While researching an answer for this question, I came across the following passage from Seneca. The bolded part, particularly "illos", left me with some doubts about the sentence syntax:

Et quid sibi quisque tunc speret, cum uideat pessima optimos pati? Quid ergo est? Vide quomodo quisque illorum tulerit et, si fortes fuerunt, ipsorum illos animo desidera, si muliebriter et ignaue perierunt, nihil periit. (Seneca iunior, Dialogi 9.16.1–2)

This translation runs as follows:

What, too, can a good man hope to obtain when he sees the best of men meeting with the worst fates. Well, but see how each of them endured his fate, and if they endured it bravely, long in your heart for courage as great as theirs; if they died in a womanish and cowardly manner, nothing was lost.

Granted that the translation is free, I still am having trouble justifying it. "Ipsorum animo" appears to be modifying "desidera," i.e. "Desire with the [same] spirit as these," but "illos" does not make much sense: "illa" (referring back to "pessima") seems a better choice.

So, what is the proper parsing and translation of this sentence?

2 Answers 2


I would translate literally as 'Feel the loss of those men with [not 'in'] the attitude/frame of mind/spirit/courage of those men themselves' and take this as a compressed way of saying, 'Show the same attitude/frame of mind/spirit/courage in your feeling of loss for those men as they themselves showed [in death, I presume, based on perierunt in the next clause].' However, I haven't looked at the surrounding sentence to see whether this reading works in context.

At any rate, the translation from wikisource doesn't seem to be supported by the grammar, unless it's following an alternate reading in the manuscripts (animos instead of animo). Unfortunately, I don't have a text for this that includes an apparatus criticus.

  • So, you read "illos" and "ipsorum" as referring to "optimi", and "desidera illos" as "feel the loss of them"? Desidero definitely has extended senses that might permit that, but I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly.
    – brianpck
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 22:21
  • 1
    Yes, that's right. Ultimately, I take the pronouns as referring to optimi (or at least those among the optimi who were fortes).
    – cnread
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 22:34

What if ipsorum is a partitive genitive? In this reading ipsorum illos means roughly "those of them". The relevant part could be parsed as follows:

Vide quomodo quisque illorum tulerit et, si fortes fuerunt, ipsorum illos animo desidera.
See how each of them endured his fate, and if some endured it bravely, long for those of them in your heart.

This reading gives a strong contrast between those that endured their fate bravely and those who did so cowardly. Such a contrast fits very well.

What I do not understand is why these pronouns were chosen. I would find illorum ipsos more suitable for this purpose, and I might go with entirely different pronouns if I were to write that sentence in Latin. Despite this problem, this is the best reading I could come up with.

In any case, I think illos refers to those optimi that fortes fuerunt.

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