# What is the Role of "quia" in this Clause?

In Q: How do we know that the correspondence of Seneca and St. Paul was a forgery? Brian, in a comment, gave this quote:

"nec enim hoc diceres, censor sophista magister tanti principis etiam omnium, nisi quia vere dicis,";

"For you would not say this, censor sophist, teacher of such a great prince and, even, of all, unless you spoke the truth,".

It reads like a conditional sentence using "nisi" instead of "si": "unless you speak the truth....you would not say this". In the protasis clause, what is the role of "quia" = "because"; "unless because you speak the truth"?! It doesn't work in the English, what is happening in the Latin? What if "quia" was omitted?

In classical Latin, "quia" introduces a subordinate clause specifying the determinative reason or cause of the superordinate clause.

That is still its function here, except that "nisi quia" is usually used after a negative superordinate clause. X quia Y --> non X nisi quia Y.

It is English that is inconsistent here. One can say "X because Y" but one cannot say "Not X except because Y." Instead, one has to substitute a different causal conjunction: "Not X except for the fact that Y."

So, the positive transformation of our Latin sentence in English: "You would say this, because you speak truly." But not: "You would not say this, except because you speak truly." Instead: "You would not say this, except for the fact that you speak truly."

There is one further nuance. The non nisi quia construction identifies the cause as the only cause. So, the English equivalent is something more like "The only reason X is because Y."

• Thank you. Therefore, is it the case that "nisi quia" should be taken to mean "except for the fact that"? This is an example of the problems caused by attempting to translate literally.
– tony
Commented Aug 9 at 15:17
• @tony Take this as a good reason to stop trying to translate literally, then. I often see you misled by trying it. Commented Aug 9 at 15:21
• @Joonas llmavirta: I recall your rebukes along these lines. I like to get down to the bones of what was being said. Nowadays, I also look at the conversational-type translations, to get the feel-of-the-deal, as it were.
– tony
Commented Aug 9 at 15:29
• @tony You misunderstand my point. Trying to translate literally often prevents you from getting down to the bones of what's being said. It might help to think of "translation to English" and "description in English of how the Latin works" as two entirely different things. Commented Aug 9 at 15:36