In Latin Prose Composition by John Arbuthnot Nairn (Cambridge UP, 1926; p. 5 of "Versions" section), I find the following as a translation of Shakespeare's "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears":

Populus Romanus Quiritium, amicique et cives mei, benigne me attenteque audiatis.

Is this correct Latin? It seems to me that Populus Romanus Quiritium needs to be vocative. But Nairn was an eminent Latinist and I have not so far found any other errors in his book, and it's a little hard to believe that he would have made such an elementary blunder. I've searched for the phrase Populus Romanus Quiritium but have not been able to find it used in direct address (while on the other hand Cicero uses popule Romane in the vocative).

Is there any possible justification for the nominatives here?


3 Answers 3


It does indeed look like direct address where the author forgot to use vocative, but it is not the only option. It is possible to read your sentence this way:

Listen to me kindly and carefully, as the Roman nation of citizens, as my friends and as my compatriots.

Viewed like this, the use of a nominative without any added words (like the English "as") is perfectly grammatical. This gives the sentence a different tone, but it says essentially the same thing as the English "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears".

  • Grammatically you're right of course (and this reading occurred to me too), but taking the phrase as an appositive nominative feels to me like a very unnatural reading. But maybe I'm wrong. I wonder if there any extant Roman orations which begin in a comparable way.
    – TKR
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 16:52
  • @TKR, it feels unusual but not unnatural to me, but I don't recall ever seeing such a long apposition before. I don't know if this meaning was intended, but I wanted to record this possibility here. Your last sentence would make a good question.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 17:30
  • But an appositive takes the case of the word it is apposed to—doesn't it?—, which would be an elliptical vocative here, so even in apposition I'd expect a vocative. However, I seem to remember that a "nominativus pro vocativo" was possible...not 100% sure, though, nor in which language this should be possible.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 1:04
  • @Cerberus, my understanding is that an apposition never takes vocative; if it modifies a vocative, it is in nominative. I could be mistaken, though.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 6:44
  • @Cerberus, I made that into a new question to ask if my interpretation of such use of vocative is correct.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 10:32

This question has now been answered by Cerberus, though his answer was posted in regard to a different (related) question. It seems that there are examples from Livy and Lucan (at least) of the form populus being used as a vocative (though popule is also attested). So Nairn is justified.


(I would leave this as a comment but it's too long, so.)

For what it's worth, there seem to be two translations of Julius Caesar into Latin, and both are useless for determining what's "correct" here, since they use plural nouns, which would be the same whether nominative or vocative. One, from 1856, is by Henry Denison; the relevant lines are rendered:

Amici, Cives, Quirites, commodate mihi aliquantisper aures vestras: adsum ut efferam Cæsarem, non ut laudem.

The other, from an 1899 issue of Praeco Latinus edited by Arcadius Avellanus, is by C. W. Goodchild; there they are rendered:

Romani, amici, cives, auscultate mihi;
Venio sepultum non laudatum Cæsarem.

Avellanus was a native Latin speaker, but I don't know the extent to which he futzed with his writers' material in the Praeco Latinus. Of Denison and Goodchild, alas, I know nothing, so I'm not in a position to comment on the quality of their translations, but I will say that commodate mihi aures vestras, though a literally exact translation of the English, feels far too metaphoric for Latin, which tends to be a very concrete language.

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