Here is a line from Aeneid 6:563, along with my gloss of the parts of speech and the formal inflectional categories and proposed free translation.

nulli fas casto sceleratum insistere limen
n.sg.dat n.nom adj.sg.dat adj.acc v.inf n.acc
"Divine will [is for] no pure [soul] to tread on the wicked threshold."

The way I am understanding the syntax of it is that there is a verbless matrix clause whose subject is fas, which is complemented by a subordinate clause ([nulli casto]S [insistere]V [sceleratum limen]O). The subordinate clause's subject takes dative case, and its main verb takes the infinitive.

sentence diagram

First, should I be understanding this as a type of copula construction where the verb is omitted? (i.e., read fas to be the subject of an implied est, and the subordinate clause to be the complement of est).

Second, are there other subordinating constructions where the embedded clause has a dative subject and infinitive main verb?

2 Answers 2


Yes, I would by all means supply est. The phrase fas est is a fixed combination either introducing an a.c.i. or governing a complementary/supplementary infinitive plus the latter's arguments. The est can be omitted, as in similar constructions. I would analyse this fas est as having a primary dative complement nulli casto and a infinitival phrase as a secondary complement. Within that phrase, sceleratum limen is then the object of the infinitive.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but your diagram looks like how some modern Anglo-Saxon linguists would analyse the English for construction. Perhaps that is possible, but I would rather not group nulli casto with the infinitival phrase, or it would be like "[stepping on a wicked threshold for no chaste man] is proper". But it should be read as "[stepping on a wicked threshold] is proper [for no chaste man]". I have marked the arguments of fas est with square brackets.

In yet other words: the dative cannot be a complement of insistere, because that would not make sense: insistere doesn't take a dative. It must be a complement to fas est, expressing the person for whom the action expresses in the infinitival phrase would be improper.

  • Thanks, this makes sense. Typologically, copula verbs tend to have only two arguments: the subject and the complement, so that's I parsed it that way by default. But your "raising" of the dative phrase sounds like the better analysis.
    – user1002
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 0:42
  • @jlovegren: Ah, fancy Anglo-Saxon terms! The phaenomenon of raising is interesting. I suppose if you 'dropped' the dative, it would become part of an a.c.i., and it would become an accusative. // As to typology, how about the news was too much for him, it seemed impossible to him, Dutch het is mij te veel, een aanval leek de koning onverstandig? Similar constructions are possible in many languages—constructions in which copulae have additional constituents (i.e. additional to subject and subject complement).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 1:30
  • well, typology is not universals, it is tendencies. so it is a good starting point in an unfamiliar language (like latin is for me). obviously, if the language doesn't follow the pattern, you go with what works for the language. so for example, you see a sentence with the object before the verb and subject. you guess that the language is not object-initial, and then from there assume that either the word order is flexible, or the object-initial construction is marked (e.g., for focus). you might be wrong (the language could be truly object-initial), but you still made a good starting guess.
    – user1002
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 3:22
  • @jlovegren: Ah, I see what you mean, then.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 4:14

In addition to Cerberus' answer, I would rather make the following slicing:

fas [est] nulli casto
insistere limen sceleratum

As far as I know, it is very common to omit esse in Latin: e.g. some lines before your quotation you can read Quæ scelerum facies? (What shapes of crime are here? v. 560).

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