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Allen and Greenough/ New Latin Grammar

Ablative Absolute

419. A noun or pronoun, with a participle in agreement, may be put in the Ablative to define the time or circumstances of an action. This construction is called the Ablative Absolute:— 1

Caesar, acceptīs litterīs, nūntium mittit (B. G. 5.46), having received the letter, Cæsar sends a messenger (the letter having been received).

quibus rēbus cōgnitīs Caesar apud mīlitēs cōntiōnātur (B. C. 1.7), having learned this, Cæsar makes a speech to the soldiers.

fugātō omnī equitātū (B. G. 7.68), all the cavalry being put to flight.

interfectō Indūtiomārō (id. 6.2), upon the death of Indutiomarus.

nōndum hieme cōnfectā in fīnīs Nerviōrum contendit (id. 6.3), though the winter was not yet over, he hastened into the territory of the Nervii.

compressī [sunt] cōnātūs nūllō tumultū pūblicē concitātō (Cat. 1.11), the attempts were put down without exciting any general alarm.

nē vōbīs quidem omnibus rē etiam tum probātā (id. 2.4), since at that time the facts were not yet proved even to all of you.

Note— The ablative absolute is an adverbial modifier of the predicate. It is, however, not grammatically dependent on any word in the sentence: hence its name absolute (absolūtus , i.e. free or unconnected). A substantive in the ablative absolute very seldom denotes a person or thing elsewhere mentioned in the same clause.

a. An adjective, or a second noun, may take the place of the participle in the Ablative Absolute construction:— 2

exiguā parte aestātis reliquā (B. G. 4.20), when but a small part of the summer was left (a small part of the summer remaining).

L. Domitiō Ap. Claudiō cōnsulibus (id. 5.1), in the consulship of Lucius Domitius and Appius Claudius (Lucius Domitius and Appius Claudius [being] consuls). [The regular way of expressing a date, see § 424. g. ]

nīl dēspērandum Teucrō duce et auspice Teucrō (Hor. Od. 1.7.27), there should be no despair under Teucer's leadership and auspices (Teucer being leader, etc.).

b. A phrase or clause, used substantively, sometimes occurs as ablative absolute with a participle or an adjective:—

incertō quid peterent (Liv. 28.36), as it was uncertain what they should aim at (it being uncertain, etc.).

compertō vānum esse formīdinem (Tac. Ann. 1.66), when it was found that the alarm was groundless.

cūr praetereātur dēmōnstrātō> (Inv. 2.34), when the reason for omitting it has been explained (why it is passed by being explained).

Note— This construction is very rare except in later Latin.

c. A participle or an adjective is sometimes used adverbially in the ablative absolute without a substantive:—

cōnsultō (Off. 1.27), on purpose (the matter having been deliberated on).

mihi optātō vēneris (Att. 13.28.3) , you will come in accordance with my wish.

serēnō (Liv. 31.12), under a clear sky (it [being] clear).

nec auspicātō nec lītātō (id. 5.38), with no auspices or favorable sacrifice.

tranquillō, ut âiunt, quīlibet gubernātor est (Sen. Ep. 85.34), in good weather, as they say, any man's a pilot.

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The Ablative Absolute is perhaps of instrumental origin. It is, however, sometimes explained as an outgrowth of the locative , and in any event certain locative constructions (of place and time ) must have contributed to its development.
The present participle of esse , wanting in Latin (§ 170 . b ), is used in Sanskrit and Greek as in English.