"Claudius pullos sacros in aquam mersit ut biberent, quoniam esse nollent"

I'm struggling with the two things:

  • the "ut biberent" which to me is "so that they would drink"

  • the phrase after the comma, what does "esse + subjunctive of imperfect" mean because the translation to me would be "because they didn't want to be".

can someone light me up? Google translator gave a weird translation which would only make sense if the construction "esse + subjunctive of imperfect" have a totally different meaning of what I'm thinking. Thanks.

  • 1
    Welcome back! Where is that sentence from?
    – Rafael
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 0:37
  • 2
    it is an isolated sentence from an exercise. The book is "Gramática Latina Napoleão Mendes de Almeida" p.308 first exercise. Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 0:57
  • 2
    It’s a good sign that you’ve been working too long and should go to bed when you start reading pullos as pueros and wonder why Claudius was drowning sacred boys… Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


There is no mysteriously obscure grammar at play here, but rather the infinitive esse from the verb edo 'I eat'. He made the chickens drink, because they didn't want to eat.

  • 1
    do you happen to know why subjunctive instead of indicative in biberent? Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 7:35
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    @hellofriends [ut + subj.] is a called a clause of purpose, ut biberent = in order that they drink, whereas [ut + ind.] means when Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 8:25
  • thanks, I suppose something similar happens with nollent Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:57
  • 3
    @hellofriends: No, nollent is likely subjunctive to make clear that this is the reason that exists in the mind of the person who is doing the action in the sentence (Claudius) and not a reason that the narrator/speaker is providing to explain Claudius's action.
    – cnread
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 17:33
  • you guys are the best Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 20:38

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