quo periculosior intervenire nullus poterat


Senior Member
English AE/Ireland
Hello to all! I came across the above clause and at first didn't see any particular problem. It seemed straightforward enough. But the two translations I have available didn't at all agree with my interpretation of it, so now I don't know what to make of it. Here's the sentence in which it's found (in Book XV, Chapter 22 of William of Tyre):

Sinistro igitur eventu, et quo periculosior intervenire nullus poterat, attonitus concutitur exercitus omnis; et pro tanti principis defectu, dolor universas occupat legiones . . .

The reference here is to the death of the Byzantine emperor, John Comnenus, son of Alexius Comnenus. He was out hunting one day and encountered a wild boar. He fitted an arrow to his bow to shoot it. The tip of the arrow was poisoned, and it grazed his hand, whereby the poison got into his bloodstream. The doctors tried various remedies, none of which did any good, so as a last resort they suggested amputating his hand in the hope that the poison had not yet got to the rest of his body. He rejected this proposal as unworthy of an emperor, and thus died.

Now I myself took "periculosior" and "nullus" as referring to "eventu", and I took "intervenire" to mean "arise, occur". Hence what I read here was "A fateful outcome, more fearful than which none could occur." Or to put it in colloquial terms, "An awful disaster, the worst thing that could have happened."

Yet the English translation I have gives this:

"A sinister occurrence, all the more appalling because there was no possibility of preventing it."

I suppose where she gets "no possibility of preventing it" is from "quo <-> nullus <-> poterat <-> intervenire": "in which no one could intervene". But if this is the case it seems to me that "periculosior" ("more appalling"), referring as it does to "eventu", should be ablative (periculosiore ?). As long as it's nominative, it seems to me it has to refer to "nullus". So I don't know what to make of this interpretation.

As for the French translation I have, it seems to me the man simply decided to take a cigarette break at this point:

"Ce sinistre événement, plus redoutable encore en ces circonstances."

"The more fearful in these circumstances." I simply don't see any connection there with the Latin text.

So I'm not sure what to make of this. I still prefer my own interpretation. I just don't know if it's right. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
  • Scholiast

    Senior Member
    Hail to thee, Novanas, and fellow-enthusiasts all round

    The key to construing this is quo, which is ablative of comparison, 'than which...' (cf. e.g. Gildersleeve/Lodge § 296), and with the remainder of its clause we must understand [eventus], in the nominative, as subject of the relative clause, though not, of course, of the main sentence : 'Through this unpropitious circumstance, than which no more deadly (occurrence) could arise, the entire host was overcome with consternation'. I'm not sure if this squares with the construal Novanas has offered, but in any case I hope it is helpful.

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