Genesis 1:4

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Genesis 1:4

Postby Anonymous on Fri Jul 16, 2004 3:32 am

Salvete!

A few months ago I had begun a translation of the first chapter of Genesis from the Vulgate. I saw something strange and never really understood why it was the way it was. Chapter 1, verse 4:

4. Viditque Deus lucem quod bona esset, et divisit Deus lucem a tenebris.


The part I'm interested is in bold. It is, I believe, a relative clause of characteristic. "And God saw the light which was good..." would be my translation. I must be unclear on what exactly relative clauses of characteristic are used for, as it would seem to me that "Viditque Deus lucem quod bona erat" would be perfectly fine. Is my knowledge of this subjunctive use faulty, or is there something more sinister going on here...?

Valete,
Anonymous
 

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Fri Jul 16, 2004 12:44 pm

Salve Tite Mari,

"quod bona erat" or even "quod bona fuit" could both be used as well I think. What might explain the subjunctive is that authors often used it to reflect the thoughts of their characters. For example :

Falso queritur genus humanum quod vita brevis sit

The human race unjustly complains that life is short

You could argue that "est" could be used instead of "sit", and it wouldn't be wrong, but with "sit" the author places the complaint with his subject (the genus humanum), the author himself doesn't take part in it.

If there would have been "erat" or "fuit" in your verse, I would translate it as "And God saw the light, which was good", like you said. However, using "esset" I would seek to translate it in a way that displays God's own approvement over it, perhaps something like

"And god saw the light, which he considered good / which he thought was good"

I hope it's a bit clear, it's somewhat tricky to explain in Dutch, let alone in another language.

Vale bene
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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Fri Jul 16, 2004 3:23 pm

I agree with Lupus' explanation. The subjunctive is used to reflect opinion and emotion.

Forgive me for using a modern language instead of Latin to illustrate. In Spanish, one could say either

No creo que has ido [I don't believe that you have gone]

or

No creo que hayas ido [I don't believe that you have gone]

Although the English translation is the same, the latter sentence (in which the relative clause takes the subjunctive) expresses more uncertainty and opinion than the former. It is also considered more elegant.

Likewise, one could say

Que dicha que has ido [How good that you have gone]

or

Que dicha que hayas ido [How good that you have gone]

The latter, again with the relative clause in the subjunctive, expresses greater happiness than the former. Again it is also more elegant.

Remember that sometimes even Cicero put things in the subjunctive without having any recognized grammatical reason to do so. Perhaps it has something to do with the use of the subjunctive being seen as more "educated" or "elegant" as it is today in Spanish. I remember that my Latin teacher referred to such cases (where the subjunctive was used without any discernible reason) as "subjunctive by attraction". I see that the term is still used in advanced texts, viz.

http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/1298.html

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Postby Anonymous on Fri Jul 16, 2004 3:38 pm

Lupe,
Aha! I wonder if that's something that arose post-classical era or if it's sitting buried in my Allen & Greenough just waiting to be found...

Gratias tibi ago,
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Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Sun Jul 18, 2004 12:42 pm

Salve Crispe,

I don't really know much about Latin before or after the Classical period, other than a few general remarks, but the use of the subjunctive I described is a classical feature.

I'm not familiar with the Allen & Greenough, but I found it in my grammar book under "Verba sentiendi followed by quod".

And now that I think about it, this verse isn't really a relative clause (if I interpret this term correctly in Dutch), because then you would have :

Viditque Deus lucem quae bona esset


So I'm convinced that, like in the examples Tergestus gave, there is an added connotation, which both "quod" and "esset" carry.

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