Enter the debunking article
More on the presidents’
The quotation—“HIC IACET PRAESIDUM SUORUMQUE CINERES”—seems
to lack an N in the second word (i.e., “IACENT”).
Even then, the printed translation is odd, as the meaning of these
words in American is “here lie the ashes of the presidents
and their families.” The translation “the presidents
and their ashes” is a logical mistake, but its meaning is
puzzling; in what state but ash do we have the presidents?
plaque has it: an N.
It’s true that the reflexive possessive
(in this case SUORUM) ought to point to the subject of the sentence
(in this case CINERES), but in practice it has other uses. Most
important, the reflexive points to what grammarians call “the
subject of discourse” (i.e., what the speaker or writer considers
most important). The classic example is: SOCRATEM CIVES SUI INTERFECERUNT—“His
(Socrates’) own (fellow) citizens killed Socrates,”
in which the grammatical subject of the sentence is CIVES, while
the object is SOCRATATEM.
Far from being otiose, the -QUE preserves the
fine idiomatic feel of this construction; the SUORUM might be confusing
without it. This is hardly fine-grained philology; anyone accustomed
to reading inscriptions in churches, museums, or libraries is comfortable
with the sort of thing you quote.
It is common for possessives to indicate family
or friends without substantives (we see this in the Romance languages
even today: cf. It. “parliamo con i miei”—“we’re
talking to my family”). This is especially true of the reflexive
(which may also point to “soldiers,” “slaves,”
or anything distinctly one’s own).
Wells S. Hansen, AM’88
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