Perfect and Future Infinitives, I

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! In yesterday’s post, I closed by saying

Now that we know how participles work, it will be a lot easier to deal with the perfect passive and future active infinitives, won’t it? 🙂 We’ll also find out a bit more about our characters’ experiences during the eruption of Vesuvius … and afterwards.

This next series of posts will deal with these three points in order, beginning with the presentation of the non-present infinitive system in Tres Columnae. Then, over the weekend and early next week, we’ll look at some of the stories about our characters’ experiences during the eruption of Vesuvius. We’ve already seen what happened to Caelius and Cnaeus in this post, which quotes a story that can be found here on the Tres Columnae website. We’ll have more to say about the presentation of vocabulary after that!

By the time that we reach Lectiōnēs XXVII and XXVIII, the eruption has occurred, and our surviving characters have the opportunity to retell their experiences (a natural setting for ōrātiō oblīqua with perfect-system infinitives) and to make plans for the future (which can reasonably involve the future infinitives). Here’s how the introduction of perfect infinitives will work, beginning with the perfect actives in this fabella:

  • Cāius cum mātre apud Lolliam et Vipsānium in urbe Neāpolī manēbat.
  • Lollia trīstis, “cūr pater nōn effūgit?” frātrem mātremque rogāvit.
  • “nōnne pater fortissimus erat? nihil perīculī timuit?” respondit Cāius.
  • Valeria haud crēdēbat Lollium nihil perīculī timuisse.
  • Caelius in domō urbānā lacrimāns stābat.
  • “pater, cūr lacrimās?” rogāvit Cnaeus. “nōnne fortūnātissimī sumus, quod iam vīvimus?”
  • Caelius, “mī fīlī, iste mōns vīllās nostrās dēlēvit. iste mōns multum pecūniae cōnsūmpsit. et tū asinus stultissimus fuistī, quod urbem Pompēiōs petere mihi iterum suādēbās!”
  • Cnaeus libenter cōnsēnsit sē asinum stultissimum fuisse.

As usual, there is a brief explanation:

quid novī?

You probably noticed something about the ōrātiō oblīqua in this fabella. The infinitives were different!

In each case, the action of the ōrātiō oblīqua is marked for completion before the main verb in the sentence:

  • Lollius was already done with his lack of fear (and, in fact, was dead as a result!) before Valeria found his stupidity difficult to believe!
  • Cnaeus was already done being stupid (or, at least, advising Dad to go to Pompeii because it’s a shorter trip!) before he admitted this.

So a perfective-aspect infinitive was needed! And that’s what timuisse and fuisse are. Donatus and the grammaticī called this form infinītīvus temporis praeteritī perfectī (et plusquamperfectī). English speakers usually call it a “perfect active infinitive” for short.

What I find amazing – and very revealing – is that Donatus calls this form the infinītīvus temporis praeteritī perfectī et plusquamperfectī, while he calls the “present” infinitive the infinītīvus temporis praesentis et praeteritī inperfectī. I think it’s clear that the distinction, for Donatus, is between completed, or perfective action (the perfectī et plusquamperfectī) and incomplete, or imperfective action (the praesentis et praeteritī inperfectī).  In other words, infinitives are “about” aspect rather than tense!

If you’re a veteran reader of this blog, I’m sure you can imagine the cycle of self-assessment and exercises that we’ll use to practice the new forms. And then, of course, we’ll see the deponent and passive perfect infinitives, which we’ll look at in more detail tomorrow, and then the futures.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • I’m not sure how many Classicists read what the Romans themselves said about their language! Until I started working on the Tres Columnae project, I must confess that I had only scanned and skimmed through the grammaticī. Was that a defect of my preparation and personal reading, or is it common?
  • Obviously the grammaticī didn’t have a perfectly scientific understanding of the grammar of their language, but still … they were native speakers, or were trained by native speakers! At the same time, they were deeply influenced by the Greek grammarians, and they may have (consciously or unconsciously) attempted to force Latin into Hellenic categories. (Ironically, English grammarians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in turn, tried to fit English into Latinate categories … I once saw an old English grammar book that presented the “declension of the English noun” with five or six cases, all of course the same except for the possessives!) How much stock do you think we should put in their ideas or their terminology?
  • More directly on our topic, do you find the fabellae comprehensible and reasonable?
  • And what do you think of the grammatical explanations?

Tune in next time for a bit more about the presentation of the infinitive system, and for a story or two. And, in the meantime, grātiās maximās omnibus legentibus et respondentibus.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reading the ancients to understand how they named the features of their own language was something that I had done in high school (independently), never in college, and only again recently in my teaching career. I think using their terminology would be great, but potentially confusing for students. It isn’t the labels per se, but the need to use common terms required by modern assessments of their Latin achievement (SAT II, the AP Exam, etc.). Trust me: I am no fan of high stakes test such as these, but, at least to some extent, they drive how we approach things at every level. That said, the best group of kids I ever taught did not learn the formal names of cases, tenses, etc., but preparing them for standardized tests proved difficult as we advanced into higher levels.

    Since this project does not aim to prepare students for such assessments, I think that using the Latin label is OUTSTANDING!

    • Randy,
      I certainly see your point about common terminology. You may have noticed that I also use the “traditional” English names in the “quid novi” explanations most of the time. That’s partly for the benefit of “TC” participants who will take standardized tests at some point, and partly for the benefit of more “traditionalist” teachers who may want to use the materials.

      A couple of other thoughts about labels:
      1) With my face-to-face students, I usually focus on labeling morphology rather than syntax throughout Latin I and for much of Latin II. So, for example, I’m much more interested in students’ determining the case of a noun than the 19th-century grammarians’ name for the use of that particular case.
      2) The case and tense names in particular are so close in L. and Eng. that there’s not much of a learning curve.
      3) Historically, there hasn’t been much labeling of constructions on the AP Exams, though there’s certainly a good bit of identification of figures of speech and forms. Of course, that may change with the new syllabus. If and when it does, there’s supposed to be a list of “standardized” terms which would be easy to incorporate in the TC system if subscribers wanted. I haven’t seen a Latin SAT-II since they were called the Achievement Tests, but IIRC, there’s not a whole lot of naming of constructions there either.
      4) Even if you want learners to label constructions, that’s a pretty high-level analytical task, and I think it can frustrate students if you start too early. TC is designed to be approximately a two-year sequence, at the end of which participants are ready to read whatever Latin texts they wish. At that point, they should also be quite ready to learn to label anything that anyone wants to label.

      Thanks for reading and commenting … I always look forward to what you have to say!

  2. As always, thank you for a thought-provoking post! I am curious about your references to Donatus. I’ve looked into finding a hard copy of his work myself, to no avail. Do you read his work online, or do you have a published edition? If so, would you share the ISBN?


    • Elizabeth,
      I normally read Donatus online; if you Google “Donatus ars minor,” you’ll find some very nicely formatted editions. I have also looked for a printed text, but to no avail. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and hope all is well with you!

      ut valeas,

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