Free indirect discourse is a type of narrative device which has some similarities with direct discourse and some with ordinary indirect discourse, but is different from both. Here's an English example, from Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

The muddy streets were gay. He strode homeward, conscious of an invisible grace pervading and making light his limbs. In spite of all he had done it. He had confessed and God had pardoned him. His soul was made fair and holy once more, holy and happy. It would be beautiful to die if God so willed. It was beautiful to live in grace a life of peace and virtue and forbearance with others.

The first two sentences are regular narration, but starting with In spite of all he had done it, we're in free indirect discourse. That sentence and the following ones no longer represent the narrator's thoughts but the character's; but they're neither direct discourse (Stephen thought, "In spite of all I have done it") nor standard indirect discourse (Stephen thought that in spite of all he had done it). Basically, it's indirect discourse without a verb of speech or thought acting to introduce it. The grammatical transformations of indirect discourse still apply (change of tense, change of grammatical person), but there's no he thought that..., she said that..., or anything else to show that the narrative has switched viewpoints.

In Latin and Greek, we're all familiar with the rules of standard indirect discourse, but I don't recall ever hearing about free indirect discourse in these languages; in fact, FID is generally thought of as a specifically modern literary device. Is there anything comparable to FID in these languages?

An obvious answer might be that in Latin, indirect speech goes into the accusative and infinitive, and it's very common to find that construction without an overt verb of speech: just a sentence in ACI, where the reader is expected to mentally fill in the they said (there's lots of this in Caesar, Livy etc.). So if FID is defined as indirect discourse without a verb of speech, the answer is clearly yes. But this strikes me as different from what's happening in the passage above: there, nothing in the grammar signals the passage from narration into indirect discourse, as ACI does in Latin. "Proper" FID in Latin, if it exists, would simply continue the narrative with regular finite clauses, but with an implied change of viewpoint into the consciousness of a character. Does anything like this exist in Latin or Greek?

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    To some extent, this could be done using the subjunctive in Latin, as e.g. it is often used after quod to indicate that the argument used is of a character in the story, not of the author. But you might feel that the subjunctive is just the kind of grammatical indication that you don't want. // Perhaps you might find some information in articles about the indirectly related figure apostrophe. // Perhaps it would be useful too look at some questions embedded in historical accounts; they might be used in this way: He found Claudius dead, poisoned. But who could have done it?
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 16:57
  • @Cerberus, indeed, the subjunctive after quod and the like doesn't qualify in my eyes because it's an explicit marker of viewpoint shift, which is just what FID lacks. Things like your Claudius example would fit the bill, if they exist...
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 21:47
  • (@TKR I edited your comment. If there are typos or anything you want edited after 5 minutes, flag the comment and we'll edit for you.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 23:08

1 Answer 1


I found an Oxford doctoral dissertation, Modes of Reporting Speech in Latin Fictional Narrative (Laird 1992) (PDF) that includes an extensive discussion of direct and indirect speech in the first two centuries of Latin literature. It is quite large and does a wonderful job of explaining the ambiguities inherent in this kind of classification, such as the inherent biases introduced by an editor's choice of punctuation.

He notes on pg. 61 that,

Virgil seems to be the first extant Latin narrative poet to employ properly f.i.d. [free indirect discourse].

Examples from Latin writers

The following list is selectively taken from the above article: some examples are convincing and others are dubious.

  • Here is a pretty unambiguous example (based on your answer to a comment) from Vergil's Aeneid, in which narration turns immediately to the internal questions of Aeneas without any transitioning verb.

    At vero Aeneas aspectu obmutuit amens,
    arrectaeque horrore comae et vox faucibus haesit.
    ardet abire fuga dulcisque relinquere terras,
    attonitus tanto monitu imperioque deorum.
    heu quid agat? quo nunc reginam ambire furentem
    audeat adfatu? quae prima exordia sumat?

    atque animum nunc hue celerem nunc dividit illuc
    in partisque rapit varias perque omnia versat.
    haec alternant! potior sententia visa est:
    Mnesthea Segestumque vocat fortemque Serestum,
    classem aptent taciti sociosque ad litora cogant,
    arma parent et quae rebus sit causa novandis
    dissimulent; sese interea, quando optima Dido
    nesciat et tantos rumpi non speret amores,
    temptaturam aditus et quae mollissima fandi
    tempora, quis rebus dexter modus.
    ocius omnes
    imperio laeti parent et iussa facessunt.
    At regina dolos (quis fallere possit amantem?)
    praesensit... (Verg A 4:279-297)

  • Another example from Vergil that closely parallels the above example:

    haud aliter Rutulo muros et castra tuenti
    ignescunt irae, duris dolor ossibus ardet.
    Qua temptet ratione aditus et quae via clausos
    excutiat Teucros vallo atque effundat in aequum?
    (ibid. 9:65-68)

  • Here is an example from Ovid's Metamorphoses that reports the feelings of Scylla. I classify this as a dubious example, since the introductory ablative absolute "hac iudice" can be seen as taking the place of a verb of speech:

    Noverat ante alios faciem ducis Europaei,
    plus etiam, quam nosse sat est. Hac iudice Minos,
    seu caput abdiderat cristata casside pennis,
    in galea formosus erat; seu sumpserat aere
    fulgentem clipeum, clipeum sumpsisse decebat.
    Torserat adductis hastilia lenta lacertis:
    laudabat virgo iunctam cum viribus artem. (Ov. M. 8:23-29)

  • Another example from Flaccus's Argonautica, which goes from direct discourse back to narration (and then again, afterwards, to direct discourse). The bolded portion appears to be free indirect discourse, though it could also be an effusion on the narrator's part.

    'tunc sequeris' ait 'quidquam aut patiere pudendum,
    cum tibi tot mortes scelerisque brevissima tanti
    effugia?' haec dicens, qua non velocior ulla
    pestis erat toto nequiquam lumine lustrat
    cunctaturque super morituraque colligit iras.
    o nimium iucunda dies, quam cara sub ipsa
    morte magis
    : stetit et sese mirata furentem est. (Flaccus, Argonautica 7:331-337)

Concerning Greek, I found a review article, "Some Recent Work on Direct and Indirect Discourse in the Ancient Historians" which claims an example of free indirect discourse in the Histories of Polybius. However, this article, following Usher (2009), appears to use a different definition of "free indirect discourse," seeing it as a loose summary of words spoken.

...so ergibt sich ein dreigliedriges Schema, in dem sich mit jeder Stufe—Schilderung durch den Erzähler, Referat in indirekter Rede, Verwendung von direkter Rede—die Intensität der vorgenommenen Perspektivierung steigert

I will not include the cited example since it pretty clearly does not fit your definition.

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    Ah, excellent! I knew questions would be where it's at!
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 12:11
  • 1
    Very interesting, thanks! The first two examples (which are a familiar type, of course) do look like clear cases of FID. The last two, as you say, are dubious, which leads me to wonder further whether FID in Latin is restricted to such deliberative questions. (Maybe there's an answer in that dissertation, which I've only started looking through.)
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 0:22
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    @TKR Yeah, I'm not 100% satisfied on that score either and only had a chance to skim parts of the dissertation. Doing a text search for "f.i.d." leads you to the (many) relevant parts that discuss it, but--unsurprisingly--I didn't find any exact classical parallels of Joyce :)
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 0:32

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