In Seneca Moral Letters 87

M. Cato Censorius, quem tam e re publica fuit nasci quam Scipionem, alter enim cum hostibus nostris bellum, alter cum moribus gessit, cantherio vehebatur et hippoperis quidem inpositis, ut secum utilia portaret.

I don't understand "quem tam e re publica fuit nasci quam Scipionem" both in grammar and sense. - grammatically it looks like fuit opens an object clause (acc + inf.) - but if that's so -- what does it mean? If not what is the subject in the quem clause?

Looking up Loeb translation wasn't helpful: "Marcus Cato the Censor, whose existence helped the state as much as did Scipio’s,—for while Scipio fought against our enemies, Cato fought against our bad morals ,—used to ride a donkey, and a donkey, at that, which carried saddle-bags containing the master’s necessaries.

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    Note that a syntactic variant of your interesting AcI construction could be a "dominant participle" construction: "M. Cato Censorius, qui natus tam e re publica fuit quam Scipio..." (see this link [latin.stackexchange.com/questions/8839/…). E.g. cf. the typical ex. of a dominant participle construction "occisus dictator facinus videbatur" with the AcI construction "dictatorem occisum esse facinus videbatur" (cf. also the nominalization variant: "Occisio dictatoris facinus videbatur").
    – Mitomino
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 18:00
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    BTW, a great latinist who was very supportive of using (in this case, syntactic) synonyms for a better learning of Latin was Rev. Reginald Foster [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Foster_(Latinist).
    – Mitomino
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 18:10
  • @Mitomino, interesting construction. Yeah, I guess Seneca had alternatives... I still find his choice somewhat odd when it could be expressed more directly like qui juvat rem publicam. I guess it put emphasis somewhere or simply because the idiomatic e re publica
    – d_e
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


I see two main difficulties here.

Special Meaning of ex

(1) First, Seneca is using a special sense of the preposition e(x).

In the Lewis & Short entry for ex you can find the following meaning under heading III.G:

Ex (e) re, ex usu or ex injuria, to or for the advantage or injury of any one

The phrase e re publica seems to be particularly common, particularly in Livy. See, for instance, this line from Ab Urbe Condita 6.23:

dis bene iuuantibus ageret quod e re publica duceret


With the help of the gods he would do what would lead to the benefit of the republic.

Subject is accusative + infinitive

(2) The other difficulty is that Seneca is using an accusative relative pronoun + infinitive as the subject of a relative clause. In this case, quem nasci is the subject of fuit.

Putting these two observations together, the parsing becomes clearer. Substituting Catonem for quem, the relative clause becomes:

Catonem nasci tam e re publica fuit quam Scipionem [nasci].

Literal translation:

Cato being born was as much for the benefit of the republic as Scipio [being born].

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    Hmm yes, this seems to be the only possible analysis. I don't remember seeing an a.c.i. as the subject of sum elsewhere: do you think it is common? I have seen an a.c.i. as the primary argument of an ablativus absolutus, though..
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 4:08
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    @Cerberus, where an infinitive clause is the subject, then the subject of the infinitive should be in the accusative case. This example is very like necesse est me abire (e re publica functions like necesse here). I've encountered this several times (but never with quem as the subject of the infinitive). Mitomino in a question about this says those "are not rare at all!" -- which says, well, they are quite rare lol :) at least rare enough to note they are not rare.
    – d_e
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 7:01
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    @d_e I agree: the syntax of the ex. is similar to that of necesse est me abire in the sense that the acc. case of the subject of the infinitive is not assigned by the verb. As I noted in your link, this acc. case assignment pattern is not rare (although it is not the prototypical one). The apparent "rarity" of the example can be related to the combination of this non-prototypical pattern with two additional facts: the subject of the infinitive clause is a relative pronoun and the predicate of the copular construction has an idiomatic interpretation (cf. supra: 'for the benefit of').
    – Mitomino
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 17:41
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    @d_e: Ah, right, when e republica fuit is seen as a kind of phrasal verb, then suddenly it looks far more 'normal', your comparison with necesse est is apt. Mitomino: Well said.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 22:47

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