Ablative Absolute sentence construction
Posted by Laura W on April 20, 1998 at 21:31:51:
In response to By revealing the Absolute, clarification was obtained., written by Caroline on March 21, 1998 at 20:18:17
] Throughout the five years of schooling that got me as far as "O" level, my basic modus operandi was :- If you don't know what to do with it - bung it in the Ablative!
I can appreciate that! I'm not exactly sure what O-levels are, but I took three years of Latin in my American high school, the last year of which put me quite literally in a class by myself, no one else ever having taken it at my school before.
Which doesn't mean that I am really a Latin "scholar;" however, I do enjoy Latin and particularly appreciate it when Latin explains some peculiar English usage, like the ablative absolute, which language mavens decry as poor grammar. I rather prefer to think that English is simply less elegant than Latin-- but now I am rambling.
I have a Latin textbook I picked up for reference somewhere along the way. I will endeavor to explain it. Aw heck, I'll just quote it. It's only a page or so and it's quite clear. Here goes:
This construrtion (absolute here means independent), in its simplest form involves a noun or pronoun and a participle which are both in the ablative case and which stand apart from (i.e., are grammatically independent of) the rest of the sentence; naturally there is a connection in sense as otherwise there would be no point in putting the two together. We have an absolute construction (the nominative absolute) in English. Although it is a little clumsy, we can say:
The enemy having been conquered, Hannibal arrived at Carthage.
In Latin this becomes:
Hoste victo Hannibal Karthaginem advenit.
It is important that the subject of the ablative absolute (here hoste) is not referred to in the rest of the sentence. We should not say:
Hoste victo Hannibal eum interfecti. (lit. The enemy having been conquered Hannbal killed him -- i.e., someone else)
if we mean that Hannibal both conquered and killed his enemy (i.e., if hoste and eum refer to the same person); the ablative absolute would not be truly absolute and grammatically detached from the rest of the sentence. We express this as:
Hannibal hostem victum interfecit. (lit. Hannibal killed the conquered enemy).
The ablative absolute has the same rules about tenses and implied agents (with a perfect participle) as other uses of participles.
An ablative absolute can be expanded with words that qualify its subject or participle, but the two basic elements (noun/pronoun + participle) are always present, except in one particular type.
Non sum qualis eram consule Planco. I am not as I was,
Plancus [being] consul, i.e., when Plancus was consul.
Latin does not have a present participle of the verb sum. Consequently when we want an ablative absolute of the type Darius being king (i.e., when Darius was, is, or will be king, according to the tense of the finite verb) we simply put Darius and rex into the ablative, viz Dario rege. The second element can also be an adjective:
Tranquillo mari, a Graecia domum veniemus. The sea being calm (i.e., when the sea is calm), we shall come home from Greece.
Note: The ablative absolute could here be seen as giving a reason and translated by since the sea is calm, or as stating a condition and translated by if the sea is calm. Our choice would depend on a broader context.
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