In the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, Genesis 22:4 reads:

die autem tertio, elevatis oculis, vidit locum procul

The Douay-Rheims translates:

And on the third day, lifting up his eyes, he saw the place afar off.

I am confused about the person in the Latin original. The English translation reads fine.

According to Wiktionary:

Dictionary description of elevatis

This is, elevatis is the second person plural in present tense. So the expression "elevatis oculis" seems to be something like "lift[ing] up your eyes". But that doesn't make sense in the phrase and context, which is a narration from a third-person point of view of what Abraham is doing: He got up during the night, took a donkey, some servants, some wood, and his son, Isaac, and departed to the place God had told him to go. And then the paragraph above comes. It would be natural to expect a continuation of the third person. Instead, it switches to the second person plural, which in my opinion makes no sense. Notice how the third component of the phrase reverts to the third person ("vidit"). So that second person in the middle is very strange! I would have expected something like "elevavit oculis [suis]" (keeping the past tense of the next line), or "elevat oculis [suis]" (keeping the more natural present continuous tense of the English translation [I read there is no explicit differentiation between present simple and continuous in Latin] ).

Interestingly enough, there is a similar issue in Luke 6:20:

Et ipse elevatis oculis in discipulis suis, dicebat: Beati pauperes, quia vestrum est regnum Dei.

In English:

And he, lifting up his eyes on his disciples, said: Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Again, the Latin plural second person present active has been translated as a singular third person present (continuous) active. I am puzzled. Is Wiktionary wrong?

Notice that looking for the "tis" declension in the First Conjugation in Wiktionary gives 15 hits, all of them in the second person plural. So I am not sure I am missing a special case here. Unfortunately, Google does not help with the translation either, as it seems to have a particular Bible translation embedded! (else, where does the Abraham come from below? odd!)

Google Translate excerpt

3 Answers 3


The second person plural form is elevatĭs, "you lift". However, in the passage you quote it is elevatīs, which is a plural ablative of the perfect participle.

It is in the same form as oculis, which is a hint. Oculis is not an accusative, so the translation "lift your eyes" doesn't quite make sense with "eyes" as the object.

What you have here is an absolute ablative elevatis oculis, "with eyes lifted", "having lifted his/her/their/our/its eyes", or similar. As ablativus absolutus typically, this is impersonal, so the best translation (especially choice of pronoun) depends on context. Nothing in elevatis implies second person (when it is read as the participle it is here) — or third person. The third person appears in the translation, but it is inferred from context. The subject of the verb elevare is that of the verb vidit and therefore third person.

The weird thing you observed with Google Translate has been explored in this older question. The point is that Google does not translate structurally and procedurally, so to say, but by comparing the text you give to a large corpus of Latin texts and their translations. The corpus is not large enough to reach sensible results with Latin and the algorithm doesn't take inflection into account as well as it should. It is comparison to Bible passages that produces the spurious Abraham.

How should one be able to figure all of this out, then? A Latin Bible is unlikely to have a breve or macron to indicate vowel quantity. It is important to be aware of the options, as it is not unusual that two or more forms look alike. Elevatis can be the second person plural form or an ablative of the participle and oculis can be dative or ablative. Only context will tell. I guessed absolute ablative because it is a typical structure. It turns out that it makes perfect sense, too. I was unable to make sense of the alternatives. Awareness of options gets you started, trial and error gets you to your goal. Experience provides hints and makes it faster.

You can consider participles as adjectives derived from verbs. They have case, number, and gender. Verbs have different kinds of forms, and it is good to keep the categories separate. Personal forms like fers do not have a case but participles like ferentis do.

If you are not familiar with ablativus absolutus (the absolute ablative), I recommend reading on it. The construction is weird at first, and getting used to it is the key to this question. If you have trouble figuring out how this kind of ablative works, I recommend asking a follow-up question.

  • 2
    Worth noting: the Greek has an active aorist participle (ἐπάρας). The go-to strategy for translating such participles into Latin is to use a perfect passive participle in an ablative absolute construction.
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 13:16
  • @brianpck. Are you sure we are looking at the same passage? Gen. 22,4 has ἀναβλέψας, not ἐπάρας.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 13:26
  • @fdb The OP mentions several passages. Luke 6:20 has elevatis oculis in Latin and ἐπάρας in Greek.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 13:31
  • ....Fair enough.
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 13:34
  • 2
    @fdb Yup, should have mentioned that. I looked at the NT passage because the Greek is less suspect there
    – brianpck
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 13:42

You ask where Abraham comes from. Abraham is mentioned by name in the Hebrew original, in the LXX, and most other translations, including the KJV.

Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

בַּיֹּום הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת־הַמָּקֹום מֵרָחֹק׃

τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ καὶ ἀναβλέψας αβρααμ τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς εἶδεν τὸν τόπον μακρόθεν

  • Interesting! Also interesting that neither the old (Jerome's) nor the Nova Vulgata mentions Abraham in the verse. Maybe a special issue of the Latin language?
    – luchonacho
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 16:06

This is an ablative absolute clause of the past participle. So, the most adhrent translation would be: "And on the third day, with [his] eyes lifted up, he saw the place afar off".

See Joonas' answer for a detailed explanation, including why the second plural form is incorrect and why Google suggests it.

  • Hasn't Joonas said this already?
    – fdb
    Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 22:12
  • 1
    He did. his answer is much more complete.
    – gsid
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 9:24
  • I overlooked it because it starts by citing the wrong translation, in order to tell that it's wrong. Maybe others will do same mistake I did, and may find useful a concise answer. I'm editing mine to give him credit.
    – gsid
    Commented Apr 29, 2018 at 9:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.