The concluding prayer of the prime office says:

℣. Dóminus nos benedícat, ✠ et ab omni malo deféndat, et ad vitam perdúcat ætérnam.

Why does the verb (perdúcat) split the noun (vitam) and the adjective (ætérnam) that describes it? Is this to emphasize ætérnam, by making it the final word? Why not say "ad vitam ætérnam perdúcat" (to match the construction of the preceding phrases)? Is this split noun-adjective construction common in Latin? Does it have a particular reasoning behind it?


1 Answer 1


The phenomenon at issue here is what is referred to as "hyperbaton": please click on this link for a definition of this term and for some varied examples from Ancient Greek and Latin. Note, by the way, that the very same example you'are interested in here has already been discussed in this previous post.

Here I'd like to add that this particular kind of hyperbaton exemplified by ad vitam perducat aeternam can also be found in classical prose authors such as Caesar and Cicero: note that the two following examples replicate the very same (!) type of construction. In these three examples the adjective (aeternam, iniquum, optatos) has strong focus. In my opinion, it is not the case that the verb turns out to be inserted between the noun and the adjective. I’d rather say that it is the adjective that is moved to the end and it’s there where it gets a focal reading. To put it in your words, this is to "emphasize aeternam, by making it the final word". As you note, the marked order ad vitam perducat aeternam can be compared with the unmarked/basic one ad vitam aeternam perducat.

ne forte in eodem loco subsistere hostis atque elicere nostros in locum conaretur iniquum (Caes. Gall. 8.16) 'In case the enemy tried to remain in the same place and draw our men into a disadvantageous situation.'

ad exitus pervehimur optatos (Cic. Off. 2.19). 'We are wafted over to the wished-for haven' (Perseus) / 'We reach the desired outcomes.'

In the linguistic literature on word order, Latin is sometimes referred to as a "discourse configurational language", in which pragmatic notions like topic and focus are encoded structurally rather than linearly. If you are interested in this issue, take a look at this answer, where you’ll find some hopefully useful references, from basic level ones to more advanced ones. Finally, I should add that, when dealing with this very complex issue, there is an alternative perspective on hyperbaton based on the role of prosody. For example, see this short paper. A more detailed version of this approach can also be found here.

  • A great link there, Thanks! Interestingly, the article states that hyperbaton emphasizes the first of the two parts of the split. If I read that right, that means that it's vitam which is being emphasized, rather than aeternam, may he lead us to eternal life (and not death).
    – Figulus
    Jul 16, 2023 at 1:48
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    @Figulus I've just seen that Pinkster (2021: 1098; The Oxford Latin Syntax vol.II) also analyzes the very same example from Cicero and concludes: "the emphatic modifier optatos ends up in the final position of the clause, a common place for focus constituents". Devine & Stephens's (2019: 200) also analyze the very same example and say the same: the adjective has strong focus here. But you say that Agbayani & Golston arrive at a different conclusion in their alternative approach based on prosodic movement. Are you sure? If so, I don't agree with them but with Pinkster and Devine & Stephens.
    – Mitomino
    Jul 16, 2023 at 3:23
  • Just to clarify, the link I was referring to was the wikipedia article. Cum grano salis... so no, I'm not really sure.
    – Figulus
    Jul 16, 2023 at 14:11

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