Archaic and Derived Superlatives

Recall the standard stem for Latin comparatives is -issimus. However, most student of Latin are familiar with a  variety of alternative, irregular forms. For instance:

  • Bonus, melior, optimus
  • Malus, peior, pessimus
  • Magnus, maior, maximus

These are all more archaic forms of the superlatives. (Hence there appearance in very basic, common adverbs, which we can predict would be more resistant to phonological change due to frequency of use.)

  • timus
  • īmus
  • summus

Furthermore, A&G note that certain superlative adjectives are derived from their comparative forms, not from their positives. They aren’t explicit about how this works, but the example they offer is extrēmus, which might go exterior –> *exterīmus –> extrēmus.

  • A&G compare this to the derivative development of ‘childish’ superlatives like the English furtherer and furtherest. Again, this is all a little mysterious to me, as a non-phonologist. If anyone has thoughts, I would love to hear them.

The Essential AG: 130an2

7 comments on “Archaic and Derived Superlatives

  1. Daniel says:

    Since you’re the only person I know, who is perfect at Latin, I will again ask for your help in some dubious text that I translate. This is being the legend about Diogenes, who went to search for true people with a lamp in his hand. All I need to understand is the first two lines, others were easier for translation.

    In fora se confert accenso Lumine mordax
    Diogenes, medium sole tenente polum; (???)

    Obstupuere omnes, & quae sit causa rogarunt,
    Ad quos continuo talia dicta dedit:
    Quaero homines: dicunt illi, quos quaerit adesse:
    Non, ait: hoc etenim vita ferina negat.
    Is ratione suos actus vitamque gubernat,
    Qui verax hominis nomen habere cupit.

    Could you please help me with: 1) the first two lines
    2) the structure: “quos quaerit ADESSE”? How is this infinitive to be translated correctly?

    Thanks a lot for your help, that might do me a lot of good and bring a better knowledge of Latin! Thank you for your blog! Hope it never ends)

    • rsmease says:

      1. All were struck, and asked what the reason was, and to them he gave such words:

      2. I seek men! And those men said, that those he sought were present.

      The infinite construction emerges from ‘dicunt illi’

  2. Daniel says:

    Thanks for a comment, but the very two first lines are actually:

    In fora se confert accenso Lumine mordax
    Diogenes, medium sole tenente polum; (???)

    Everything else was clear, so what about these, could you give me a hand with them?

    • rsmease says:

      When the sun was lit (accenso Lumine), biting Diogenes (mordax Diogenes) went (se confert) into the forum, when the sun held (sole tenente) the middle of the sky (medium polum).


      During the day, sassy Diogenes goes into the form, at noon.

      • Daniel says:

        Now, that is a very nice translation, indeed, coz I had no idea, what on earth might “biting Diogenes” (mordax) refer to…??? The same for medium polum. Now that you’ve translated I see how simple it actually was, so thanks a lot!

  3. Daniel says:

    I need to admit, that I had to correct the translation given: “When the sun was lit (accenso Lumine)”, because lumen is not about the Sun, but about the Lantern, that Diogenes was walking with, so it’s “with a Lantern lit”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s