Early Latin and late Latin

Michèle FRUYT

University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris 4)



8. The syntax of the infinitive

We may also suppose a syntactic continuity in the use of the infinitive of purpose (final infinitive) with a prospective semantic value, attested in early and late (Hoppe 1985: 90-91) Latin with syntactic constraints, but very seldom in classical Latin. This prospective meaning is inherited from the origin of Latin present infinitives (amāre, amārī; legere, legī), that had been grammaticalised from verbal nouns frozen in the dative (*-ei > -ī) and locative case (*-i > -e; Fruyt 1996).

As a complement of a motion verb, this purpose infinitive is in competition with the directive supine in –tum, whose origin is the grammaticalisation of a directive accusative of a –tus (gen. sg. –tūs M.) verbal noun (from PIE *-tu-). Instead of this supine, Plautus may use the purpose infinitive:

  • Pl. Bac. 631:
    uenerat aurum petere.
    ‘he had come in order to get some gold’.
  • Pl. Bac. 354:
    ibit aurum arcessere.
    ‘he will go and fetch the gold.’

Although this construction is not documented in Sallust, Caesar, Cicero or Livy, it is well attested in late Latin. In the following examples, we present a French translation along with the English since the Latin prospective construction is faithfully continued in French by the preposition pour governing an active infinitive:

  • Tert. Carn. 6,5:
    non uenerant mori, ideo nec nasci
    .
    ‘(les anges) n’étaient pas venus pour mourir et par conséquent pas non plus pour naître.’
    (translation J.-P. Mahé, Paris: Cerf, collection Sources chrétiennes n°216).
    ‘They (the angels) had not come in order to die and therefore also not in order to be born.

This must have been productive in the spoken language in the late period of Antiquity since it is still represented in some Romance languages: Fr. il vient voir ce qui se passe.

The prospective infinitive is also attested when governed by dare ‘give’ in early Latin:

  • Pl. Per. 821:
    Circumfer mulsum, bibere da usque plenis cantharis.
    ‘Give (something) to drink.
    Fr. ‘Verse à la ronde le vin miellé, donne à boire, sans te lasser, à pleines coupes.’
    (Translation A. Ernout, Paris, Belles Lettres, CUF)

and in late Latin:

  • Tert. Test. anim. 5,2:
    … quae deus suis dedit nosse.

    ‘…what God gave to his people to know.
    Fr. ‘… ce que Dieu donna aux siens à connaître.’

Other verbs denotating the transfer of something also use this construction (mandare, praebere, trader, etc.) as well as verbs denotating order or volition (certare, dare operam). This construction must have been usual in everyday spoken language since it is still represented in some Romance languages: Fr. il donne à boire aux animaux.

The same prospective infinitive may be found as a complement of an adjective in a lexically conditioned context with adjectives meaning ‘able to’, ‘wanting’, ‘easy / difficult to’ (cupidus, capāx, dignus, idōneus, ualidus, facilis, difficilis). In the classical authors, we find this infinitive only in one passage in Virgil, but it is well documented in late Latin:

  • Cypr. Patient. 6, 117:
    inimicum tantum uicisse contentus.
    Fr. ‘ … se contentant d’avoir vaincu l’ennemi.’
  • Tert. Bapt. 4,1:
    spiritalem (materiam) et penetrare et insidere facilem.
    Fr. ‘un matériau spirituel facile à pénétrer et à assiéger.
  • Tert. adv. Marc. 2,4,3:
    (deus) bonus et dicere et facere.
    Fr. ‘…un Dieu bon pour dire et faire.’

The prospective infinitive had probably been in constant use during the classical period in some low diastratic variants. In this construction, Latin is a link in the diachronic chain from inherited data, with cognates in other Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit, Germanic and Lithuanian.

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