I came across an Asterix translated into Latin. In the first story page the village chief notices that Asterix and Obelix return from a hunt and says: Asterix atque Obelix venatu redeunt! My question concerns the word venatu.

I see two ways to parse venatu: it's either the supine ("from hunting") or the derived noun venatus ("from the hunt"). I have some problems seeing a difference between the two, even if one is formally a verb form and the other a noun.

Is it possible to use a supine ablative for motion like that? If someone returns from doing something, can I use a verb of motion with ab/ex/– and a supine ablative? If not, can I just derive the noun and use its singular ablative to achieve the same effect? (I would see this as practically using the supine, but it's a matter of opinion.)

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    Allen and Greenough doesn't list anything, but I'm curious to see what answers you get. (Also, is the supine formally a verb? I've always taken it to be a verbal noun.) – Anonym Apr 23 '17 at 4:02
  • @Anonym I would consider verbal nouns and adjectives (infinitives, supine, gerund(ive), participles) forms of the verb. But one of the things behind this question is that I have trouble differentiating forms of the derived fourth declension noun from those of the supine. Any clarification on that would be great. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 23 '17 at 4:10
  • Ah, they're definitely forms of the verb, but I wouldn't really call them verbs on their own. // I think we ought to consider whether a Roman would've considered the supine distinct from its corresponding fourth-declension noun. After all, there's very little semantic difference between venatum eo 'I'm going to hunt' and ad venatum eo 'I'm going to the hunt'. – Anonym Apr 23 '17 at 4:34
  • @Anonym I did refer to it as "a verb form", but perhaps I should clarify it to "a form of a verb". It would be good to have a question directly about the difference between the supine and the derived noun (as observed by ancient grammarians?). I would much like to see a good answer to that, not only this more specific question. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 23 '17 at 4:38
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    You're right to doubt there's a difference between the supine and the verbal noun in -tu-, because historically there isn't; the Latin "supine" is simply a specific usage (or two specific usages) of the IE noun in -tu-, with parallels in other languages (e.g. Vedic acc. -tum, which has come to be used as an infinitive). Btw what we think of as the ablative of the supine may originally have been a dative: Plautus has lepora memoratui "pleasant to relate". – TKR Apr 23 '17 at 17:57

I think that the straight answer to the title question is 'No'.

The supine is not exactly the most frequently found verbal form. The accusative form, as far as I know, is used only to indicate the objective of the main action after verbs of motion, and the ablative (the only other case found, though it is sometimes described as dative) only to qualify an adjective (e.g. mirabile dictu).

When cases of a noun such as venatus (always of 4th decl.) coincide with a supine verb-form, there may be confusion over which is intended — as you have found. The author of your example could perhaps have avoided this by choosing something else (venati? venatione perfecta? — but maybe an ablative absolute isn't appropriate here).

I suggest that it's often tempting to over-analyse the Latin, forgetting that a Roman, just like any other speaker of his own tongue — unless a fanatical grammarian — would seldom have hesitated in order to select a preferred grammatical form before speaking.

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    To be explicit: it must be a plain ablativus separationis in this case, because the supinum I cannot be used to express this function of the ablative. – Cerberus Apr 24 '17 at 1:57
  • @Cerberus Exactly so. I think the venatu of the original would usually be called 'ablative of attendant circumstances' in England. – Tom Cotton Apr 24 '17 at 9:29
  • Oh, really? You don't classify ablatives translated as "from" as a separate category having to do with separation? "Attendant circumstances" sounds more like magno fremitu turris ruit to me, translated as "with"? – Cerberus Apr 24 '17 at 14:24
  • Yes, inasmuch as it refers to the circumstances which preceded redeunt. Mind you, I've always been a bit sceptical of some of the labels, such as this one, invented by [English] grammarians : some seem to have been invented merely to avoid having to give a more reasoned explication to the innocent scholars being taught! – Tom Cotton Apr 24 '17 at 16:39

Although Tom Cotton's answer may be correct for pure Classical Latin, it neglects other eras of the language.

Excerpted from W. M. Lindsay's Syntax of Plautus 5.42 (emphasis mine):


The Verbal Noun in -tus (4th Declension) is greatly in evidence in Plautus. We find the Accusative with eo, etc., e.g.

ire obsonatum to go a-marketing,

ire venatum to go a-hunting;

the Ablative with redeo, e.g. Cas. 719 (Men. 278, 288) “obsonatu redire” to return from marketing; the Dative with habeo, e.g. Cist. 365 “me … habes perditui et praedatui”, and with sum (see II. 19), also with some Adjectives, e.g. “fabula lepida auditui”; with others the Ablative (Locative?), e.g. celer cursu quick in running. Two of these usages took so firm root in the language that they became part of the Verbal system, the Accusative with eo, etc. (called the ‘First Supine’) and the Ablative (Locative?) with an Adjective (called the ‘Second Supine’).

This is a direct analogue to your example, both having an ablative supine paired with redire.

  • Thanks! It appears that the preclassical (mostly Plautus') supine is quite different from the classical one. The use in Asterix can well be adapted directly from Plautus. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 1 '17 at 7:53
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    @JoonasIlmavirta I'd say the biggest difference is that the Plautine supine is both productive and indistinguishable from the verbal noun in -tus, so anything that goes for a regular ablative noun also goes for the ablative supine. – Anonym Jul 1 '17 at 16:27
  • Well said. In case you haven't seen it, there's a related question about the relationship between the supine and the fourth declension verbal noun, and unsurprisingly Plautus came up. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jul 1 '17 at 16:40
  • @Joonas llmavirta: Concluding, "Asterix atque Obelix venatu redeunt."; "venatu" is definitely the ablative of the noun, "venatus", giving, "from the hunt", and nothing else. Please confirm. – tony May 17 at 13:13
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    @tony You can think of it that way or choose not to. The line between supines and the fourth declension nouns is not clear, and one has the freedom to analyze one way or the other. If you think of supines as frozen forms of the said derived noun, the distinction isn't all that meaningful. This is particularly true in Plautine Latin. Classification is not a realm of hard truths. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 17 at 13:21

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