Rules for the Latin Period

Sample Latin Period

Here’s the same sample Latin period from last time:

Volscī exiguam spem in armīs, aliā undique abscissā, cum tentāssent, praeter cētera adversa, locō quoquo inīquō ad pugnam congressī, inīquiōre ad fugam, cum ab omnī parte caederentur, ad precēs ā certāmine versī dēditō imperātōre trāditīsque armīs, sub iugum missī, cum singulīs vestīmentīs, īgnōminiae clādisque plēnī dīmittuntur. -Livy, iv.10

The Volscians, determined on trying the slender hope they had in arms, all others now cut off, besides many other disadvantages, having come to an engagement unfavorable for fighting, and still more so for retreat, when they were being cut down on every side, from fighting have recourse to entreaties, having given up their general and surrendered their arms, they are sent under the yoke and dismissed full of disgrace and suffering, with one garment each. (trans. Spillan)

Rules Observed in Latin Periodic Sentence Structure

“The main subject or object is put in the main clause, not in a subordinate clause.” -AG, 602

  • So here, the subject Volscī is within the same clause as the main verb, dīmittuntur (a passive that takes no object)
  • In this period, the main clause is divided by a series of subordinate clauses

Subordinate clauses are arranged meaningfully.

  • They are arranged for emphasis, prominence of importance, distance from the speaker, following a rotation of deictic gestures, etc.
  • They place cause before result, purpose before act, etc.

Asyndeton occurs frequently.

  • Asyndeton is the use of coordinate clauses within their copulative conjunction.
  • Here, in locō is given merely as locō, and the following, parallel clause lacks even locō itself
  • Further, there are numerous plausible et‘s and atque‘s missing

Pronouns disappear save where they are needed for clarity

  • Subordinate clauses are intentionally structured to surround all action around the original subject, permitting the writer to imply everything with the number, case and gender of a minimal number of words
  • Objects, too, may be repeated or replaced as rarely as possible

The Romans, especially in oratorical prose, use particular patterns of verse when ending their periods

  • quod scīs nihil prōdes, quod nescīs multum obest : what you know is of no use, what you do not know does great harm (Cicero, Dē Orātōre, 166) [— — ̆ x ]
  • I admit no knowledge of what the ‘preferred’ patterns of verse are for ending sentences, but I imagine professional orators had specific personal tastes
The Essential AG: 602

Famous Phrase: vēnī, vīdī, vīcī : I came, I saw, I conquered.

[commentary by Caesar on his short war with Pharnaces II in 47 BC; a light patch of asyndeton missing a few et‘s]

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