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I'm really struggling with a passage in a 12th century manuscript extolling the virtues of studying astrology that I'm working on for my thesis. The sentence is:

De huius utilitate autem superfluum esset agere cum ista hominem super hominem efferens futuraram ac omnium a natura absconditorum precium efficiat.

The previous sentences explained that though its study was hard work, it was worthwhile, and this sentence is expanding on that. I'm confused as to what the subject and object are in the sentence — efficiat seems to be the main verb and I assume that precium (reward) is the object. I'm also assuming that superfluum is a noun (surplus) here, and Whitaker's tells me that agere with cum means "spends time" rather than its usual meaning (though does that mean cum doesn't take the ablative in that case, because I can't see an ablative here?).

My attempt at translating it is pretty muddled — I have something along these lines:

Concerning the usefulness of this surplus would be to spend time so that a man over man brings out the [events of the] future, and all hidden things by birth/nature are its reward.

I think the gist of it is that it's worth spending time studying because the reward is the ability to see hidden and future events, but I'm puzzling about the structure of the sentence.

Hominem super hominem is confusing me in particular — I know super takes the accusative, but why is the first hominem also accusative? Is it somehow the object of efficiat?

Any suggestions very gratefully accepted!

  • Welcome to the site! This is a nice question. I made some formatting edits, but feel free to undo or redo any of them. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 19 '17 at 4:17
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The word futuraram is not well-formed: the closest correct form is futurarum (feminine genitive plural) but actually futurorum (masculine genitive plural) is the only form that seems to make sense in context to me. It is possible that it means futurarum [rerum] ("of future things")--a phrase often used by Cicero, without the ellipsis--but it comes out to the same thing. It's a moot point, unless you have access to the actual manuscript.

I found an M.Phil. dissertation by Nicholas Whyte which transcribes it in this same way, so I suspect that you may have taken it from there. Either way, it is most certainly a typo, or the work of someone who does not understand Latin.

Amending thus:

De huius utilitate autem superfluum esset agere cum ista hominem super hominem efferens futurorum ac omnium a natura absconditorum precium efficiat.

The reading is fairly straightforward with this amendment:

But it would be unnecessary to speak of the utility of this thing [= astrology], since it brings about the reward of [knowing] future things and all things that are hidden from nature, elevating man above man.

This is classic praetermissio in the style of Cicero: "I will not speak of X, since it is so obvious...but here you go anyway!"

Some notes:

  • agere de aliquo means "to treat about something"
  • cum is introducing a causal relation: "since, because". In this use, it takes the present subjunctive, efficiat
  • effero means to "elevate": in this case, it means to "elevate man above man" = "allow man to exceed his natural abilities". This is a participle, modifying ista, independent of what comes after.
  • pretium + genitive + efficere means "to bring the reward of..." In my reading, "knowledge" is understood.
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    Alternatively to futurorum might be futurarum … absconditarum, with an implied rerum. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 19 '17 at 10:58
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    Alternatively: hominem super hominem efferens could mean "elevating one man over another". – fdb May 19 '17 at 11:36
  • Thank you very much indeed, Brian! Yes, I'm working on the same text that Nicholas Whyte did (and we're in touch with each other). He did his MPhil 25 years ago, and transcribed (but didn't translate) some of the prologue, from which this is taken. And you're absolutely right about it being futurorum - Whyte gives it as "futuraram" as it's very unclear in one manuscript, but it's very clearly "futurorum" in another (I'm fortunate enough to have three different copies of the text in three manuscripts). – LeicesterChris May 19 '17 at 22:06
  • I had sort of assumed an implied "rerum" (which I rather clumsily put as "[events of the]" in my attempted translation. Your explanations - and translation - make perfect sense, so thank you so much for replying. – LeicesterChris May 19 '17 at 22:07

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