A beautiful construct often found in Latin. Essentially, an ablative absolute is a subordinate clause consisting of a subject (noun, substantive adjective) in the ablative case almost always followed by a participle. Although grammatically subordinate (i.e., an ablatve absolute cannot stand on its own as a sentence), its subject is necessarily independent of the main clause. All of that sounds technical, but an example helps clear it up, from Cicero's De Amicitia:

. . . cum ignorante rege uter esset Orestes Pylades Orestem se esse diceret ut pro illo necaretur

When, the king not knowing which (of the two) was Orestes, Pylades said that he was Orestes so that he might die for him.


A beautiful sentiment, but more importantly, a beautiful example of the ablative absolute. As you'll notice, the main clause concerns Pylades and not the king; if the subordinate clause concerned Pylades, it would be handled just using a participle. However, since Cicero is talking about the king--otherwise unmentioned--he uses the ablative absolute. It's that simple, really. Authors and poets tend to use the ablative absolute when they wish to provide context not directly involving the main clause. When translating, try to emphasize the "verbishness" of the participle instead of its "adjectiveness"; you're trying to convey a sense of action just as much as you're trying to convey the subject.

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