Before the erudition of Cerberus, the concept of epistemic modality (EM) had passed me by. Now, I have a Q on this topic. North & Hillard Ex. 216: "Whether the enemy were dismayed at so strange a sight, or whether the gods preserved him on account of his extraordinary valour, it is certain that no man ever accomplished such marvellous deeds."

The Answer Book gives: "seu tan miro spectaculo hostes attoniti sunt, seu ipsi dei ob egregiam virtutem eum servaverunt, constat neminem unquam tam mirifica praestitisse."

The prodigious achievements of this young man challenge an accepted world picture of human fragility; therefore, a case of EM, producing the indirect "praestitisse". My Q: is this a case of EM? The following sentence may be adding to the confusion concerning an old friend (indirect speech): "It is said that after the battle the Ephori decreed him a crown for his valour, but fined him a thousand drachmae for having exposed himself to so great a danger without arms." Considered putting the verbs into the past-perfect until "it-is-said-that" registered: this, equivalent to "he-said-that-they" (indirect speech); so, wrote it as indirect.

Answer Book gives: "proelio autem confecto Ephori, ut ferunt, virtutis causa coronam ei decreverunt, quod tamen inermis tanto periculo se obiecerat (obiecisset), mille drachmae eum mulctavere."

Great! So, why is this not a case of indirect speech?

To further confuse things: N & H Ex 213, Q7: "For some time it was asserted that all our best troops were lost."

Answer: "aliquamdiu affirmatam est optimum quemque nostrorum militum perisse."

So "it-is-said-that" does not generate indirect speech; but, "it-was-asserted-that" does. Please explain.

Thank you.

  • 1
    You can use indirect speech here, but using ut ferunt (vel sim.) is a good way of stating the facts while marking them as rumor. Both are common.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 15:29
  • 3
    I may be a little dense...but could you try to rephrase your question? It feels like you're picking up on an earlier conversation that most of us never had, but it would be really helpful if you added more context before going straight to examples
    – brianpck
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 16:05
  • 1
    For this type of book, the answer key doesn't necessarily give the only answer, just the author's/authors' preferred answer, as determined by any number of factors (incl. taste). For the first example, maybe N&H used praestitisse instead of, e.g., fecisse because they have in mind a specific passage where praesto or mirifica praesto is used in a similar context. So, okay, that might be an allusion. For the 2nd example, I myself would likely say something like ferunt Ephoros decrevisse or Ephori traduntur decrevisse; and the result would, no doubt, be as utterly unremarkable as N&H's version.
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 23:04
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    With regard to epistemic modality, I think the only really interesting thing in your examples is one that you haven't mentioned: the 'obiecerat (obiecisset)' alternative that the answer key gives for the 2nd example. Depending on the form that a given student uses, the reason may be attributed either to the Ephori (obiecisset) or to the speaker (obiecerat).
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 21, 2017 at 23:49

1 Answer 1


Modality is a purely semantic category; that is, it is only about meaning, not about specific constructions. The same meaning, and hence the same modality, can be expressed through different constructions. That said, there are certain words and certain constructions that are typically used to express a certain modality, as indirect speech is often (though by no means always) used to express various kinds of epistemic modality.

But it doesn't work that way the other way around: epistemic modality can be expressed by using a main verb + indirect speech (constat + a.c.i.), or by an adverb (certo, fortasse), by a parenthetical clause (ut ferunt), etc. (note that these are different kinds of epistemic modality). So your version, using a main verb + indirect speech instead of ut ferunt, would be perfectly fine.

One other issue, mentioned by Cnread, is that quod can be used with the subjunctive or indicative to distinguish between what one might call two different kinds of epistemic modality. Quod + indicative indicates that this was objectively the reason for whatever happened, where 'objectively' usually means 'according to the author'. So it establishes a certain attitude of the author towards the quod clause / the reason. With the subjunctive, it indicates a subjective reason: it is the reason according to someone other than the author, such as the Ephori in context. The author may or may not agree with this.

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