Monday, May 19, 2008

Dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati

In English: Dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati. (Mark 2:28)

Like the last two verses which I posted about - stultorum infinitus est numerus and dignus est operarius cibo suo - this verb provides a wonderful example of Latin word order, in which a noun, dominus, and its complement, sabbati, wrap around the entire statement, providing a strong sense of rhetorical completion.

For English speakers, however, this can be very disconcerting. We are used to sentences that are S-V-O, Subject-Verb-Object (or Subject-Linking Verb-Predicate). In this Latin sentence pattern, however, the word order is something quite different.

The first word, dominus, is unambiguously in the nominative, which is great. That means you are dealing either with the subject of the sentence, or with a predicate noun, the "lord" or the "master." The nominative is your best friend in Latin, because it serves only as the subject of a sentence or agrees with the subject.

The next word, est, lets you know that you are dealing with a sentence that is likely to have a subject in the nominative and a noun or adjective phrase that is the predicate, also in the nominative.

Then, with the next word, you get another noun in the nominative, filius. This is great. You know have a complete sentence, dominus est filius, with a verb and a subject and a predicate. Still, the meaning is not complete. This could be "the master is the son" or "the son is the master." So, you need to read onwards to see what else you can learn about the actual meaning of this sentence.

The next word, hominis, is a good clue: coming right after the word filius, you can guess that you are dealing with a common phrase in Biblical language, filius hominis, the "son of man," in other words, Jesus.

The next word is an intensifying adverb, etiam, meaning "even" or "also" (the word et by itself can be adverbial, but the form etiam is unambiguously adverbial; notice that in the Greek it is the simple "and" which is used adverbially: κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου). So far, you don't know what the adverb is modifying (since the phrase "son of man" requires no such modification). So, you read onwards to find out what this adverb modifies.

Then, the final word provides the solution to it all: sabbati, a genitive noun, meaning "of the sabbath." You don't need a genitive noun to go with filius hominis, but you are still waiting for a word to complement dominus, the first word in the sentence. So here, with the last word in the sentence, you get the final complement, wrapping up the sentence into a perfect whole. You have a subject, filius hominis, "the son of man," and a predicate noun phrase which wraps around the subject, dominus etiam sabbati, "master even of the sabbath." The result, in English word order: The son of man is the master even of the sabbath.

The structure of the Latin sentence is doubly baffling to English speakers, given that it begins with the predicate rather than with the subject, and the predicate phrase itself is discontinuous, wrapping all the way around the sentence. Yet the rhetorical effect is very powerful, and is a natural possibility inherent in Latin, where it is the grammatical endings, and not the word order itself, which determines the syntactical relationships among the words.

So, in honor of the wrapped predicate phrase, here is today's verse read out loud:

119. Dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati.

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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