Take a look at this animation with four frames. I think I can understand the first three, but I am struggling with the last one.

In case you cannot see the file, the yellow point moves from the top of the mountain down to the water, whereas the red point remains at the top. Then, the following frames appear:

Third Frame:

enter image description here

Forth frame:

enter image description here

The third frame asks something like: "What happened to these points?", to which the fourth responds, according to my logic, something like this: "The red point remained at the top of the mountain", and "The yellow point descended into the water".

However, the last one uses the declension (3rd persion, singular) "ēbat", instead of "remansit", the past perfect form. Therefore, my interpretation above is probably incorrect.

Which is the correct translation? I cannot figure it out, neither in English nor in Spanish (where the imperfect tense does exist). Something like "The point was remaining at the top of the mountain" makes little sense.

  • Can you explain in more detail what's going on with the flash animation, or else point to the page that uses it? It doesn't seem cooperative with my system (using VLC on Linux). – C. M. Weimer Apr 21 '17 at 13:28
  • @C.M.Weimer Agreed: Please link to either a GIF or include a description of the animation. .swf files are not considered safe and are blocked by default on many modern browsers. – brianpck Apr 21 '17 at 14:30

The imperfect in Latin has a continuous aspect to it. In Latin, verbs like remanere are conceived of as not singular actions, but continuous actions. You can't remain in one place as a singular action, because over time, you're still in that place and the action is still occurring.

Compare what Allen & Greenough have to say on it:

The Imperfect represents a present tense transferred to past time. Hence all the meanings which the Present has derived from the continuance of the action belong also to the Imperfect in reference to past time.

Gildersleeve has a nice example illustrating this:

Ipse [=Verres]...in forum venit; ardebant oculi. (Cic. Ad Verrem 62,161)

Verres came into the forum; his eyes were blazing.

The blazing of his eyes didn't stop after a singular action, so it's in the imperfect. Likewise, the punctum in your example didn't stop remaining, but continued to do so. So while in English we would say, "It remained there," in Latin the sense would be more, "It continued to remain at the top of the mountain (and didn't leave)."

I should add a caveat that it's not a hard and fast rule because, like all languages, Latin is a human language and abides by human rules, i.e. it's fluid, to some extent. With that said, you could use remansit if the action is completed, so "The point remained remansit on the mountain for one day before descending." It's less about what's wrong, and more about what's right for this particular description.

Finally, and more importantly, the answer is in the imperfect because the question is in the imperfect! The third frame doesn't really mean "what happened," but "what was going on?" As if the actions were continuous and not merely a snapshot of the past (to use Moreland and Fleischer's term).

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  • But what in the example indicates that remansit is not/less appropriate? Is this something particularly relevant on verbs related to movement? Say "oro". Orabat versus oravit. There is perhaps less "ambiguity" here, because it is not a movement? When would you use the perfect past tense then? – luchonacho Apr 21 '17 at 15:22
  • @luchonacho I added a bit to the answer. See if that covers your concerns. – C. M. Weimer Apr 21 '17 at 15:58
  • Of course! I missed the bit that the question was providing the tense for the answer. Clear now. In any case, I think this is an example of an expression or usage of words that is not literal or easy to translate to other languages. I think you clarify this in the answer. Thanks! – luchonacho Apr 22 '17 at 15:40

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