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Why is it "Gaudeamus igitur, iuvenes dum sumus!" rather than "Gaudeamus igitur, dum iuvenes sumus!"? In English, "Let's be happy, therefore, young while we are." sounds very ungrammatical. So does Croatian "Veselimo se, dakle, mladi dok smo." (OK, maybe slightly less than in English, but still weird).

Does "iuvenes dum sumus" sound poetic in Latin? Or how does it sound?

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    A similar example in a modern Slavic poetry: Řekni mu, stříbrný měsíčku / mé že jej obímá rámě / ... (Kvapil, Rusalka)
    – Pteromys
    Jun 4, 2023 at 12:54
  • @Pteromys What does that mean? "Rekni mu" presumably means "tell him", but I cannot decypher the rest. Jun 4, 2023 at 13:45
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    Tell him, silver moon / that it's my arm that is embracing him. But the specific order of words is more like Tell him, silver moon, mine is embracing him arm.
    – Edheldil
    Jun 5, 2023 at 9:27
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    @FlatAssembler my point is that the word for "my" jumps over "that."
    – Pteromys
    Jun 19, 2023 at 13:20

1 Answer 1

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Because dum iúvenes súmus does not fit the metre. The verse is stress-based, and iuvenes is stressed on the first syllable.

Not sure what to make of the objection that the same word order “sounds very ungrammatical” in English or Croatian. That would be surely true of many or even most Latin sentences. It's almost as if the ancient Romans didn't consider English grammar when they invented Latin. It is no criterion for reasoning about Latin syntax.

In Latin, anyway, it's entirely allowed that a conjunction is not the first word of the (subordinate) sentence. It's quite common for relative or demonstrative pronouns to be put in front of it, but occasionally it's other words or even whole phrases, e.g. Ad hoc consilium cum plerique accederent, Histiaeus Milesius [⋯] obstitit (Nepos, Miltiades 3).

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    "It's almost as if the ancient Romans didn't consider English grammar when they invented Latin." That got a hearty chuckle from me.
    – cmw
    Jun 2, 2023 at 19:47
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    I do wonder if it suggests anything, though. Is it poetic / loftier? Nepos isn't the most talented prose writer, but he's not averse to rhetorical flourishes every now and then. I believe we've also had this discussion about inverted prepositions (like magna cum laude or (de rerum natura). I don't have my Woodcock handy to see what he says about it, though.
    – cmw
    Jun 2, 2023 at 19:50
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    @cmw Hard to say, but I believe there is a tendency for the sentence's topic to precede the conjunction (hence all the quae cum ita sint, id si factum esset, &c.), often picking up something from the previous text, which is also the case in the Nepos example. But in the song it's the focus, and I believe this lends it an extra emphasis. This opinion is sponsored by one of my favourite Wikipedia articles: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_word_order#Topic_and_focus Jun 2, 2023 at 20:39
  • There's a lot of controversy over topicality in Latin (as there is in English), but it's on my mind recently after digging into Japanese and the strange (from an IE perspective) way it treats it. I'm sure there's also caution to be had in reading too much into it, forming rules when it might just be style. Hard to tell with a dead language.
    – cmw
    Jun 2, 2023 at 21:11
  • I'd say stress aside, it's just nicer to have the three syllables match across two single words (gau-de-amus, iu-ve-nes), rather than forcing it across multiple words (gau-de-amus, dum-iu-ve). And, of course, as you say, Latin simply didn't care about order the way we speaking English might, as far as we know. Jun 4, 2023 at 13:07

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