In Petrarch's literary tiff with a physician in the court of Pope Clement VI, Petrarch accused the physician of adopting un-Christian skeptical and Averroist ideas. Petrarch puts into his opponent's mouth a skeptical speech, in which various opinions on the soul are recounted. Toward the end it reads,

...sunt qui celo [animam] reddant, sunt qui circa terras exulare cogant, sunt qui inferos asserant, sunt qui negent, sunt qui unamquanque per se, sunt qui simul omnes animas creatas putent; fuit et qui mirabilius quiddam dicere auderet, siquidem unitatem intellectus attulit dux noster Averrois.

David Marsh translates the passage as follows:

Some assign it [the soul] to heaven; others force it to wander in exile on earth. Some assert the existence of the underworld; others deny it. Some think each soul created by itself; others think all souls are created together. Some have even dared to say more amazing things. Thus, our master Averroes asserted the unity of the intellect.

Marsh's translation seems odd to me, because the switch to singular seems very deliberate. My initial thought upon reading the passage was that Petrarch-qua-physician set up the independent clause to imply a specific though unnamed person with a specific though unnamed idea (quiddam). Then the siquidem clause clarified that person to be Averroes and that idea to be the unity of the intellect. Is there a reason to read it otherwise?

  • It seems to me that the clause about Averroes is given as an example of one who might dare, rather than he being the subject itself. "There is he who might dare to say something more amazing, as our leader Averroes when he asserts..." Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 0:05
  • There is also tense-change to imperfect from present. However the subjunctive remains, not sure about Mediaeval Latin, but in classical I think if the statement refers to a known entity, it should use the indicative... though maybe subj is rhetoric?
    – d_e
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


I think you're right that the translation is misleading. The whole speech is using relative clauses of characteristic (see Allen & Greenough § 534-535).

The first set of sentences is the third-person plural and uses the present indicative and present subjunctive: "sunt qui reddant, etc." This is a very common construction, often referred to as a "relative clause with an indefinite antecedent" (see A&G § 535(a), note 2).

When the speaker switches to the singular, this gets a little more tricky, since there isn't a sharp dividing line between relative clauses of characteristic and a more typical indicative relative clause. In constructions like multi sunt qui and even sunt qui, for instance, the indicative and subjunctive are possible, depending on the "shade of meaning" (A&G).

In this particular instance, I think the speaker is purposely alluding to a definite but unspecified person (I don't think that's an oxymoron!) in the first clause, and then specifying him in the second half of the sentence.

Alone, the first clause could easily mean:

There was even one person who dared to say something even more amazing. . . ."

Who? What?

Indeed, our leader Averroes asserted the unity of the intellect.

The A&G entry includes several examples that use the imperfect and the singular. The nuance of fuit is that the person in question is dead, as in Vergil's famous *urbs antiqua fuit."

For those curious: Averroes famously claimed, in his Long Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, that human beings do not have a "personal" intellect. Unlike Avicenna (following a pretty standard ancient interpretation of Aristotle), who claimed that a single active intellect actualized individual material intellects, Averroes thought that the "material intellect" itself was also a single, separate substance to which human beings are joined through imagination in occurrent acts of thinking. Thomas Aquinas wrote a polemical treatise attacking this view of Averroes: De Unitate Intellectus contra Averroistas. For more, see this review of a book by Stephen Ogden on the topic.

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