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As indicated in another answer, macte virtute is a common way of saying, "Well done."

The consensus seems to be that macte is the vocative of mactus. L&S states (contradictorily?):

(only in the voc. macte, and rarely in the nom.)

If this is the case, it's a grammatical unicorn: I have never heard of cases where you can use the vocative with esse, e.g. macte virtute esto.

Apparently, however, the quantity of the final -e cannot be established, so it's also possible that macte is an adverb.

Is there any scholarly consensus about how we should parse macte?

  • 2
    I have found three articles debating this unusual phrase but I don't have the time to analyse and condense them so I'll leave the references here for those who have the time (and access): (1) LR Palmer, 'Macte, Mactare, Macula', in The Classical Quarterly, Volume 32, Issue 1 January 1938 , pp. 57-62 ... tbc below – Penelope Jun 1 '18 at 11:54
  • 2
    (2) O. Skutsch & HJ Rose, 'Mactare-Macula', in The Classical Quarterly, Volume 32, Issue 3-4 July 1938 , pp. 220-223. (3) EJ Jonkers, 'Macte virtute esto', in Mnemosyne, fourth series, Vol. 2, Fasc. 1 (1949), pp. 63-67. Hope this gives someone a head start! – Penelope Jun 1 '18 at 11:57
  • Also, quite inconclusively, in de Vaan's etymological dictionary, s.v. mactus. – fdb Jun 1 '18 at 16:18
  • @fdb Assuming that represents the state of the art, I'd be happy with an answer that summarizes de Vaan. – brianpck Jun 6 '18 at 12:06
2

hi everybody!

The question is very controversial, truly. But there are some elements on which we can construct an answer. Firts I would like to start with a quote of the french author Chateaubriand, who writes in Mémoires d'outre-tombe "Macte animo generose puer" ascribing it to Virgil (here the Wikisource reference 1 with some notes). This false attribution shows however that this common say is well-known. If we try to analyse more deeply the uses in the latin litterature (my source is the Brepolis Research basis) we find that during the Antique period (<200) the common way of saying is used 15 times. Here the occurences :

  1. Calpurnius Flaccus Declamationum Excertpa 3, 3, 8
  2. Cicero ad att. 12, 6, 1
  3. Cicero, Tusc. 1, 17, 40
  4. Quintus Curtius Rufus Hist. Al. 4, 1, 18
  5. Horatius, Serm. 1, 2, 31
  6. Titus Livius 2, 12, 14
  7. Idem 4, 14, 7
  8. Idem 7, 10, 4
  9. Idem 7, 36, 5
  10. Idem 10, 40, 11
  11. Idem 22, 49, 9
  12. Idem 23, 15, 14
  13. Petronius, Sat. 94, 1
  14. Seneca ep. 66, 50
  15. S. Turpilius Comoediarum palliatarum fragmenta, v. 7

Hence, if we make an analysis of the construction of this adjective we can easily understand (from his initial meaning "honored, glorified") that "virtute" is an abative of limitation (because it limits acutally the field in wich someone has to be honored). Then, if the use of an adjective in the vocative with "esse" may be disturbing, we have to interpret it as the right case that match with an imperative (esto implies that a 2nd person exists, and the right case to refer to that person would be the vocative because in giving an order one is soliciting the semantic field of advocation). Then, the O. Riemann Syntaxe 7nth edition, Paris 1927 on page 170 §78 Note 2 says "With no doubt the vocative of an adjective who, at the classical time, seems to be indeclinable : "macte virtute...este" T. Livius 7, 36, 5 ; "iuberem macte virtute esse" Ibid 2, 12, 14. Sorry if my english it may not be the best ever, but I'm an Italian scholar living and working in Paris.

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