Perfect example of…well, I don’t know what to call this

In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass, we see a neat use of the subjunctive. In Book III.3, when the head of the nightwatchmen is giving his testimony about seeing Lucius supposedly kill three brigands, he uses the subjunctive in a cool way and I guess you could call it something like “the subjunctive of thwarted action” or something. I don’t know what its actual name is, but here you go:

 

Et ipse quidem conscientia tanti facinoris merito permotus statim profugit et in domum quandam praesidio tenebrarum elapsus perpetem noctem delituit. Sed providentia deum, quae nihil impunitum nocentibus permittit, priusquam iste clandestinis itineribus elaberetur, mane praestolatus ad gravissimum iudicii vestri sacramentum eum curavi perducere. (III.3)

My translation

But that one there, being rightly moved by the knowledge of such a crime, immediately fled into some house, having escaped by the protection of the darkness, he hid throughout the whole night. But by the providence of the gods, which allows nothing unpunished to the guilty, before that one could escape along clandestine paths, I, having waited for him in the morning, have arranged to lead him to the most grave case of your court.

 

Because the action never came to fruition, that is, Lucius was not able to escape before he was captured by the nightwatchman, the verb is in the subjunctive.  If anyone knows the actual name of this, please feel free to tell us in the comments.

1 Comment

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One response to “Perfect example of…well, I don’t know what to call this

  1. I don’t know a special name for this use of the subjunctive, but it doesn’t surprise me. It seems to be one of the subjunctive’s main reasons for being, namely to indicate something contrary to fact. Formal French, in its use of the subjunctive after avant ‘before,’ adds the negative ne in front of the verb to emphasize that the action did not actually happen.

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