Pinkster, Harm (1942-) [1990], Latin Syntax and Semantics [info], xii, 320 p.: ill.; 24 cm. [word count] [Pinkster].
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11.3.2 Historic present

The historic present predominantly occurs in predications where a perfect would also have been possible, i.e. in successive, `ended' events and situations. An example is (74):

(74) Caesari cum id nuntiatum esset … maturat ab urbe proficisci et quam maximis potest itineribus in Galliam ulteriorem contendit et ad Genavam pervenit. provinciae toti quam maximum potest militum numerum imperat (`When this had been reported to Caesar, he hurriedly left the city and marched to Gallia ulterior, covering as much distance as possible each day, and reached Genava. He ordered the province as a whole to provide as many soldiers as possible (there was in Gallia ulterior only one legion altogether); he ordered that the bridge near Genava be destroyed', Caes. Gal. 1.7.1–2)

We see in this passage a mixture of explicit past tense forms and present tense forms, so that there can be no doubt as to the location in the past. Note in particular the form nuntiatum esset, which can only be understood as anterior to a moment in the past. The following maturat cannot, therefore, but be interpreted as referring to the past. The actions in the present are successive.

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None of them can sensibly be interpreted as the background to other actions in this text.

It would, however, be incorrect to assume that the historic present can only `replace' the perfect, see example (75):

(75) totis trepidatur castris, atque alius ex alio causam tumultus quaerit (`There was confusion throughout the camp, and one sought from another the cause of the uproar', Caes. Gal. 6.37.6)

Here non-successive actions are concerned. The imperfect is not uncommon in passages of this kind. In, for example, Virgil whole episodes (both foreground and background) are often transposed [37] to the present, e.g. the passage Verg. A. 4.54–90:

(76) his dictis impenso animum flammavit amore
spemque dedit dubiae menti solvitque pudorem. 55

principio delubra adeunt pacemque per aras
exquirunt; mactant lectas de more bidentis
legiferae Cereri Phoeboque patrique Lyaeo,
Iunoni ante omnis, cui vincla iugalia curae.

ipsa tenens dextra pateram pulcherrima Dido 60
candentis vaccae media inter cornua fundit,
aut ante ora deum pinguis spatiatur ad aras,
instauratque diem donis, pecudumque reclusis
pectoribus inhians spirantia consulit exta.

heu, vatum ignarae mentes! quid vota furentem, 65
quid delubra iuvant? est mollis flamma medullas
interea et tacitum vivit sub pectore vulnus.
uritur infelix Dido totaque vagatur
urbe furens, qualis coniecta cerva sagitta,
quam procul incautam nemora inter Cresia fixit 70

pastor agens telis liquitque volatile ferrum
nescius: illa fuga silvas saltusque peragrat
Dictaeos; haeret lateri letalis harundo.
nunc media Aenean secum per moenia ducit
Sidoniasque ostentat opes urbemque paratam, 75

incipit effari mediaque in voce resistit;
nunc eadem labente die convivia quaerit,
Iliacosque iterum demens audire labores
exposcit pendetque iterum narrantis ab ore.
post ubi digressi, lumenque obscura vicissim 80

luna premit suadentque cadentia sidera somnos,
sola domo maeret vacua stratisque relictis
incubat. illum absens absentem auditque videtque.
aut gremio Ascanium genitoris imagine capta
detinet, infandum si fallere possit amorem. 85

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non coeptae adsurgunt turres, non arma iuventus
exercet portusve aut propugnacula bello
tuta parant: pendent opera interrupta minaeque
murorum ingentes aequataque machina caelo.
quam simul ac tali persensit peste teneri … 90

While at the beginning of the passage (which is introduced by forms of the perfect) adeunt and exquirunt must almost be successive, this is not the case with est, vivit, uritur in 66–8.

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Pinkster, Harm (1942-) [1990], Latin Syntax and Semantics [info], xii, 320 p.: ill.; 24 cm. [word count] [Pinkster].
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