase in English and not in Latin, and in this context it does.

I agree with the translators' choice here. The goal is not to translate word for word, as there is no perfect correspondence between Latin and English words. For example, vocare is not identical in meaning to "to call", but they can certainly serve as translations of each other in many cases. The goal is to express in English the thought that was expressed in Latin, and that has been achieved nicely.

The idea of "to him" is clearly there in the original, even if there are no explicit words like ad se. It seems common to me that English likes to supply explicit pronouns where other languages are happy to leave them out, as has happened here.

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    It is remarkable that in the Nova Vulgata, the text was changed to accersitis Paulus discipulis. The creators of the N. V. apparently thought that vocare did not express the Greek ideally. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 21:23

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