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I'm reading Vergil's Eclogue 8, 17–42 in the book Beginning Latin Poetry Reader by Gavin Betts and Daniel Franklin. The first verse is (I write only the long vowels macrons):

Nāscere, prāēque diem veniēns age, Lūcifer, ālmum,

and it's translated to English this way:

Rise (lit. be born), Morning Star, and precede and bring on the life-giving day

The book includes the following note:

Nascere [...]; take the next words as praeveniensque diem–the two elements of praeveniens (praeveniō -īre precede) are split by tmesis, a somewhat rare stylistic feature

Reading this, everything in the translation is clear to me, except the word praeveniens, which is translated as the imperative precede. Being praeveniens a present participle in the nominative case, I don't understand such translation. Could anyone explain it? What's the meaning of "praeveniens" in this verse of Vergil's Eclogue 8? I'm trying to understand the original Vergil's verse, not the English translation.

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  • Why is it surprising to you that a construction that literally means "preceding, bring" is translated as "precede and bring"?
    – Cairnarvon
    Dec 10, 2023 at 21:33
  • @Cairnarvon: My native languages are not English. English present participle roughly corresponds to gerund in my own languages. But often Latin present participle doesn't translate as gerund in my own languages.
    – Charo
    Dec 10, 2023 at 22:21
  • @Charo: If the "Morning Star" ("Lucifer") is being told to rise, why isn't "Lucifer" in the accusative?
    – tony
    Dec 12, 2023 at 9:28
  • @tony: Lucifer (the Morning Star) is clearly a vocative.
    – Charo
    Dec 12, 2023 at 10:24

2 Answers 2

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It is a typical feature of Latin that participles are used instead of finite verbs, even where we would not expect that in our own languages, or it would sound stilted. This is frequently encountered with perfect participles; take this (made-up) example:

Legiones celeriter expeditas exhortatus imperator signa inferre iussit.

If we wanted to translate this literally, we would say: “Having cheered on the quickly deployed legions, the general gave the order to attack.” There is nobody forcing us to do this. We can just as well write: “The general quickly deployed his legions, cheered them on, and then gave the order to attack.”

Daniel Pettersson explains the technique very entertainingly here,1) referring to the sentence (Val. Max. 7, 3): dominus bovem summa cum festinatione Romam actam in Aventino ante aram Dianae constituit.

The same can be done with the present participle, of course – but in that case it normally denotes actions that happen at the same time, e.g. malum nascens facile opprimitur (an evil is easily suppressed when it arises). This is the case you have here, and since age is an imperative, praeveniens age can be translated as: “go ahead and bring on” (i.e., at the same time).


1) The whole video is well worth watching, but if you watch nothing else, at least listen to his explanation of what vacca means.

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The prefix prae- means things like "in front" and the hopefully familiar participle veniens is roughly "coming" so praeveniens is "coming in front" or "preceding".

It is somewhat unusual that the prefix of a verb is broken off, but it does happen. This is what the rare splitting mentioned in the note is.

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  • Is it the case that "prae" has been has been omitted from "veniens" because it already occurs in "praeque", preventing clumsy repetition?
    – tony
    Dec 12, 2023 at 9:48
  • @tony No! It's really praeveniens but the prefix has been separated from the main verb. It still functions as a prefix, not as a proper preposition. It's odd and rare that you can add words between a verb and its prefix, but you can.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:44
  • llmavirta: Then, I'm not sure why the "prae" has been omitted? How does the student know that it's supposed to be there--intuition? I wondered from where, "precede" had come from, in Charo's translation. Seb explains it well.
    – tony
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:20
  • @tony It's not been omitted. It's just been separated: praeveniens > prae veniens. This is something you might indeed not guess, so this is a feature that's specifically taught to students, but not in your introductory class. To parse a line like this, just switch praeque X veniens to et X praeveniens. This is just an exotic case of the shuffling of words that you get in Latin poetry.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Dec 12, 2023 at 20:35

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