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.
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)
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)
(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
420. The Ablative Absolute often take the place of a subordinate clause. Thus it may replace:
- A Temporal Clause (§ 541 ff.).
[his] father having been killed
= cum pater interfectus esset
when his father had been killed
recentibus sceleris êius vestīgiīs (Q. C. 7.1.1)
while the traces of the crime were fresh
cf. dum recentia sunt vestīgia
- A Causal Clause (§ 540).
at eī quī Alesiae obsidēbantur praeteritā diē quā auxilia suōrum exspectāverant, cōnsūmptō omnī frūmentō, conciliō coāctō cōnsultābant. (B. G. 7.77)
But those who were under siege at Alesia, since the time, etc., had expired, and their grain had been exhausted, calling a council (see 5 below), consulted together.
cf. cum diēs praeterīsset, etc.
Dārēus, dēspērātā pāce, ad reparandās vīrīs intendit animum (Q. C. 4.6.1)
Darius, since he despaired of peace, devoted his energies to recruiting his forces.
cf. cum pācem dēspērāret
- A Concessive Clause (§ 527).
at eō repūgnante fīēbat (cōnsul), immo vērō eō fīēbat magis, etc. (Mil. 34)
But, though he (Clodius) opposed, he (Milo) was likely to be elected consul; nay, rather, etc.
Turribus excitātīs, tamen hās altitūdō puppium ex barbarīs nāvibus superābat (B. G. 3.14)
Although towers had been built up, still the high sterns of the enemy's ships rose above them.
- A Conditional Clause (§ 521).
Occurrēbat eī, mancam et dēbilem praetūram futūram suam, cōnsule Milōne. (Mil. 25)
It occurred to him that his prœtorship would be maimed and feeble, if Milo were consul.
[sī Milō cōnsul esset]
quā (regiōne) subāctā licēbit dēcurrere in illud mare. (Q. C. 9.3.13)
If this region is subdued, we shall be free to run down into that sea.
quā quidem dētrāctā (Arch. 28)
if this be taken away
- A Clause of Accompanying Circumstance.
Ego haec ā Chrȳsogonō meā sponte, remōtō Sex. Rōsciō, quaerō. (Rosc. Am. 130)
Of my own accord, without reference to Sextus Roscius (Sextus Roscius being put aside), I ask these questions of Chrysogonus.
nec imperante nec sciente nec praesente dominō (Mil. 29)
without their master's giving orders, or knowing it, or being present
Note— As the English nominative absolute is far less common than the Ablative Absolute in Latin, a change of form is generally required in translation. Thus the present participle is oftenest to be rendered in English by a relative clause with when or while, and the perfect passive participle by the perfect active participle. These changes may be seen in the following example.
At illī, intermissō spatiō, imprūdentibus nostrīs atque occupātīs in mūnītiōne castrōrum, subitō sē ex silvīs ēiēcērunt; impetūque in eōs factō quī erant in statiōne prō castrīs conlocātī, ācriter pūgnāvērunt; duābusque missīs subsidiō cohortibus ā Caesare, cum hae (perexiguō intermissō locī spatiō inter sē) cōnstitissent, novō genere pūgnae perterritīs nostrīs, per mediōs audācissimē perrūpērunt sēque inde incolumīs recēpērunt. (B. G. 5.15)
But they, having paused a space, while our men were unaware and busied in fortifying the camp, suddenly threw themselves out of the woods; then, making an attack upon those who were on guard in front of the camp, they fought fiercely; and, though two cohorts had been sent by Cæsar as reinforcements, after these had taken their position (leaving very little space of ground between them), as our men were alarmed by the strange kind of fighting, they dashed most daringly through the midst of them and got off safe.
For the ablative with Prepositions, see § 220.