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What is the difference between

Ne mea dona tibi studio disperta fideli

and

Nec mea dona tibi studio disperta fideli

and is the latter version, which differs in the single letter 'c' only, wrong?

Remarks.

  • This is a line from a famous poem of Lucretius.

  • This line, together with the one immediately following it, appears as the epigraph of quite a few, and quite different, 18th- and 19th century texts.

  • The second version does appear in the epigraph, but more rarely than the first line, which of course suggests that the second version is less correct.

  • My Latin is sadly much too rusty to understand what the difference between the two versions is.

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These four verses from De Rerum Natura employ a negative purpose clause, which uses the conjunction + the subjunctive.

Quod superest, vacuas auris animumque sagacem
semotum a curis adhibe veram ad rationem,
ne mea dona tibi studio disposta fideli,
intellecta prius quam sint, contempta relinquas.

For the rest, ears unpreoccupied and keen intelligence
detached from cares you should apply to true philosophy, that my
gifts, set forth for you with faithful solicitude, may not by you be
contemptuously discarded before they have been apprehended.

(Loeb Classics, De Rerum Natura 1.51)

The conjunction nec is an apocopated form of neque, which in a negative purpose clause means et nē. As far as English translation goes, the difference between nec and would simply be, "and that my gifts... may not by you be..." versus "that my gifts... may not by you be..." The difference consists of a single word, whether or not to add "and" in front.

Both versions are metrically correct. It's worth mentioning that nec is long by position whereas is long by nature. I'm not sure why one is more common, or why two versions exist in the first place. I'll leave it for someone else to explain that point.

  • 1
    But an 'and' doesn't actually make sense here, because there's nothing for it to connect this purpose clause to. The sentence has a main clause + single purpose clause. Although neque/nec is sometimes used instead of neve/neu to add a second purpose clause, I know of know place where it's used instead of simple ne, and I don't see any way to make this reading work. All I can think is that, when the line was taken out of context for use as an epigraph, the fact that it was originally part of a purpose clause became obscured, and therefore the erroneous 'correction' of ne to nec crept in. – cnread Dec 1 '17 at 22:58
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    @cnread Yeah, it's possible if not likely that nec is simply an error. I only deduced that if it were to work, then it would have the meaning of et ne in a purpose clause; that this would be the most appropriate meaning of nec, although nec itself might not be appropriate. – ktm5124 Dec 1 '17 at 23:08

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