Skip to content

Ablatives for ambiguity

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 7.9:

Accusativi geminatione facta amphibolia solvitur ablativo, ut illud “Lachetem audivi percussisse Demean” fiat “a Lachete percussum Demean”. Sed ablativo ipsi, ut in primo diximus, inest naturalis amphibolia: “cælo decurrit aperto”: utrum per apertum cælum an cum apertum esset.

Ambiguity created by doubling an accusative is resolved with an ablative, so that Lachetem audivi percussisse Demean [‘Demea Laches struck, I heard’] may become a Lachete percussum Demean [‘…Demea was struck by Laches’]. But in the ablative itself there is an innate ambiguity, as whether cælo decurrit aperto [‘clear the sky he descended’] means he descended ”through” a clear sky or ”while” it was clear.

Most fun part of this was seeing if I could transfer the Latin ambiguities to the English gloss.

For Laches and Demea, while we may not have a direct parallel (as only pronouns have anything like an accusative) the unusual word order of ‘Demea Laches struck’ suggests a construction of the sort seen in poetry that might be read either way—is the object inverted, or the verb?

A similar trick almost works for ‘caelo decurrit aperto’ but I don’t think it works as well—the temporal reading would be much more likely to be written with a comma.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *