Ethical Dative

I’ve always found the ‘Ethical Dative’ to be a very silly classification, and it turns out A&G agree.

“It is really a faded variety of the Dative of Reference.” -AG 380.

How it Works

The Ethical Dative shows a “certain interest” felt by the subject of the dative. I gather that it’s more or less a Dative of Reference restricted to particular idiomatic moments in the Latin language.

  • He serves his own father: suō sibi servit patrī.
  • What do you want: quid tibī vīs?
  • What is Celsus doing: quid mihi Celsus agit?

Note how, in the last example, the Dative is more or less beneath the threshold of translation. It has a certain sense where reading it in Latin, but it’s not a critical measure of the sentence’s meaning.


I feel I’ve always struggled to gather this Dative together, because I’ve attempted to associate it with ‘ethics’ in the ‘what is the Good?’ sense, when it’s really meant to express ‘ethics’ in the ‘ἐθικός‘ (habitual) sense. Any thoughts on this?

The Essential AG: 380

3 comments on “Ethical Dative

  1. William says:

    I’m sure if there were a connection, A&G would have mentioned it, but as I read your post, I found myself thinking that this seems awfully similar to the middle voice in Greek. Am I off-base here?

    • rsmease says:

      Certainly, the ethical dative always possess a sense of reflective interest. That said, Greek also has an ethical dative. These ethical datives have a middle twist, so I see where you’re coming from.

    • KLC says:

      A lot of the times, what would be a middle is deponent or passive in Latin. Though a lot of them take what we call a Greek accusative when being used in a middle sense.

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