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In the following passage from De Bello Gallico 11, I do not understand why rogatum apparently agrees with Caesar (or maybe modifies auxilium?) instead of legatos:

Aedui, cum se suaque ab eis defendere non possent, legatos ad Caesarem mittunt rogatum auxilium. ("The Aedui, when they were unable to defend themselves and their own from them, send ambassadors to Caesar asking for aid.")

Since it is the legatos that are doing the asking, shouldn't it be rogatos auxilium instead of rogatum auxilium? The grammar of this is unclear to me. I guess there is a noun rogatum, then there is an adjective rogatus -a -um, then there is the perfect passive participle of rogo which is rogatus which I guess is identical to the adjective. What is the grammar here?

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The word rogatum is the accusative form of the supine. The supine is a verbal noun (like an infinitive1) rather than a verbal adjective (like a participle), so it need not agree with any other word in case. There is no choice in gender or number. The supine is not an adjective-like attribute to anything else.

The supine accusative often goes with verbs of motion. Motion can be understood broadly, so that mittere is about (causing) motion. Its use is described in Latin grammars, so I will not give a detailed exposition here. Notice that the supine stays in its form in all situations: e.g. eam rogatum mitto ≈ ea rogatum missa est.

You could argue that the supine is the same thing as the fourth declension noun rogatus, but the situation is not quite that simple. That line of thinking does give a reasonable first grasp of the Latin supine, but just don't take it as the ultimate truth.


1 By being a verbal noun I simply mean that the role it plays in a sentence is that of a noun. The infinitive can be an object, for example. I do not mean that you should think of it as a noun derived from a verb. You shouldn't think of a participle as a derived adjective either. It's best to think of the supine as a separate entity rather than a noun that behaves oddly and has only two cases.

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  • You beat me by less than a minute. :/
    – cmw
    Dec 9, 2023 at 17:21
  • @cmw The internet connection on the train I wrote this on was spotty, so it was a matter of luck that I wasn't delayed by a couple of minutes.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 9, 2023 at 18:09
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    IMHO it is best to think of the supines as weird things of their own right. Thinking of the -um supine as an accusative form of a verbal noun may be etymologically justified, but tells you little about what it means and how it is used. In particular, in the example sentence, Caesar could not have used an actual accusative of a verbal noun. Dec 9, 2023 at 18:22
  • @SebastianKoppehel I added a note explaining what I meant with "verbal noun", which to me is very different from a noun derived from a verb. I agree that thinking of a supine as a noun is not great; I just wanted to make the point that it behaves ina sentence far more like an inflected noun than as an adjective.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 9, 2023 at 20:25
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Joonas is right that this is a supine (one that is common in Caesar and other authors), but I also want to clarify one further point in your question. Rogatum cannot go with legatos because even if it were a participle, it would be a perfect passive participle ("having been asked"), while "asking" agreeing with legatos would have been a present active participle, rogantes. So legatos rogatos are the legates that were asked, not the legates that were asking.

The translation that you provided gets the meaning across just fine, but it does not accurately reflect the underlying Latin grammar.

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