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Seneca, Epistolae LXXI: ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est

commonly translated as 'he who does not know which port he is heading to has no favourable wind'.

Could anyone explain what suus is doing? Is it 'no wind of his own' - can the nominative work like that in a dative of possession? Or is there some implication of 'favourable' in it?

Best, Alexandre

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While not its most common usage, suus can also mean something like proprius: "their own" as opposed to anyone else's. This is meaning II.B and II.C in Lewis and Short and was especially favored by Seneca, to the point that he gets his own (pun intended) mention in the definition; it also doesn't necessarily require an expressed nominative subject to refer back to.

In particular, look at II.C.5: "According to one's liking, of one's own choice. Of things, favorable." So while this is literally "no wind of their own" (with suus referring to the main topic, ignoranti) it has the idiomatic meaning of "no wind favorable to (the person who doesn't know)".

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  • What if "suus" was omitted? Is there a case for dative, "cui", instead of accusative, "quem": "for the ignorant, for he who seeks a port, there is no wind (of his own)"?
    – tony
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 8:05
  • @tony That would change the meaning somewhat, wouldn't it? It would no longer specify what they're ignorant of, just saying they're ignorant in general.
    – Draconis
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 15:58
  • Yes, quite; in the Seneca there is an indirect question - 'ignorant of which port he is headed to'. If he were simply talking about the ignorant in general, the mention of ports would be somewhat strange.
    – Alexandre
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 16:44

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