Monday, April 28, 2008

Verse: Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei?

In English: Why are you afraid, you people of moderate faith? (Matt. 8:26)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I'm going to be focusing these posts for the next few months on grammar topics and how those can be explored through Bible verses and other Latin sayings. One very important grammar dilemma that students of Latin face is learning how to ask and answer questions in Latin. Like the previous verse I blogged about here, this verse was chosen for the way it asks a question, this time using the word quid.

Of course, quid is a familiar question word, used to ask "what?" - just as the corresponding form quis is used to ask "who?" As you can see in this question, however, the word quid is used to ask "(for) what (reason)?" or, more simply in English, "why?" The Greek verse also uses the same construction, with the Greek interrogative pronoun, τί: τί δειλοί ἐστε, ὀλιγόπιστοι;

It's very important to recognize the use of quid to mean "why?" as it is a quite common construction, although you can only determine from context that you are dealing with a "why" question rather than a "what" question. Remember that quid can be either nominative or accusative case. So, if the verb in the question is in need of a subject, or if it is need of an object, then you are probably dealing with a "what" question, but if the verb does not need a subject or an object, then you are probably dealing with a "why" question, as is the case in this verse.

There's an interesting comparison here between the Greek and Latin versions. Greek has a ready-made adjective for someone who has little faith. They are ὀλιγόπιστοι, "small-faithed." In Latin, there is not a similar compound word, so you find a noun phrase used predicatively here: modicae fidei. This is a genitive noun phrase which has a descriptive purpose, much like the "of" phrases in English we use to describe someone or something (someone "of sound mind and body" or someone "of good character," for example, or something "of exceptional value").

It's also worth pointing out that the Latin does not exactly say of "little" faith, as the Greek does, but rather "limited" faith, modicus. You probably know the English word "modicum," which is adopted into English directly from this Latin adjective. A modicum is a moderate amount of something... but definitely tending towards the small end of the scale. The same here is true of the modicae fidei in Latin. The adjective modicus means "moderate" or "restrained," and thus tends towards the small end of the scale. To tell the truth, I prefer the way that it works here in Latin than in the Greek or the usual English translation, "little faith." With the phrase modicae fidei, it's as if your faith is waiting to burst those limits - it's not that your faith is small, but simply that it has been reined in by moderation. If only you would let go, it would expand to fill a much larger spiritual space!

So, with thoughts of immoderately large amounts of faith and hope, here is today's proverb read out loud:

265. Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei?

The number here is the number for this proverb in Vulgate Verses: 4000 Sayings from the Bible for Teachers and Students of Latin.

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