why so serius? / by Anthony Gibbins

Way back on December 4, I published a post on the Three Degrees of an Adjective; Positive - happy, Comparative – happier, and Superlative – happiest. I also hinted that those same Three Degrees could be found among Adverbs. Well, the time has come to explore that a little further.

Let’s begin with the Adverb sero late. sero is the Adverb in its Positive Degree. Miranda sero advenit Miranda arrived late. The Comparative form of sero is serius later. Miranda serius quam Jessica advenit Miranda arrived later than Jessica. quam, of course, here means than. The Superlative form of sero is serissime very late or latest. Miranda serissime advenit Miranda arrived very late or Miranda arrived latest. And, just as with a Superlative Adjective, quam can be used with a Superlative Adverb as such; Miranda quam serissime advenit Miranda arrived as late as possible.

So what does it mean to simply say Miranda serius advenit, without any point of comparison? Let’s look to the literature. In Book IV of the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells the tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, two young lovers whose union has been forbidden by their fathers. They decide to leave their homes and sneak out to the edge of town to meet there in the shadows. Thisbe, arriving first, encounters a lion and sneaks into a cave. Pyramus arrives to see only the lion’s vestigia footprints and fears the worst. Why does he arrive after his love?

serius egressus, vestigia vidit in alto

pulvere certa ferae, totoque expalluit ore

Pyramus.                                                                                               lines 105-107

The answer can be found in serius egressus. egressus, which describes Pyramus, means having set out. serius could be understood to mean later, with quam Thisbe understood. But what seems more likely is that serius is too be understood in absolute terms, i.e. too late. Pyramus, tragically, set out too late.

With Jessica climbing [Ablative Absolute], Miranda arrived too late. She looked around and examined the area but she found no one. Alas!*

*Does anyone actually say alas anymore? Perhaps I need a new translation for eheu! Thoughts?