By Anonymous, in 'Latin to English Translation', Sep 21, 2006.

  1. Anonymous Guest

    I am currently reading the RES GESTAE DIVI AVGVSTI and in the third paragraph I have come upon this sentance.

    Externas gentes, quibus tuto ignosci potuit, conservare quam excidere malui

    The general meaning I get out of this is:

    I have prefered to preserve rather than to fell (kill/execute) the foreign peoples whom it has been possible to spare safely.

    My question is: how does the relative clause in this sentance work grammaticaly? Specifically, why is potuit in the 3rd person singular perfect, while ignosci is in the present passive infinitive? My guess is that potuit is being used impersonally (it has been possible) but why is the complementary infinitive ignosci in a different tence and voice? This is one of those annoying little questions that is going to bother me until either I figure it out or someone explains it to me, so any incite into this matter would be appreciated.
  2. Cato Consularis

    • Consularis
    Chicago, IL
    The infinitive used in conjunction with a finite verb (e.g. complimentary, acc. w. inf. construction) gives tense relative to the tense of the main verb. Although the present infinitive is used in the phrase ignosci potuit, "present" in this case really is in reference to the time of the main verb, not "present" as in "right now".

    It's easier to see this in an accusative with infinitive construction. Consider the following sentences.

    Dico me pugnare - "I say that I am fighting"
    Dixi me pugnare - "I said that I was fighting"
    Dico me pugnavisse - "I say that I have fought"
    Dixi me pugnavisse - "I said tht I had fought"
    Dico me pugnaturus esse - "I say that I will fight"
    Dixi me pugnaturus esse - "I said that I would fight"

    In summary, when the infinitive is in present tense, the "saying" and the "fighting" are going on at the same time; when in the perfect (-isse), the saying comes after the fighting; when in the future (-urus esse) the saying comes before the fighting. The fixed "time when" is determined by the main finite verb.

    In your example, ignosci is indeed a present tense infinitive, but as it is complimenting the past tense finite verb potuit - "It was possible", the "forgetting" occurs at the same time Augustus was "able to". In fact, I can't think of a case where you could use a perfect infinitive with possum, since ability and the potential act usually occur at the same time.

    As for the rest of the clause, quibus is dative after the verb ignosci. Possum can be used impersonally, though it is a bit of an affectation.

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