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Cum haruspex in templo cenaret, rex ipse appropinquabat.

My problem is with the part in bold, firstly the cenaret, an imperfect subunctive does not agree with haruspex. (Or does it? I could be wrong.) Obviously it will not agree with templo (have you ever heard of a temple eating its dinner?). The problem continues, as templo is either dative, or ablative. Assuming my teacher (this an exam revision exercise by the way) made a mistake with either cenaret or haruspex, so we can reasonably assume that the soothsayers were eating in the temple, even then neither dative (by or to the temple) or ablative (by or with the temple) make sense in the context of the sentence.

Help please!

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    The dative and ablative only have the meanings "by or to" or "by or with" by themselves. Prepositions also "govern" certain cases (are followed by nouns in the cases), and in that case the meaning is determined by the combination of the preposition and the case. – Asteroides May 20 '16 at 14:00
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In this instance, alas, though I'm sure in no other, you are mistaken.

Haruspex is a nominative singular noun meaning a kind of soothsayer. It takes a third-person singular verb, which cenaret is. Cum followed by a subjunctive can mean either "when" (temporal) or "since, because" (circumstantial). In this case, temporal seems more appropriate, so the meaning would be something like "When the soothsayer was eating" or "When the soothsayer would eat." (To know more exactly what it said you'd need a little more context from the surrounding text.)

Templo is in the ablative. The preposition in takes either the accusative or the ablative; when it takes the accusative it usually means something like "into" or "onto" or "against," and when it takes the ablative it usually means something like "in" or "on"—that is, it takes the accusative when it refers to the direction in which something is moving or aiming, and the ablative when it refers to the place where something is.

The sentence your teacher provides means, therefore, something like "When the soothsayer was dining in the temple, the king himself was approaching him" or "When the soothsayer would dine in the temple, the king himself would approach him."

Welcome to the site!

  • I wonder why we so often answer essentially simultaneously... Anyhow, a nice answer. One question though: couldn't the cum be temporal ("when" instead of "since" or "although")? That would make most sense to me. – Joonas Ilmavirta May 20 '16 at 13:50
  • If the cum were temporal, wouldn't the verb then be in the indicative mood? – Joel Derfner May 20 '16 at 13:58
  • I faintly recall that conjunctive is possible in a temporal construction, but I admit it's been a while since I have read through the syntax of Latin subordinate clauses. (That would make good reading for the coming summer, would it not?) – Joonas Ilmavirta May 20 '16 at 14:01
  • A look around the internet suggests that you are correct and that I was dealing with a false positive (or false negative—I always get those confused). Cum + subjunctive can be either circumstantial or temporal, but Cum circumstantial is always subjunctive. (Apparently, temporal cum clauses in the past are more often subjunctive than indicative.) I've edited my answer accordingly; feel free to delete this whole comment thread. But I worry that you and I are on the same sleep schedule, which given that we live in different hemispheres is a little worrisome. – Joel Derfner May 20 '16 at 14:17
  • Thank you everybody! The exercise was about temporal clauses, so the use of cum as when is correct. I actually worked this one out for myself, I couldn't see it for about an hour, so I stopped frying my head and played chess. I went back to it and it made sense. However, thanks for explaining the ablative in for me, that really confused me! – John Smith May 20 '16 at 16:19
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I assume that by agreement between a verb and a noun you mean that the noun is the subject of the verb.

The subject of the verb cenaret is indeed haruspex. The noun is singular and the verb is third person singular, so there is no problem with agreement. Tempus (imperfect) and modus (conjunctive) do not effect the possibility of haruspex being the subject. (Context can give some hints, of course, but here there is only one option.)

A subject of a finite verb form has to be in nominative. Therefore templo, which is in ablative (because of the preposition in), cannot be one. It merely indicates place.

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