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Given my description below on nested/double predicative participle constructions (e.g., quo mortuo nuntiato) and given the well-known parallelism between so-called “dominant” participle constructions (aka Ab urbe condita-constructions) and Ablative Absolute constructions, the specific question I have is the following one: do you think that a nested dominant participle construction like Ab urbe condita nuntiata could also be possible in Latin with the intended meaning: ‘since the announcement of the foundation of Rome’?


As noted above, some nested or double predicative participle constructions can be found in Classical Latin. In particular, the following one from Cicero really attracted my attention, which involves a wonderful syntactic "nesting" of two Ablative Absolutes, the inner one being quo mortuo and the outer one being something similar to (but, as you'll see immediately, not identical to) HOC (i.e., quo mortuo) nuntiato:

Quo mortuo nuntiato, sella sublata est. (Cic. Fam. 7, 30, 1).

Loeb translation: ‘His death was announced and the chair was removed’ (‘After his death was announced, the chair was removed’).

So I understand that constructions like the following ones could be well-formed in Latin: Cicerone mortuo nuntiato, …. (cf. “Ciceronis morte nuntiata, ….”), Terentia mortua nuntiata,… (cf. “Terentiae morte nuntiata, ….”), and, admittedly, perhaps with some reservation (what do you think?) even the following example: Urbe capta nuntiata, …. (cf. “Urbis expugnatione nuntiata,…”).

Of course, I do not have a native competence in Latin but a construction like Urbe capta nuntiato sounds quite awful to me, although I can acknowledge that, semantically speaking, this construction could be said to be “logical” since what was announced is not a city but the event encoded in the inner Ablative Absolute: Hoc (this event: urbe capta) nuntiato, …). Interestingly, a construction like Urbem captam (esse) nuntiato could also be a valid Ablative Absolute at least in Livy (cf. his well-known example: Cognito vivere Ptolomaeum). Accordingly, constructions like Quem mortuum (esse) nuntiato or Ciceronem mortuum (esse) nuntiato could be both valid examples along with Quo mortuo nuntiato and Cicerone mortuo nuntiato, respectively.

Notice moreover that the abovementioned examples of complex Ablative Absolutes must not be fully collapsed with the ones typically mentioned in the handbooks of Latin syntax (e.g., Cicerone consule creato), where there are two predicates involved as well (consule and creato, the former depending on the latter; cf. Ciceronem consulem creare). Cf. the ill-formed example Ciceronem consulem creato with the well-formed one Ciceronem mortuum nuntiato, which shows that both constructions cannot be collapsed into a single/identical syntactic type.

Another potential example of a nested/double dominant participle construction could be the following one (NB: in this case it is not an Ablative Absolute):

Ante proelium in Thessalia factum cognitum, ... (Caes. Bell. Civ. 3, 100, 4).

This example, unlike Cicero’s one above, can be claimed to be syntactically ambiguous since in this case it is not required that factum be interpreted as a dominant participle, whereby the participle clause in Thessalia factum can in fact be understood as an optional relative clause quod in Thessalia factum est. Basically, this explains the following contrast between the well-formed dominant participle construction Ante proelium cognitum (cf. Ante proelium in Thessalia factum cognitum) and the ill-formed/anomalous Ablative Absolute ??Cicerone nuntiato (cf. ok Cicerone mortuo nuntiato). So I've been unable to verify if a non-ambiguous nested dominant participle construction like Ab urbe condita nuntiata would be grammatical in Classical Latin.

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I don't think nesting is a good way of describing this phenomenon. This is simply what happens when a clause with a predicate noun or adjective is transformed into an ablative absolute.

Quo mortuo nuntiato = qui mortuus nuntiatus est. Similarly, hoste iudicato Dolabella = Dolabella hostis iudicatus est and Marcello consule facto = Marcellus consul factus est.

  • Interesting! So you disagree with my proposal above that quo mortuo nuntiato must not be fully collapsed with the complex AAs typically mentioned in the textbooks of Latin syntax (e.g., Cicerone consule creato). Cf. Cicerone mortuo nuntiato with the well-formed Hoc (i.e., Cicerone mortuo) nuntiato. And cf. Cicerone consule creato with the ill-formed Hoc (i.e., Cicerone consule) creato. Cf. also the ill-formed ex. Ciceronem consulem (esse) creato with the well-formed one Ciceronem mortuum (esse) nuntiato (cf. Livy's well-known example Cognito vivere Ptolomaeum). – Mitomino Jan 6 at 3:41
  • In any case I agree that the reduction of the example at issue to a well-known type of complex AA would be a good solution. So I give you an upvote. – Mitomino Jan 6 at 3:43
  • Another interesting example of complex AA that, quite clearly, cannot be reduced to the type Cicerone consule creato is the following one, also from Cicero: Quo optato impetrato, Theseus in maximis fuit luctibus (Cic. Off. 3.95). The syntactic construction is intriguingly very similar to Cicero's example commented in my post above: quo mortuo nuntiato. – Mitomino Jan 6 at 5:34
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    Quo optato impetrato = Quod optatum impetratum est (which desire was obtained). Quo is just an adjective modifying optato, which is here used as a substantive. – Kingshorsey Jan 6 at 14:31
  • Oh, thanks! I've seen that this is precisely the analysis given in a Spanish textbook of Latin Syntax, Sintaxis latina (1956) by Mariano Bassols de Climent, who classifies these two very same examples quo optato impetrato and quo mortuo nuntiato into the same class. According to Bassols, in these two examples both optato and mortuo are regarded as participles that are used as nouns ('desire' and 'death'). In contrast, I see you classify them into two different classes. That's interesting! Thanks for your very helpful comments, Kingshorsey! – Mitomino Jan 6 at 20:22
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If an answer based solely on your own examples would be acceptable, may I suggest the 'well-formed' examples in the second group have indeclinable substantives contributing to the Ablative Absolute. /esse/ may be needed to complete the indeclinable noun being read as Ablative.

Example 1 the indeclinable noun clause is vivere Ptolomaeum which would be the object (Acc) of cognoscere. In the Abl. Absolute vivere Ptolomaeum becomes Ablative.

Cognito vivere Ptolomaeum

Example .2. In indirect speech the indeclinable noun clause is the object:
Cognoverunt 'Proelium in Thessalia factum est' becomes
Cognoverunt proelium in Thessalia factum /esse/
Then the indirect noun clause becomes the object of the adverbial phrase Ante cognitum...

Ante [ proelium in Thessalia factum ] cognitum, ...

Reading 'quod,' as you suggest, this clause also would have to be read as an objective noun cause following cognitum.

  • Just a comment on what you say: "In the Abl. Absolute vivere Ptolomaeum becomes Ablative". One thing is to say that vivere Ptolomaeum can be replaced by the ablative pronoun hoc (which is of course correct: e.g. Hoc cognito) but, stricto sensu, it is not the case that "the infinitival clause becomes Ablative". Otherwise, we would have the Gerundive construction, which is not the case: cf. the ill-formedness of *Cognito vivendo Ptolomaeo. – Mitomino Jan 1 at 18:39
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    In contemporary syntactic theory I guess that one could argue that in Iob patiente the noun Iob is not morphologically but abstractly marked with Ablative, which makes sense for your example. But, as I've noted above, assuming that the Ablative marking applies to the infinitival clause, we would get the ill-formed Gerundive construction vivendo Ptolomaeo. This is interesting for a syntactician: we can perfectly assume that Cognito vivendo Ptolomaeo is ill-formed (on the relevant reading) but, assuming that “the infinitival clause becomes Ablative”, why should it be ungrammatical? – Mitomino Jan 1 at 19:49
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    Or, to put it differently, why should it be the case that in the Ablative Absolute Cognito Ptolomaeum vivere the infinitival clause must be marked with abstract Ablative case but CANNOT be marked with morphological Ablative case (i.e., Cognito Ptolomaeo vivendo). – Mitomino Jan 1 at 20:05
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    This textbook agrees with your analysis of Example 1, saying that the "proposition" following the ablative participle is considered a neuter noun in the ablative case. – Ben Kovitz Jan 3 at 19:19
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    Many thanks for this confirmation of instinct perhaps or perhaps memory. I'll incorporate it into the answer, if I may. – Hugh Jan 3 at 20:52
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I also lack native competence in Latin, so I offer here an unauthoritative guess, mostly for comment from more-knowledgeable users.

Quid discrimen?

I'm thinking that to native speakers, grammatical constructions often appear straightforwardly logical, that to non-natives seem strange and in need of explanation. For example, I'm guessing that to the Roman mind, ut appears to have only one meaning, consistent in all usage, whereas native English speakers often try to categorize different senses of ut and prescribe separate rules for each.*

So, I propose that (a) the ablative absolute appears to a native speaker as nothing more than a noun modified by an adjective, in the ablative case to indicate the noun's relation to the rest of the sentence, and (b) if you asked your question of a native speaker, the reply would likely be "Quid discrimen?"

This is not to dismiss your question, of course. I've been sitting here googling and trying to work it out because it's so interesting! The idea I've arrived at is that English grammar "cares" whether we are asserting that an event happened to something named by a noun or merely modifying the noun with a participle, because we need that to make grammatical sense of the sentence—while Latin simply links adjectives to nouns and doesn't even perceive the difference.

So, a native would perceive:

Caesar, urbe capta, discessit.

as meaning "Caesar, acting from the situation of a captured city, left." And the native would say, "Casus ablativus hoc semper significat. Semper est idem! 'Caesar anno 2019º discessit', 'Caesar Cicerone consule discessit', 'Caesar vento secundo discessit', 'Caesar lectica decrepita discessit', etc.—in unusquoque elogio casus ablativus sibi idem vult."

The native English speaker, raised from birth to carefully distinguish ablatives of means, ablatives of comparison, ablatives of manner, locative ablatives, circumstantial ablatives, etc. would protest, "But what about all those?" And the native would exasperatedly try to explain that there is no limit to the ways that a subject can act 'from' something. Hence categorizing them is pointless. You just use common sense, maybe clarified with a preposition and/or word order, to infer the exact meaning in each sentence, one at a time. "Ablativeness", as he sees it, is always the same. There's only one concept there. It just blends with the meanings of the specific words and whatever other grammar is in the sentence.

And so, on this hypothesis, this sentence is fine:

Caesar, urbe capta nuntiata, discessit.

There was an announced captured city, you know? The ablative absolute is anchored to the noun. It names a situation where that noun's referent exists and is somehow relevant. The past participles tell stuff that happened to it. The word order is significant, later words adding information to what's been said so far.

Similarly, ab urbe condita would on this hypothesis be understood as "From the (situation of) the founded city". "Since the city was founded" is just reframing it in the English way. Notice anno urbae conditis, which works the same way, literally "in the year of the founded city." The native English speaker might ask, "But isn't that ambiguous? Couldn't ab mean spatial distance rather than time? Or having been purchased from a founded city, regardless of when it was founded?" And the native Latin speaker might say, "Fortasse. Nescio. Quid vocem 'condita' cum voce 'urbe' dicis si tempus non interest? Num invenisti urbem non conditam?"

We actually do have something like this in English. Consider:

Prices fallen, we walked to the sedan store.
Announced prices fallen, we walked to the sedan store.
Fallen prices announced, we walked to the sedan store.

If you ask a native speaker if the second or third sentence means that we walked to the store in a situation where announced fallen prices existed or after an announcement that prices had fallen, the reply is likely to be, "What's the difference?"

Tenuiter ab auctoritate

Some googling turned up "The Ablative Absolute in the Epistles of Cicero, Seneca, Pliny and Fronto" by R.B. Steele, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 25, No. 3 (1904), p. 323, which gives a bunch of examples where there are two contrasting ablatives, followed by one of your examples, with a comment that's interesting for how little it says:

…et vidi non tantum mense Februario positas, sed etiam Marte exacto. In these the modifying ablatives are parallel, while there is a modifying ablative element ad Fam. 7, 30, 1 quo mortuo nuntiato sella sublata est.

I'm reading this as "In that example, there's one more modifier." Hence that's all there is to it.


What I'm proposing here could be completely wrong, of course. It will take someone with an ear better trained on Latin than mine to say. But I think that's the real authority here: the trained ear that's learned to perceive words pointing things out in the Latin way, not precise rules that attempt to substitute for such perception.

*This doesn't apply to cum, of course. I think native speakers perceived two distinct senses, one a preposition and the other a conjunction.

†In English you'd have to say "the" here, which would spoil the grammar. This is another case where one language demands a discrimen which other can't perceive. English requires that you indicate, for every ordinary noun, whether it's a, the, or no article. Latin draws no distinction, and Romans would probably wonder why the choice of a or the would cause confusion in this sentence. As Russians have suggested to me, "Why not just skip it when it's not relevant?"

  • Your English examples are very interesting. However, notice that in nested/double ablative absolutes like quo mortuo nuntiato both participles are predicative (they are not attributive modifiers), i.e., they are the predicates of the propositions formed by the inner and outer Ablative absolutes, respectively. In all of your three English examples above, one is predicative, while the other is crucially attributive, whereby it is not the case that we have “nested” absolute participial clauses. – Mitomino Jan 3 at 21:36
  • That is to say, fallen is the predicative participle in your first and second examples, while the only predicative participle in the third example is announced. Is it possible in English to say something like “With Caesar dead announced, there was an exuberance of joy” (NB: In my native language (Catalan), it is not). In this example both participles would indeed be predicative. – Mitomino Jan 3 at 21:36
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    @Mitomino With Caesar dead announced is completely out of the question in my native-speaker judgment. (You can of course say With Caesar announced dead, but that's a different construction.) – TKR Jan 4 at 4:04
  • @Mitomino Do you think that whether a given participle in these constructions is predicative or attributive might be left to context, i.e. the listener is expected to follow the interpretation that makes the most sense? – Ben Kovitz Apr 8 at 17:12

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