Ablative of Agent (1/2)

The ablative of agent is expressed with ā or ab, and denotes an agent associated with a passive verb. In basic cases, this means the [ab + ablative] unit would be the nominative subject in an active construction.

  • Hats are worn by these men, but scorned by those men: capellī ab hīs gestantur, sed ab illīs spernantur.
  • made active
  • These men wear hats, but those men scorn hats: hī capellōs gestant, sed illī spernant.
  • He was brought to trial by his sons: ā fīliīs in iūdicium vocātus est.
  • made active
  • His sons brought him to trial: eum fīliī in iūdicium vocāvērunt.

According to AG, this construction is developed from the ablative of source. “The agent is conceived as the source or author of the action.” -AG, 405n2

  • How is this not a chicken/egg scenario? They don’t work to justify their claim, but it might be that claiming a ‘source’ is a perceived ‘agent’ offers agency to all things, whereas claiming an ‘agent’ is a ‘source’ merely relates a relationship between two things.

The ablative agent may appear with active verbs, but only where they are intransitive and allude to a passive meaning.

  • She was killed by the elephants: periit ab elephantīs

The Essential AG: 405, 405a

One comment on “Ablative of Agent (1/2)

  1. trophos says:

    A student of mine asked me once about the difference between abl. means/instrument and abl. agent – it was one of those moments that makes me love teaching. They are, obviously, conceptually quite similar, but I had never thought of them that way. A&G addresses this, BTW, so I’m sure it will show up here at some point 😉

    As for the source v. agent primacy question, my instinct would be to say that they go with source as primary because that’s the basic underlying function of the ablative in PIE – making agent, as you say, a specialized kind of source. But I don’t know any other languages with an ablative, so I don’t know how debatable or not that would be.

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