In the Latin Vulgate, Genesis 4:15, this example:

"dixitque Dominus nequaquam ita fiet sed omnis qui occiderit Cain septuplum punietur, posuitque Dominus Cain signum ut non eum interficeret omnis qui invenisset eum."

"And the Lord said to him: 'No, it shall not be so, but whosoever shall kill Cain shall be punished seven-fold.'" And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him,".

Is the "ut"-clause an indirect command?

Given that somebody must find Cain before they can kill him, why isn't "invenio" an imperfect (subjunctive) & "interficio" a pluperfect (subj.)?

Usually, a perfect (completed action--finding Cain) is followed by a pluperfect (the next thing to be completed--killing Cain). Here, the sequence-of-tense rule, after "posuit" (perfect-without-have) dictates the use of historic/ secondary tenses.

Why is "Cain" nominative after "occiderit" and not accusative & nom. after "posuit" instead of ablative?

  • 3
    You have the relationship between the tenses wrong: pluperfect precedes perfect/imperfect temporally. As for Cain, it's indeclinable like many foreign names in Latin.
    – TKR
    Jun 5, 2023 at 12:26
  • 1
    @TKR Do you want to write that as an answer? It's short, but I think it is a full answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 5, 2023 at 12:33

1 Answer 1


I would deem this a purpose clause, sometimes called a "final" clause: the Lord set the mark so that whoever found him wouldn't kill him. An indirect command generally needs some verb of commanding, which posuit isn't.

The pluperfect tense is plus quam perfectum: "more than finished/perfect". It's a combination of perfective aspect (the aftereffects of a completed action) and past time, and for the aftereffects to be relevant in the past, the action must have been completed even further into the past. The usual English translation is with "had": after I had eaten (pluperfect), I was no longer hungry (imperfect).

In other words, invenisset happens before interficeret.

Finally, Cain isn't necessarily nominative: like many Biblical names, it's considered indeclinable, and looks the same in every case. This worked a lot better in Greek, where the article could indicate the case when it was ambiguous; in Latin, you just have to figure it out from context, and which role is missing from the verb. In this instance, the cases of the declinable nouns suggest that what's missing is the one being killed and the one the mark is placed on, so that must be Cain's role in the sentence.

  • Thank you. Originally, I was going to ask about the relationship between the "ut"-clause and relative pronoun, "qui". The latter selecting the subjunctive in indirect speech; without any ACI it might have been informal indirect speech, interpreted as an indirect command. Therefore, in an "ut"-clause, "qui" has no grammatical influence, only its translation, "he"/ "he who"--is that correct?
    – tony
    Jun 6, 2023 at 8:00
  • Do you think "interficeret" is imperfect rather than present because it's anchored to "posuit"? Jun 6, 2023 at 14:31
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    @Kingshorsey: Verb, "interficeret" is imperfect, though it was translated as a present, "..kill him,". Having found Cain, the killing will take place in the future--just to add to the confusion--it would still be given as imperfect. In indirect speech, the future can be represented by the pluperfect subjunctive e.g. "nisi statuas restituissent, vehementer minatur," = "he threatens them vigorously, unless the statues are restored," (Cic, ad Verrem 2.2.162). Cicero uses an historic present, "minatur", which could be construed as the future, though it's all in the past. Confused? Please advise.
    – tony
    Jun 7, 2023 at 8:54

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