# quantulum abest, quo minus .

After listing several wars in Europe, a sixteenth-century commentator (Johannes Matthias Phrissemius, discussing a passage in Rudolph Agricola’s De Inventione Dialectica) writes

quantulum ergo abest, quo minus universus orbis Christianus bello a se ipse dissideat, et suo quod dici solet gladio iuguletur?

which must mean something like

What little is left, then, before the whole Christian world is divided against itself and, as it is said, slaughtered by its own sword?

but I do not see exactly what “quantulum abest, quo minus” is, literally.

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• Does this “sixteenth-century commentator” happen to be Rodolphus Agricola, and if he is, could you add that to the question? I see no reason to be so mysterious about it and, in general, all context that we can get can be helpful in answering this kind of question. Commented Sep 3 at 22:10
• Not Agricola, but someone commenting on Agricola. I’ve edited the post. Thanks @SebastianKoppehel.
– JPM
Commented Sep 4 at 16:48

I assume that quantulum abest is clear: “How little is missing.” Actually, it is a little unclear, because I would personally have expected deest here, but they are certainly not that different.

What may be more confusing is quo minus, and the simple answer is that it is a fixed expression, often written as one word – quominus – which is usually found after expressions of hindering and preventing, like prohibere, continere, etc., and introduces a subordinate clause in the subjunctive, meaning “so that not,” often simply translated as “from.” For example: deterrere aliquem, quo minus = “to deter someone from”; or: vix se continuit, quominus in in cachinnos erumperet = “he barely kept himself from breaking into laughter.”

The underlying more general construction is a final relative clause starting with the ablative neutral relative pronoun quo and a comparative. Allen & Greenough give the following example:

comprimere eorum audaciam, quo facilius ceterorum animi frangerentur
to repress their audacity, so that [= by which repression] the spirit of the others might be broken more easily

Note that the ablative is not one of comparison, nor (I believe) one of degree of difference. A & G explain the preceding example with the English “by which the more easily,” but I dislike this “the” because it hints at an ablative of degree. In fact this is an ablative of means, and the antecedent is typically the whole main clause and not a specific word in it.

Transferring this understanding of the construction to quo minus we also need to understand that minus can often essentially mean “not,” because in these sentences the subordinate clause is usually not something that you can do more or less (or put differently, doing it less means not doing it at all). Take the following example:

Infirmitas me tenuit, quominus ad ludos venirem.
Sickness held me back, through which holding back I went less to the games = though which holding back I did not go to the games = held me back from going to the games.

While I believe this is a pretty sensible explanation, it is in my opinion much more helpful to remember that this is a fixed expression, and not think too deeply about it.

Returning to your example, the “expression of hindering” is also somewhat obscure, as abesse is not really a verb like deterrere or prohibere; but, in fact, it is of course that because a little bit is still missing, something does not happen (and is thereby prevented) that would happen if that little bit were also present (si adesset). So we get:

How little is missing from the whole Christian world being divided etc.
= How little would have to happen (or would be needed) for the whole Christian world to be divided etc.

Definition 6 of absum in the Oxord Latin dictionary states, in part:

non multum (paulum, etc.) abest quin, little is wanting for (something to happen)

It's an idiomatic expression. A literal translation would be something like, 'it is not much distant but that….' More loosely, one could say, 'it is not very far from being the case that….'

Your passage merely makes this construction interrogative by using quantulum. It also uses quo minus (= quominus) instead of quin*: 'How little distant is it but that…?' or 'How near is it to being the case that…?'

* Gildersleeve and Lodge's Latin grammar suggests (§549, note 2) that, already in the 'Silver Age,' we see that quominus is being used as equivalent to quin. So it doesn't surprise me that a 16th century writer would use it so.

This is somewhat a guess, but it seems to be something like this (going from Latin to literal English to idiomatic English):

Quantulum […] abest,
How little […] it is distant,
How close it is,

quo minus […] orbis […] dissideat[.]
whereby the less (read: that not) […] the world […] may be divided[.]
that the world may be divided.

It is tricky to parse. In the first clause, quantulum reverses the notion of abest. In the second, it reverses again the notion of minus.

Quo may be a relative whose antecedent is implicit. Or it may be easier to parse quo minus as quominus ‘that not’.