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The verb meminisse can take an accusative or a genitive object. Also other constructions are possible (see the entry in L&S), but I want to focus on comparing these two in classical Latin.

Are the accusative and genitive always interchangeable? Does the nature of the object (person, something inanimate, …) make a difference? Is there a difference in the meaning between the two cases when both can be used? If I read L&S correctly, both cases can be used for both people and things, but I seem to vaguely remember that there is more to it than that.

  • I'm not sure if this contributes to the discussion, but someone on Reddit pointed out that memento clementiam = "Remember clemency" and memento clementiae = "Remember of clemency". – brain56 May 28 '17 at 16:08
  • Interesting question. My gut feeling tells me that the genitive is standard in classical prose, and that the accusative is just a minor alternative form with the same meaning. But I'm not sure. – Cerberus May 29 '17 at 3:02
  • (Bringing this back after seeing it in Unanswered) Are you also interested in the other constructions L&S list, such as with *de*+abl? – Draconis May 17 '18 at 5:16
  • @Draconis I'm mainly interested in accusative and genitive here, but there's nothing wrong with mentioning and comparing other options as well. If it gets too long, it should be taken to a new question. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 17 '18 at 7:28
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This question is actually very interesting because of the fact that it makes me think about a construction I do not use often in writing Latin.

We can start from a note from the O. Riemann Latin Syntax, 7th edition, Paris 1927, page 122 §55 note 1. "In the archaic times we find memini and obliviscor with the accusative and the genitive”. During the classic time personal pronouns and reflexive pronouns are always in genitive case. During the classic time personal nouns in the genitive case with memini is rare and familiar. In the imperial time the construction of personal nouns is the regular syntax. For thing nouns the accusative case lasts for more time but the genitive case strikes it during the imperial time. If memini means “mention” it is constructed with the genitive case (Caes. De bello civili 3, 108, 2 “eundem Achillam cuius supra meminimus”).

And then from an other normative syntax, the Ernout et Thomas, Syntaxe Latine, Paris 1964. Ernout&Thomas is more precise, on page 52 §65:

An old alternation existed with the accusative. In the Latin using the genitive seems to have an idea of effort in remembering; rather the accusative indicates something one remembers clearly and is more frequent with things. Cic. Fi. 5, 3 “vivorum memini” Pl. Mi. 1378 “officium memini”. With a neuter pronoun like “aliquid” or “multa” the accusative is the rule because of the possible confusion with the genitive (alicuius or multorum).

So according to this two passages we can conclude that there is no substantial difference of meaning between the two constructions, especially in the classical and imperial time, but only a more common use, the construction with a genitive case.

I hope that this answer will satisfy your curiosity.

  • Welcome to the site and many thanks for the answer! I took the liberty to edit your answer a bit, but feel free to make further edits or undo (rollback) mine. Your answers have gained you quite a few reputation points already, allowing you to use more and more features of the site. Most importantly, you can vote the questions and answers you like. I look forward to seeing more answers (and questions) from you! – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 16 '18 at 8:36

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