2

Typically, so-called "dominant" participle constructions (aka Ab urbe condita constructions; AUC for short) are defined by saying that the predicative participle is compulsory, whereby it cannot be eliminated without a significant change of meaning (e.g., (1a)). In some cases its elimination can be said to give semantic anomaly (e.g., (1b)).

(1) a. Ab urbe condita vs. Ab urbe (condita) ‘Since the foundation of the city’ // 'From the city (which was founded)'

b. Virtus constat ex hominibus tuendis (Cic. Off. 1.157) vs. Virtus constat ex hominibus (tuendis) ‘Virtue centres in protecting people’ // #'Virtue centres in people (who must be protected').

However, there are some cases where the participle/secondary predicate in AUC constructions becomes optional, although perhaps in different degrees (e.g., cf. (2a) and (2b)). Is there any relevant generalization to be made here or each case has its own story?

(2) a. Ante Christum natum

b. Post Ciceronem consulem

Indeed, it is not always easy to work out if the participle is dominant/compulsory or optional: e.g., vid. (3a) (cf. (3b), where servandum is a final/purpose optional adjunct). For some related discussion, see How many types of so-called “predicative Gerundives” can be differentiated in Latin?

(3) a. Populus Romanus consuli potius Crasso quam privato Africano bellum gerendum dedit (Cic. Phil. 11.18) ‘The Roman people preferred the consul C. to the private person A. as their leader in the war’ (NB: Pinkster's (1990) translation).

b. Diviti homini id aurum servandum dedit (Pl. Bacch. 338) ‘He gave that gold to a rich man to keep’.


EDIT 1 (thanks to Joonas's excellent answer below)

Notice that there seems to be a grammatical distinction to be made between (3a) and (3b): (3a) can be considered an AUC construction to the extent that the predicative gerundive is part of the argumental direct object of dedit: as pointed out by Joonas, what was given was not war but the leadership of war. In contrast, in (3b) what was given was a thing (gold), whereby servandum is to be considered as a predicative adjunct outside of the argumental direct object (id aurum). Note this is not an obstacle for the grammatically optional predicative adjunct servandum to be considered as obligatory for informational reasons (as for so-called "obligatory adjuncts", feel free to google these terms: e.g., Engl. These horses saddle easily. "Easily" is a a grammatical adjunct but cannot be eliminated due to informational/pragmatic reasons: cf. ??These horses saddle).

Accordingly, to the extent that (3a) contains an AUC construction, note that this example (3a) is more similar to (3c) rather than to (3b):

(3) c.Epaminondam pecunia corrumpendum suscepit (Nep. 15,4,1) ‘He undertook the bribing of Epaminondas with money’.

It is also worth pointing out another insightful remark made by Joonas. See his very interesting connection between the so-called AUC construction and what he refers to as a cognitive principle known as metonymy. It's really fascinating for me to see that his insightful intuition is also found in the specialized literature on the topic of dominant participles & gerundives (e.g., see http://publikationen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/frontdoor/index/index/docId/24318 ).

END EDIT 1


One could conclude that the distinction found in Latin grammar textbooks between dominant/obligatory predicates and optional ones is not “real” but is a by-product from our attempt of imposing the grammatical schemata of our native languages (e.g., the ones of English, Catalan, etc). However, I don’t think this relativistic point is correct but rather it seems to me that there’s something grammatically real behind the (allegedly) universal syntactic distinction between being an obligatory secondary predicate and being an optional attributive modifier.

Finally, I was wondering if there are meaning differences between the following pairs. Or are they merely "stylistic"?

(4) a. Post Ciceronem consulem // Post Ciceronis consulatum

b. Ab urbe condita // Ab urbis conditione

1

How natural does (2b) sound without the nominal predicative?

(2) a. Ante Christum natum
b. Post Ciceronem consulem

If you say post Ciceronem, it simply means "after Cicero". It could mean a number of things: After his death, after his office, behind him in a queue, after his speech… The ambiguity is the same as in English. It does sound natural, but it doesn't mean "after Cicero's consulate" but simply "after Cicero". I wouldn't understand that you are trying to refer to his consulate without much more context.

The case (2a) is similar: "Before Christ" and "before Christ's birth" are not the same thing, but in many contexts one would interpret a plain ante Christum as referring to his birth. The literal meaning is different, but in this particular case the difference is quite small.

Indeed, it is not always easy to work out if the participle is dominant/compulsory or optional: e.g., vid. (3a) (cf. (3b), where servandum is a final/purpose optional adjunct).

(3) a. Populus Romanus consuli potius Crasso quam privato Africano bellum gerendum dedit (Cic. Phil. 11.18) ‘The Roman people preferred the consul C. to the private person A. as their leader in the war’ (NB: Pinkster's (1990) translation).
b. Diviti homini id aurum servandum dedit (Pl. Bacch. 338) ‘He gave that gold to a rich man to keep’.

I do find a difference in the interpretation of (3a) if you drop the gerundive gerendum. (I cannot resist pointing out that gerendum or gerundum is a gerund that gives name to gerunds.) If you give someone bellum gerendum, you give them the leadership of a war. If you give someone bellum, you give them a war. Giving a war could be understood in a number of ways, for example as declaring war at the person.

In (2b) the meaning is again changed by the gerundive. Without it, the gold is simply given to the man. With it, it is given to him to keep; it seems to imply obligation to hold on to the money.

Leaving out the gerundive or participle or noun will typically make the sentence grammatical, but changes the meaning. In particular, the meaning becomes less specific. In some cases the loss of specificity is small, in some cases big. This is indeed what one should expect when it comes to dropping and attribute. For example, ab urbe is grammatical, but one wouldn't typically parse it as "from the founding of the city", so an additional clarifying word is much needed.

The way I see all of this is that a certain type of metonymy is idiomatic in Latin: "an eaten pizza" can also stand for "the fact that a pizza has been eaten". Therefore urbs condita can be read as "a founded city" or "the founding of a city". This metonymy is the source of what you call AUC constructions. Semantically, one can analyze these situations as the participle (or some such thing) taking the dominant role. (Personally, I find the concept of dominant participle quite unnecessary. But there are many possible ways to see Latin grammar.)

Finally, I was wondering if there are meaning differences between the following pairs. Or are they merely "stylistic"?

(4) a. Post Ciceronem consulem // Post Ciceronis consulatum
b. Ab urbe condita // Ab urbis conditione

The second options are grammatical. And one could see them as preferable because they are unambiguous: One can read ab urbe condita as "from the city that was founded" in some situations, but a conditione urbis prevents that reading. However, Latin seems to prefer the kind of metonymy I mentioned. The first options are indeed more idiomatic Latin.

  • Joonas, I've incorporated some of my previous comments below together with what I consider some insights from your answer into my post above (I thought it could give a bad impression to include five consecutive comments of mine...). – Mitomino Apr 4 at 19:20
  • 1
    @Mitomino It was very interesting to see that metonymy as a way to analyze these constructions is actually in academic use and not only something I ended up thinking on my own! – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 5 at 1:49

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