15

I have seen this sentence translated as both "Only the Goddess knows fate" and "Only the Goddess knows their fate". That aside, I remember someone telling me that this was not correct Latin, and it has been bugging me ever since. What I have been able to piece together so far:

"sola dea" I am not sure about. I know that "dea" is a first-declension feminine noun in the nominative case. However, since "dea" is the active noun in the sentence, the one doing the "knowing", I am not sure that it should be in the nominative case. None of the other cases seem like they fit, except for possibly the accusative case, making it "solam deam".

"fatum" is a second-declension neuter noun in the accusative case, which I believe is correct, but I can't explain why. Something to do with it being the object acted upon.

Then the verb, "novit", infinitive form "noscere"? Or is it "nosco"? From this chart it looks like novit is in the perfect tense, which doesn't make any sense; would that not translate as "Only the Goddess has known fate"? This is the one I've been having the most trouble with and have been unable to figure out.

  • 1
    You have the uses of nominative and accusative switched. – Nic Hartley Feb 25 '16 at 21:28
14

Yes, the grammar of this sentence is perfectly fine. It's a very simple sentence composed of subject, object and verb.

Sentence Outline

  • Subject: Sola dea - The subject needs to be nominative here. Remember that even though two Latin words may be translated with the same English words (so dea and deam are both translated "goddess"), that does not mean that they have the same meaning or function in Latin (to give another example, ad deam and deae could both be translated "to the goddess," but they are not interchangeable).
  • Object: fatum - Your analysis is correct. The verb novit takes a direct object in the accusative case.
  • Verb: Novit, "knows." Who knows? The goddess (alone). What does she know? Fate.

Novit

Novit is a special verb. Even though novi is the perfect form of nosco, it is frequently used with the meaning of the present tense instead of nosco.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0059%3Aentry%3Dnosco

The entry for L&S cites a passage from the Plautus play Pseudolus (Act 4, Scene 2), which has multiple examples of this usage.

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0107%3Aact%3D4%3Ascene%3D2

Some observations:

  1. The form novi is always used (for the present tense) rather than nosco, except for one use of the present imperative nosce.
  2. The perfect passive participle is used as an present active participle!

    Novi, notis praedicas.

    I know that! You are preaching to those who already know that!

  3. The derived verb cognosco is used (rather than cognovi), just as you would expect. Example:

    Video, et cognosco signum.

    I see and recognize the seal.

One reason why it might be particularly appropriate for your sentence to use novit rather than noscit is that the Latin Bible (the Vulgate) favors using novit. This may have influenced the author's choice of words. Here are a couple of examples from the Vulgate.

Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 19, Verse 15. Perfect-form but present-meaning novi is opposed to present-tense scio.

Respondens autem spiritus nequam dixit eis: Jesum novi, et Paulum scio: vos autem qui estis?

But, responding, the evil spirit said to them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?"

2 Thessalonians Chapter 1, Verse 8. Perfect-form, present-meaning noverunt is in opposition to present tense obediunt.

in flamma ignis dantis vindictam iis qui non noverunt Deum, et qui non obediunt Evangelio Domini nostri Jesu Christi

In a blaze of fire, vengeance to those who do not know God, and who do not obey the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Searching online for the phrase Sola dea fatum novit reveals that your sentence comes from the soundtrack to the video game Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Since this phrase is part of a larger set of lyrics, is it possible that this other person was referring to the lyrics as a whole, rather than this particular sentence.

  • Thanks especially for the detailed and example-filled explanation of novi! – Ben Kovitz Mar 5 '16 at 2:48
11

Sola dea is the subject, and the subject must be nominative.

Fatum is in the accusative, and not the nominative, and must be, since sola dea is in the nominative. It's the direct object, and the accusative is the case for direct objects. I think you just had your terminology mixed up.

Finally, novit is perfect, not infinitive, of noscere, which is the infinitive of nosco, whose form is just the first person singular active indicative (nosco "I recognize", noscere "to recognize", perf. novi "I know"). Personally I would have chosen scire instead of noscere, but the latter works, too. In short, it's grammatical. That said, I would have switched the order of sola and dea—it's not technically incorrect, but it's not very proper.

  • So as a complete sentence, is this well-formed Latin? Does it make sense? – Meta Feb 25 '16 at 21:39
  • 1
    Isn't the order of sola and dea needed to make a play on the Three Solas of Protestant Christianity? Or is no reference intended? – Ben Kovitz Feb 26 '16 at 0:49
  • 1
    That's a very good point to bring up; it's not something I had considered before. It could very well be the case that it's mimicking the same order as the Three Solas. That casts the phrase in a whole new light. – Meta Mar 22 '16 at 13:33
9

The sentence, absent any context (could you provide some?), would ordinarily be translated

The Goddess alone knows [their, or his, or her, etc.] fate.

Let's break it down word by word:

Sola: Nominative singular, first declension, feminine; agreeing with dea.

dea: Nominative singular; it's the subject (in this case, the actor) of the sentence.

fatum: Accusative singular of the second-declension neuter fatum, "fate". Here it's accusative because it's the direct object; the accusative case of neuter second-declension nouns is the same form as their nominative.

novit: And here we come to the interesting part. Nosco can mean "know" (in the sense of "get acquainted with"), but it can also mean "to come to know" or "to learn"; so that novit might be strictly translated "has learned"—i.e. "Only the goddess has learned their fate." However, generally speaking it's the case that what one has learned, one knows; so that novit, though a perfect tense, can also mean "know" in the present.

8

You have several excellent answers here. I just want to add a few words about C. M. Weimer's suggestion that scit might be better than novit.

Scire (scit) and noscere/novisse (novit), two Latin words for "know," have cognates in many Romance languages (perhaps all of them; certainly all those I'm familiar with): savoir/connaître in French, sapere/cognoscere in Italian, and so on. English speakers often confuse the two. Noscere/novisse means to be acquainted with (usually a person), to recognize, to be familiar with. Scire is far more often used of inanimate objects, and is more about knowing facts and knowing how to do things.

So I agree that scit is probably more appropriate here. Sola dea fatum novit means something more like "Only the goddess recognizes [or "is acquainted with"] fate." Now, fatus/fatum in Latin has a much broader meaning than "fate" as we use it in English today, so novit isn't actually wrong here. But if the sentence is referring to the idea of knowing the future, as seems likely, it would be much better rendered as Sola dea fatum scit.

(For what it's worth, there's another word, callere, which means "to know by experience"; it's the word that "callus" comes from, as in the hard bumps on your fingers when you've played a lot of guitar. I suppose it would be possible to say Sola dea fatum callet, but in addition to being probably not what's intended, that would also be false!)

From Jean Baptiste Gardin Dusmenil's Latin Synonyms, with Their Different Significations: and Examples Taken from the Best Latin Authors (gotta love 19th century book titles!), translated by J.M. Gossett, 1819 edition:

Non sciunt ipsi viam, qua domum redeant.
They themselves don't know the way by which to go home.

Is qui de omnibus scierit, de Scylla se scire negavit. He who knew about everything said he didn't know about Scylla.

—Cicero

Unde tam bene me nosti?
How do you know me so well?

—Horace

Virtutem tu ne de facie quidem nosti.
You don't even know what strength looks like.

—Cicero

Dumesnil goes on:

Noscere is to have in one's mind the idea or the notion of a thing or of a person; and scire is only to have a knowledge of a thing or person.

  • Thank you for the clarification. From ACR's answer I was able to look up the source and the context seems to refer to capital-L Fate, as either a personified deity or the concept of Fate. However, the lyrics here translate it as "Only the Goddess knows their fate", so although it is a mistranslation it seems that scit is the correct word as opposed to novit, as in "Only the Goddess has knowledge of [their] fate". – Meta Mar 23 '16 at 20:31

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.