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Latin 112/113: The Dative Case
For further discussion, see Reading Latin unit 3D (grammar section 88).
- The dative case is in some ways the most abstract of the cases and one of the hardest for English speakers to conceptualize. In general, the dative indicates a person or thing who is somehow interested in or affected by the action in some immediate way.
- Consistently, the dative will be translated via the English "to" or "for."
- The most concrete (and most common) use of the dative is to indicate the indirect object.
- He gave the pot to Euclio. (Here, "he" is the subject and "pot" is the direct object; "to Euclio" indicates the person in whose interest the action was conducted.)
- Warning: English speakers, hearing the word "to," will immediately make an association with the idea of motion. But motion toward something, as we have seen, is the province of the accusative case: the dative is never used to indicate the goal of motion except in poetic texts (and even there it doesn't literally indicate motion but rather implies it). In Latin, the sentence in the above example indicates that the action was undertaken in Euclio's interest or to his advantage or in some way that affected him. The best way to illustrate this is to consider some other examples:
- He took the pot from Euclio. (Here, "from Euclio" would again be in the dative in Latin, indicating that the action immediately concerned Euclio, this time to his disadvantage. As we have seen, if the Roman speaker wanted to say literally that the person removed the pot from Euclio's vicinity, he/she would employ the ablative case.)
- This is difficult for me (i.e., so far as I am concerned).
- He seemed to me to be a fool.
- The most abstract use of the dative is the so-called ethical dative, which indicates that the statement is offered for someone's consideration (often, but not always, with an implication of irony or indignation) or as something that concerns him/her. Modern English readers would perhaps be most likely to run into this dative in the works of Shakespeare or other Elizabethan authors. [FN 1]
- I am not yet of Percy's mind, the Hotspur of the North; he that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, 'Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.' (I Henry IV II.iv.113-15)
- I was sent to deliver him as a present to Mistress Silvia from my master; and I came no sooner into the dining-chamber, but he steps me to her trencher and steals her capon's leg. ... He thrusts me himself into the company of three or four gentleman-like dogs under the Duke's table; he had not been there, bless the mark, a pissing while but all the chamber smelt him. 'Out with the dog' says one; 'What cur is that?' says another; 'Whip him out' says the third; 'Hang him up' says the Duke. I, having been acquainted with the smell before, knew it was Crab, and goes me to the fellow that whips the dogs. ... He makes me no more ado, but whips me out of the chamber. (Two Gentlemen of Verona IV.iv)
- LENNOX. Sent he to Macduff?
LORD. He did, and with an absolute "Sir, not I," the cloudy messenger turns me his back, and hums, as who should say, "You'll rue the time that clogs me with this answer." (Hamlet III.vi)
- But this new governor awakes me all the enrolled penalties which have, like unscour'd armour, hung by th' wall so long that nineteen zodiacs have gone round and none of them been worn. (Measure for Measure I.ii)
- at tibi repente venit ad me Caninius. ["But — I tell you!/Can you believe it?! — Caninius suddenly came to me!"]
- Some useful examples of the dative in various contexts:
hoc tibi dat / dicit.
She gives / says this to you. [indirect object]
tune vis mihi custos bona esse?
Are you willing to be a reliable guardian (i.e., of my gold) for me? [dat. of advantage]
hoc tibi aufert.
He is taking this from you. [dat. of disadvantage]
tibi supplico / credo.
I beg / trust you. (Lit. "I bend my knee to you" / "I am trusting so far as you are concerned") [dat. with intransitive verb ]
hoc mihi difficile est.
This is difficult for me / so far as I am concerned. [dat. of reference]
hoc mihi optimum videtur.
This seems best to me. [dat. of reference]
est mihi unguentum.
I have ointment. (Lit. "there exists ointment, so far as I am concerned") [dat. of possession]
aurum mihi e fano aufert.
He is taking my gold from the shrine. / He is taking the gold from the shrine, I tell you! [so-called sympathetic dat. — RL 88.2]
oculi mihi splendent.
My eyes are shining. [so-called sympathetic dat. — RL 88.2]
quod mihi Celsus agit?
What, I ask you, is Celsus up to? / Just what is Celsus up to? [ethical dat.]
quid tibi vis?
Just what do you want? (Lit. "what do you want for yourself?") [ethical dat.]
[FN 1] See P.J. Gillett, "Me, U, and Non-U: Class Connotations of Two Shakespearean Idioms," Shakespeare Quarterly 25.3 (Summer, 1974) 297-309. [Return to text]
These pages were designed by John Porter.
Last Modified: Monday, 03-Nov-2008 21:53:39 CST
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