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I was taught that meus had a special irregular vocative, . (So "my father" in the vocative would be pater mī, not pater meus.)

However, there's a line that shows up a few times in the Vulgate that seems to contradict this.

Deus, Deus meus, respice in me: quare me dereliquisti?
God, my God, look back to me: why have you forsaken me? (Psalms 21:2 or 22:2 depending on version)

Et circa horam nonam clamavit Jesus voce magna, dicens: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? hoc est: Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me?
And around the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? That is: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)

Et hora nona exclamavit Jesus voce magna, dicens: Eloi, eloi, lamma sabacthani? quod est interpretatum: Deus meus, Deus meus, ut quid dereliquisti me?
And at the ninth hour Jesus exclaimed in a loud voice, saying, Eloi, eloi, lamma sabacthani? Which is translated: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)

The conjugation of the verb makes it clear that the speaker is addressing God directly. So why do all these instances use meus instead of ?

  • Related latin.stackexchange.com/a/8856/39 – Alex B. Jan 19 at 17:14
  • Stotz 1998 (v.4, §24.1-24.2) explains it very clearly: "Zu dem Poss'pron. meus lautet die Voc.-Form mi, doch wird hier seit alters (Plautus) auch meus gebraucht, und zwar nicht nur in Verbindung mit einer subst. Anrede auf -us (vgl. oben deus meus), sondern auch in Formeln wie domine meus (vgl. popule meus, § 24.1). Mitunter mögen rhythmische bzw. metrische Gründe einwirken. So verwender Hrotsvit meist mi, läßt jedoch einen Hexameter beginnen mit: accipe, care meus." – Alex B. Jan 19 at 18:02
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    @AlexB. That would make a good answer! – Draconis Jan 19 at 18:55
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First, the empirical facts, which are pretty much beyond controversy.

  1. In classical Latin, there is no (textually secure*) attested vocative form of deus. That is, dee does not exist, and deus is not used as a vocative.

  2. When a vocative deus became necessary for Christian Latin, they employed the nominative form deus rather than creating a new vocative form.

  3. This was considered a nominative used in place of a vocative, not as a vocative form. Thus, the adjective meus was used for agreement. We can see this by the occurrence of phrases such as Domine, deus meus. We do not see deus regarded as a true vocative form, and thus used in phrases such as mi Deus, until well into the Middle Ages.

Now, some additional information, which is more controversial among scholars.

  1. The original choice to use the nominative deus instead of inventing a vocative may have been based on the nominative for vocative construction found in the Greek Septuagint and New Testament (Wackernagel, Lectures on Syntax, 18-19 et passim.)

  2. Some level of opposition to vocatives ending in -ee and to the vocative mi are visible within classical Latin literature, and these factors may sufficiently explain the choice of deus meus even apart from Greek influence. See Dickey, "O Dee Ree Pie: The Vocative of Latin Words Ending in -eus".

*John Rauk, "The Classical Vocative of Deus and Its Problems," adduces two instances of deus used vocatively. But both passages are suspected of textual corruption, and one of them cannot even be distinguished from a nominative-for-vocative.

  • "which are pretty much beyond controversy" - "In classical Latin, there is no attested vocative form of deus. That is, dee does not exist" - I wouldn't put it that strongly. See, for example, Rauk, John. "The Vocative of Deus and Its Problems." Classical Philology 92, no. 2 (1997): 138-49. – Alex B. Jan 19 at 23:10
  • There is no textually secure attestation. Both his examples, as he himself goes on to say, exist in passages of dubious authenticity. Given how common a word "deus" is, it's practically impossible that a vocative form existed of which we have no attestation. – Kingshorsey Jan 20 at 0:00
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    That's not a contradiction of what I said. I said there is no attested vocative form, which is true if you don't include the dubious text from Scribonius. The passage in the Carmina doesn't have an adjective, so there's no way to distinguish whether it's a true vocative or nominative for vocative. Rauk is saying that in the absence of attestation, it should be an open question. I said that there is an absence of attestation. – Kingshorsey Jan 20 at 0:16
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    Thanks. I'll edit my answer to put in a caveat. Yes, my reading of Dickey 2000 (and she repeats this in her 2002 book) is that the Latin authors avoided the singular vocative of deus to the point that we can't know whether one even existed. – Kingshorsey Jan 20 at 0:44
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    @Rafael I'm not exactly sure what you mean, but I can see a connection. Sometimes, after an initial vocative, nouns in apposition take the nominative. If Deus was regarded as a nominative, perhaps there was a desire to keep using nominatives from that point on. Certainly we need some reason why the same texts uses both fili and filius. – Kingshorsey Jan 20 at 12:27

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