In Jonathan Swift's "A Tale of a Tub", at the end of section X there is a Latin quote which I'm having trouble translating:

A cujus lacrymis humecta prodit substantia, à risu lucida, à tristitiâ solida, & à timore mobilis,

a - of, from

cujus - gen - "whose"
lachrymis - abl pl - tears
humecta - fem nom or abl. - wet
prodit - he gives, brings forth
substantia - fem nom or abl - substance

risu - abl. - mockery or laughter
lucida - fem sing. or abl - shiny, bright, lucid
tristitia - fem sing or abl - sorrow, melancholy
solida - fem sing or abl or neut accus. pl. - solid
mobilis - masc/fem sing nom or gen - moveable, loose, pliant
timore - abl sing of timor - fear, dread

Is 'prodo' one of those verbs whose object takes the dative or ablative case?

I hope someone can help me translate this, it doesn't make much sense at the moment. Just to embarrass myself, here's an attempt: "Whose wet substance bears tears, whose clear [substance bears] laughter, whose solid [substance bears] sorrow, whose loose [substance bears] fear?"

It sounds weird to put the second word in each pair in the nominative case, but if they are ablative then "mobilis" doesn't fit...

The context of the Latin is "But then he must beware of Bythus and Sigè and be sure not to forget the qualities of Acamoth: A cujus lacrymis humecta prodit substantia, à risu lucida, à tristitiâ solida, & à timore mobilis [...]". I believe that Bythus and Sigè and Acamoth are Gnostic spiritual powers. I'm not sure why Swift is invoking them here, but the rest of the book is largely a satire on religion.

2 Answers 2


Nope, not weird at all. Latin is much more free about reusing parts of sentences and replacing one or two key words. As for the nominative coming second, notice that the order of the words is the same in each part. That is, the a+abl comes before the nominative in the sentence a cuius lacrymis prodit humecta substantia, so the same is true of the other pieces pieces. Thus in terms of the overall structure, your translation is exactly right.

However, it seems most likely that the word used here, rather than prodo, is prodeo, the compound of pro-foreward and eo, ire-to go (the d is just to sound good). Thus, 'the substance goes forth'. Moreover, the cuius, being between the preposition a and its object lacryimis, is dependent on the lacrymis, so 'From whose tears the wet substance goes forth'. And the rest of it follows: 'From whose tears the wet substance comes forth, from whose laugh, the bright, from whose sadness, the solid, from whose fear, the mobile', standing for 'From whose tears the wet substance comes forth, from whose laugh the bright substance comes forth, from whose sadness the solid substance comes forth, from whose fear the mobile substance comes forth'.

That's what the Latin says literally, at least. I'm not familiar with the context, so I don't know about a better translation

  • I think your translation is basically right except that cuius is a relative, not an interrogative: "from whose tears a wet substance comes forth..."
    – TKR
    Mar 3, 2017 at 20:09
  • Thank you for the translation, it makes more sense with "prodeo", and thanks for the other clarifications. @TKR: I think you're right, I will update my question with the context which makes it more clear that "cuius" is a relative. Mar 3, 2017 at 20:20
  • Edited. @TKR, it's clear now, but is there any reason to think relative rather than interrogative without context? Mar 4, 2017 at 3:54
  • 1
    Grammatically no. But the interrogative reading hadn't even occurred to me before reading your answer -- "From whose tears does a wet substance come forth...?" is a pretty strange thing to ask! (And if you did want to ask that, my sense is that Latin idiom would recast the question to make the person the subject, along the lines of "Who is it who emits a wet substance...?")
    – TKR
    Mar 4, 2017 at 4:09
  • Ah yes, that does sound better. I wasn't really sure about the meaning in either case, so I just went with the question because that was the attempt in the original post. Mar 4, 2017 at 4:25

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