Is "Seth" (son of Adam and Eve) indeclinable?

By Magnus4321, in 'Latin Grammar Questions', Oct 24, 2018.

  1. Magnus4321 New Member

    When Latin scholars translate Hebrew and Greek proper nouns into Latin, these words seem to follow various declension rules.

    For instance, Elias (prophet in the 9th century BC) follows first declension (genitive is Eliae and ablative is Elia); Michael (the archangel) follows third declension (genitive is Michaelis and ablative is Michaele); and Gabriel and Noe are indeclinable.

    These are the words we can find in Latin dictionaries to ensure we understand correctly.

    In the Book of Genesis of Vatican's Nova Vulgata, the man Seth was mentioned several times, and to me it wasn't immediately clear how the proper noun is supposed to be declined or pronounced (Sēt???), but after reading it again it looks like they are treating it as indeclinable. Am I correct?

    Quotes from Nova Vulgata:

    Genesis 4:25
    "Cognovit quoque Adam uxorem suam, et peperit filium vocavitque nomen eius Seth dicens: 'Posuit mihi Deus semen aliud pro Abel, quem occidit Cain'."

    Genesis 5:3
    "Vixit autem Adam centum triginta annis et genuit ad similitudinem et imaginem suam vocavitque nomen eius Seth. "

    Genesis 5:4
    "Et facti sunt dies Adam, postquam genuit Seth, octingenti anni, genuitque filios et filias. "

    Genesis 5:6
    "Vixit quoque Seth centum quinque annos et genuit Enos."

    Genesis 5:7
    Vixitque Seth, postquam genuit Enos, octingentis septem annis genuitque filios et filias.

    A more challenging puzzle for those interested in this would be what is preferred or the most correct when coining a Latin adjective from a Hebrew or Greek loan word. There are so many variations that exist. For instance, I have seen at least three words in Latin that's equivalent to the English adjective Mosaic (as in "Mosaic law"): Moseus, Moseius (sounds Classical?), and Mositicus (sounds Medieval, similar to Solomonicus?).
  2. Ser Nūmen lūnāre

    • Civis Illustris
    Consider that the Catholic Church has its own Italian-like pronunciation, and in that pronunciation Seth is the same as Set. Long vowels are not distinguished from short ones (so anus 'old woman' and ānus 'ring; anus' sound the same), and th is always the same as t.

    Masoretic Tiberian pronunciation might have distinguished vowel length, and if it did, in this case the vowel would be short. In my idiosyncratic Latin I'd personally pronounce it Seth [sɛθ], with a short vowel and the th sound of English "thigh".

    In your quotes, Seth is the form of the nominative and accusative at least, as those are the only cases used in the quotes you provided. I am pretty confident it would be an indeclinable for the purposes of Jerome or the Nova Vulgata. For a different opinion, refer to Sebastian Castellio's distinct translation of the Bible, who uses Sethus -i:

    Genesis 4:25
    "Setho quoque natus est filius, quem Enossum appellauit. Tunc cœptum est Iouæ nomen inuocari."

    Genesis 5:3
    "Erat igitur Adamus annos natus centum triginta, quum sui similem ad suam imaginem procreauit eum, quem Sethum nominauit."

    Genesis 5:6
    "Sethus centesimo quinto ætatis anno genuit Enossum,"

    (5:4 and 5:7 don't mention him by name.)
  3. Magnus4321 New Member

    Thank you for the reply that explained it well.

    I have an idiosyncratic feeling that ancient Roman scholars might prefer Latinizing the Greek names of these Near East characters and proper nouns as the most refined form (like Elias). I have seem similar discrepancies in other topics as well. In Latin literature about Norse Mythology, for instance, Medieval Latin writers seemed to like giving Odin a Latin name, Odinus, while modern Latin books prefer a similarly declinable one with its nominative form set as Odin.

    Therefore, Nova Vulgata's Eva and Seth may be a modern way to treat these loan words (although to me it seems perfectly effortless to inflect them). If Seth's story became popular enough in ancient Rome, I think people would likely give him a Latin name just like Sebastian Castellio's Sethus.

    Anyway, do you think it is more literate to treat these as declinable or indeclinable? If we tell these stories to an ancient Roman person, would he or she find the indeclinable use awkward?
  4. Cinefactus Censor

    • Censor
    litore aureo
    St Jerome obviously didn't think so.
  5. Pollux New Member

    Is it neccessary to Latinise foreign names and at least add a Latin ending to make them declinable? And if not, then how can different grammatical cases be distinguished?
  6. Dantius Homo Sapiens

    • Civis Illustris
    in orbe lacteo
    Sometimes they are treated as indeclinable and the case must be determined from the context alone.
  7. Abbatiſſæ Scriptor Senex

    • Civis Illustris
    Jerome (or had we better ſay Hieronymus?) would often have been faced with options, but would likely have been influenced by whatever precedents he would have found in the LXX, as well as in older Latin tranſlations. He might also have attempted to be ſelf conſiſtent. We cannot, however, know to what extent later generations of ſcribes might have preſumed to amend the work of their predeceſſors. We can only be content with what good pope Clement left us.

Share This Page


Our Latin forum is a community for discussion of all topics relating to Latin language, ancient and medieval world.

Latin Boards on this Forum:

English to Latin, Latin to English translation, general Latin language, Latin grammar, Latine loquere, ancient and medieval world links.