I'm reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, and there's this sentence:

Delius hunc nuper, victa serpente superbus,
viderat adducto flectentem cornua nervo
“quid” que “tibi, lascive puer, cum fortibus armis?”
dixerat: ...

emphasis mine

The phrase looks to me like an ablative absolute -- noun and participle, both in the ablative, set off from the rest of the sentence -- but the teacher translated it as "arrogant thanks to the victory over the serpent", which doesn't sound like one. Is this just a colloquial translation, or is it not an ablative absolute?


It's possible, but unlikely. First, the closeness of the words suggests a connection between them, and the commas mean the editors agreed.

More importantly, though, superbus governs an ablative. See e.g. Vergil's Aeneid 5.268, where the ones who received a gift were "opibus superbi", or later in 5.478 where Entellus is "tauro superbus", or in prose with Cicero "superbiorem te pecunia facit".

When used as such, it actually typically has the meaning of "exultant or glorying (in)" (as noted in the Oxford Latin Dictionary under § 1.d). So the above examples would be translated not as "proud" but rather:

opibus superbi = glorying in their [new] riches

tauro superbus = glorying in his [new] bull

superbiorem te pecunia facit = makes you exultant in your wealth

The OLD furnishes a couple other examples, like Cic. Agr. 2.95, "Campani semper superbi bonitate agrorum" (the Campanians always glorying in the goodness of their fields / the Campanians are extremely proud of their good fields).

So here, the proper translation is "glorying in the defeat of the snake".


It seems most natural to me to translate that as a causal ablative. The Delian is arrogant due to the victory over the serpent. Compare this for example with dono laetus, "happy due to the gift", and notice that serpens victa does not only mean "the defeated serpent" but also "victory over the serpent".

Absolute ablative is also possible, but then victa serpente modifies the whole clause, not just superbus. It would be more like "After the serpent was slain, he arrogantly…" which also makes sense.

There is a choice to make in the translation, and possibly there are more options than these two. I would go with ablativus causae, as that is the simplest and most obvious interpretation. Your teacher's translation also does this; if it was an absolute ablative, I would translate with a different tone than "arrogant thanks to the victory over the serpent".

The absolute ablative is often best translated as a separate (temporal or causal) clause, not an attribute. The causal ablative is an attribute.


"Victa serpente" is not to be interpreted here as "Ablative Absolute" (in the sense that it does not form an adverbial clause depending on a main sentence) but rather as a "DOMINANT participle construction". These structures are often referred to as "Ab urbe condita" (AUC) constructions, where the participle can often be translated as a nominalization. Cf. "Queri de Milone expulso" // "Queri de Milonis expulsione"). The idea of "dominant" participle comes from the fact that the participle in an AUC cannot be omitted but is compulsory. Otherwise the construction is ruled out or its meaning is changed.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.