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The mānēs or dī mānēs, the benevolent spirits of the underworld, are usually addressed as a collective.

But what if I want to talk about one specific benevolent spirit? Is the singular (*manis perhaps?) ever used? Can the plural be used with a singular meaning? Or do I need to find some circumlocution?

2 Answers 2

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Judging by the entry in Lewis and Short, the plural is also used to refer to a single entity. Section I.B mentions examples like manes Anchisae/conjugis/Virginiae/Galbae.

The same section also mentions a singular use without any comment: nomine Manem deum nuncupant. Judging by a quick corpus search this is a hapax legomenon; the other hit appears to be a Plautine form of manere. Therefore my suggestion is to go with the plural.

I don't know if the implication is that a single dead person has several spirits. If you want an emphatic singular, perhaps unus manium is an option.

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    If it's a plurale tantum presumably a single one would be ūnī mānēs, with the plurale tantum numeral.
    – Cairnarvon
    Jun 8, 2023 at 19:27
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    @Cairnarvon I really can't tell whether it's a plurale tantum word or whether I should think that the manes always come in groups. The interpretation on that has an effect on what the singular is, and I'd be happy to see an argument either way. My reading, admittedly based on only a gut feeling, is that it's not a plurale tantum word. I find it plausible that a Roman would say that Anchises had several spirits where a modern person might say that he has only one.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jun 8, 2023 at 19:44
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    For analogy, in English we talk can call a corpse the remains of a person, which acts syntactically as plural (e.g. “…his remains were moved to a new grave…”, not “…was…”) Jun 10, 2023 at 13:16
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Appius has the singular attested:

In sing.: “nomine Manem deum nuncupant,” App. de Deo Socr. 15, p. 50, 19.

He's a bit late, but I suppose this proves it's possible. Running a PHI search "manem ~ deum" shows nothing else.

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