Sunday, December 3, 2017


Paolo Poccetti (ed.), 'Oratio obliqua': Strategies of Reported Speech in Ancient Languages. Ricerche sulle lingue di frammentaria attestazione 9. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2017. Pp. 176. ISBN 9788862278898. €54.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Audrey Mathys, Pensionnaire de la Fondation Thiers et du CNRS (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume originated in a conference held on the occasion of the XVIIth Conference of Latin Linguistics at Rome in May 2015. It comprises 10 essays on reported speech and the notion of oratio obliqua in the classical languages. Although most studies focus on a specific aspect of the syntax of reported speech in Latin or in Greek, there are more general studies on indirect speech and on the term obliquus; and a number of papers also take into account data from other languages, either to compare them with the classical languages or to discuss translation strategies concerning reported speech. Thus, the book presents a wide range of levels of analysis and gives an interesting picture of the current discussions on oratio obliqua in classical studies.

After a brief foreword (9), the volume begins with a long introduction by Calboli (11-39). In a rather confused and allusive discussion, Calboli addresses several theoretical problems (role of mood distinctions and complementizers in indirect speech, opaque vs. transparent reading, indirect reflexivity). He then proceeds to summarize the other papers of the collection.

Fruyt (41-59) and Joffre (61-69) both discuss the status of ipse in reported speech in classical Latin. Fruyt convincingly shows that, contrary to what is sometimes stated in the grammars, the use of ipse in the works of Curtius does not yet reflect a replacement of se by ipse in indirect reflexive or logophoric contexts. Whether in the nominative, where the reflexive pronoun is defective, or in the other cases, where ipse and se coexist, it is always possible to explain the use of ipse to refer to the subject of the main clause by its status as an intensifier. Fruyt further argues that Caesar's uses of ipse in indirect speech are consistent with her conclusions.

Joffre focuses on the transposition of the second person in indirect speech in Caesar's works. She shows that both is and ipse can be used in these contexts. Although ipse seems more frequent in indirect speech than in direct speech, it can be used to refer to any person, and its referent can vary within the same sentence. Therefore, the choice between ipse, is, and zero anaphora in indirect speech does not depend on the referent of the personal pronouns they transpose, but reflects enunciative and pragmatic parameters comparable to the factors determining the use of personal pronouns and other emphatic or contrastive devices in direct speech.

Moonens' (71-75) and Orlandini and Pocetti's (77-85) contributions both deal with the transposition of subordinate clauses in reported speech.

In a seminal paper in 1994, Orlandini argued that some structures displaying subordinating conjunctions are not subordinate clauses in Latin, as shown by their behavior in indirect speech: whereas the verbs of proper subordinate clauses are transposed into the subjunctive mood in indirect speech, the structures where the conjunctions do not have subordinating value generally behave as Accusativus cum Infinitivo (AcI). 1 This is especially visible with connecting relative pronouns, which are generally followed by AcI's (e.g. quod idem fecisse Gorgiam "and Gorgias had done the same thing" Cic. Brut 12.46), in contrast with relative clauses introduced by the same pronouns. In their remarkable paper here, Orlandini and Pocetti provide a number of examples with a variety of conjunctions (e.g. cum …, tum, ut …, ita, quemadmodum …, sic, etc.) to back up this claim.

Moonens explores the argumentative value of the use of the infinitive mood in indirect questions where the subject of the main clause is coreferent with the principal enunciator of the text. According to Moonens, since the infinitive can encode objective epistemic modality in indirect questions, the choice of the infinitive over the subjunctive can sometimes be justified by a need to appeal to authority. This idea is very interesting; however, it would benefit from more evidence.

The peculiarities of Late Latin reported speech are addressed in two excellent papers, from Bodelot (87-94), on indirect speech in Fredegar's Chronicles, and from Sznajder (97-111), about Biblical Latin. Bodelot systematically compares the features of reported speech in Fredegar's Chronicles with classical Latin and lists a series of differences: omission of the accusative subject coreferent with the subject of the main clause in AcI's, alterations in the tense system, generalization of complement clauses introduced by quod and quasi, hybrid structures of different types (AcI's and complement clauses with conjunctions, conflicting use of moods and persons in semi-indirect speech). Among the most interesting aspects of reported speech in Fredegar is the fact the direct and indirect speech are often intertwined, with indirect speech following direct speech without very clear delimitations. However, the question arises whether the systematic comparison with classical Latin is the most suitable approach to Fredegar's syntax. I believe it might be worthwhile to describe Fredegar's syntax per se, taking into account the role of language contact as much as possible, since some of the features of reported speech described by Bodelot, especially in regard to the boundaries between direct and indirect speech, are reminiscent of the characteristics of reported speech in later ancient Germanic narrative prose, as exemplified by the "slipping" instances of Old English prose or by the much later Old Norse sagas.

Sznajder's paper is particularly interesting in that the author systematically compares the Latin text of the different versions of the Bible to the Greek and Hebrew originals. She focuses on hybrid constructions comprising both a conjunction introducing indirect speech and the enunciative marks of direct speech. The remarkable point is that these constructions, which appear first in Biblical Latin and are found only with verba dicendi, are only used in translations from Greek, whereas they are avoided when the source is in Hebrew, which is all the more noteworthy as Biblical Hebrew seems to have possessed a similar construction. According to Sznajder, this is in line with the fact that Hebraisms in the Vulgate are only calqued when they can be assimilated to a comparable Latin construction belonging to a similar register, whereas we observe less reluctance when it comes to copying Greek constructions without Latin parallels, probably because Greek was felt to be culturally closer to Latin than Hebrew.

In the last contribution about Latin in the volume, Rosén (113-128) describes the evolution of the role of verbal nouns in indirect speech in Irish, from the earliest glosses to contemporary Gaelic, in order to compare the evolution of finite and non-finite complementation in indirect speech in Irish and in Latin. The results are summarized in a table at the end of the paper; the author concludes that Latin and Gaelic pathways diverge in regard to non-finite complementation.

In the only paper devoted solely to Greek in the collection, Shalev (129-152) describes some aspects of indirect speech in classical Greek, focusing on Plato and the dramatic authors, and provides a useful review of the literature on the topic. The first section of the paper deals with contexts where the structural cohesion between the frame and the complement clause is maintained over speaker change, be it through the use of certain verbal forms (infinitive, optativus obliquus), of certain case forms (especially accusative in AcI constructions), or of a complementizer. In sections 2 to 4, Shalev deals with the choice between ὅτι and ὡς in reported speech. Shalev concludes that ὅτι is unmarked, whereas ὡς is used to express "compromised levels of commitment of the narrator/reporter". She underlines the fact that ὡς is frequently used to introduce myths and verbatim quotations. This last point is particularly interesting, since it suggests that the absence of commitment implied by the use of this complementizer does not cover the wording of the reported speech, and only concerns the narrator/reporter's stance towards the content of the reported speech. The discussion is very enlightening; however, the author does not mention notions such as evidentiality or epistemic modality, which might perhaps have given useful insights into the questions at hand. The last section of the paper sheds some light on the ancient theoreticians' understanding of reported speech and seems slightly disconnected from the main argument. However, despite these reservations, Shalev's paper is extremely rich and provides a useful basis for further discussion.

Finally, in a very detailed paper, Liberati (153-168) surveys the uses of Greek πλάγιος and λοξός and Latin obliquus in a metalinguistic sense. Ancient grammarians used terms meaning "oblique" in three types of contexts: about nominal inflexion, for oblique cases; about verbal inflexion, for moods other than the indicative, or even for verbal forms other than the indicative present; and for indirect speech. The author sheds light on the subtle distinctions, in the Greek tradition, between πλάγιος and λοξός, as well as between their antonyms ὀρθός and εὐθύς, and shows special attention to the underlying philosophical principles. She also insists on the role played by the structure of the Romance languages in the evolution of the uses of obliquus in Latin tradition and in modern grammatical theory. An interesting aspect of Liberati's contribution is the differentiation between a strictly grammatical use of "oblique", regarding nominal and verbal morphology, and its stylistic use for indirect speech: in this last case, πλάγιος and λοξός seem to have a negative connotation, which is also perceptible in other uses of these adjectives in ancient Greek literature.

All in all, this is an excellent collection of essays, which offers a broad introduction to current discussions about oratio obliqua in ancient languages, especially Latin, and it is to be hoped that it will stimulate further debate on the topic.

Authors and titles

Foreword (9)
Gualtiero Calboli, "Direct and indirect style and connected rules" (11-39)
Michèle Fruyt, "Les relations entre le réfléchi indirect se et ipse en latin" (41-59)
Marie–Dominique Joffre, "La représentation de l'interlocuteur dans le discours rapporté: la répartition is / ipse" (61-69)
Laurent Moonens, "L'expression des possibles en oratio obliqua: les traces d'un «argument d'autorité» ?" (71-75)
Anna Orlandini, Paolo Poccetti, "Structures pseudo-subordonnées en oratio obliqua" (77-85)
Colette Bodelot, "Particularités du discours indirect chez Frédégaire" (87-94)
Lyliane Sznajder "Quelques réflexions sur des discours hybrides du latin biblique: oratio obliqua ou oratio recta?" (95-111)
Hannah Rosén, "Pathways of complementing verba dicendi and other content-reporting verbs: Irish and Latin." (113-128)
Donna Shalev, "Observations on the application and notion of oratio obliqua in literary classical Greek, with special reference to drama and Plato." (129-152)
Ilaria Liberati, "Per la storia del termine obliquo nella sua accezione metalinguistica: tra tradizione grammaticale antica e uso moderno." (153-168)


1.   Orlandini, A., 1994. "De l'oratio obliqua comme papier tournesol; une analyse pragmatique d'un phénomène de discours indirect en latin: le changement de modes." Indogermanische Forschungen 99, p. 168-189.

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