After having answered a question on "ipse" from a very different perspective (a philosophical one: [Does 'ipse' truly mean change? ), I return to linguistics: now I was wondering if ipse must be considered just a sort of emphatic "reinforcer" of the reflexive in the following change construction (Ricoeur again? No, don't worry!):

Valvae se ipsae aperuerunt (Cic. Div. 1, 74) ‘The doors opened by themselves’.

Would it be possible in Latin to say the following example without se? Ipse can of course be used in other non-change and non-reflexive contexts (Ipse dixit) but I'm not sure if the following example would be well-formed in Latin:

Foris ipsa aperit ‘The door is opening by itself’.

Cf. the non-emphatic example Foris se aperit ‘The door is opening (by itself)’ and the also attested example without se: Foris aperit (Pl. Pers. 300) ‘The door is opening’.

For more context, please read my related question in How things change in Latin.

1 Answer 1


When personal pronouns of the first and second persons are used reflexively, they may be strengthened by a part of "ipse" e.g.

I wounded myself = me (ipsum) vulneravi.

We wounded ourselves = nos (ipsos) vulneravimus

The part of "ipse" is, of course, optional; the personal pronoun is not. Both would be mandatory in e.g.

The king himself had killed himself = rex ipse se interfecerat.

This is not to say that "ipse" cannot stand alone: it can translate as "the very..." as in "femina ipsa" = "the very woman" as an alternative to "the woman herself".

"foris ipsa aperit" = "the very door opens"/ "that-specific-door-opens"; suspect it's ablative in an attempt to achieve "by itself"? Clever; but, don't think so. The strengthening agent (ipsa) needs something to strengthen--the reflexive pronoun.

"ipse dixit"; "ipse" is nominative and a reflexive pronoun cannot be nom., by definition; instead of the accepted "he himself said", it should be: "he, the very man, said".

  • From your answer ("The strengthening agent (ipsa) needs something to strengthen--the reflexive pronoun"), I understand that the reflexive pronoun se is (expected to be) compulsory in a sentence like Foris ipsa aperit. Is that correct? By the way, by using the English translation "by itself" I did not intend to interpret ipsa as ablative (of course, it is not ablative). In any case, thanks for pointing out that 'by itself' is not a good translation of ipsa.
    – Mitomino
    Apr 26, 2019 at 16:00
  • It is perhaps worth pointing out that foris ipsam se aperit is ill-formed unless we provide the door with some agency. A similar contrast is found in Spanish: La puerta se abrió vs. ?? La puerta se abrió a sí misma. This said, it seems to me that Foris aperit is not identical to Sp. La puerta abre. In my Spanish, the latter typically has a sort of generic reading, i.e., it lacks the eventive reading shown in the example above from Plautus (Foris aperit 'The door is opening'). Cf. Sp. ??/*La puerta está abriendo vs. OK La puerta se está abriendo.
    – Mitomino
    Apr 26, 2019 at 19:58
  • Mitomino: Yes, reflexive pronoun is compulsory. In your second comment: "...is ill-informed unless we provide the door with some agency." Such as, if the door is opening itself? How would that affect the Latin? Are you writing a book about a haunted house? Sadly, my Spanish is not up to the rest of it.
    – tony
    Apr 27, 2019 at 10:05

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