"Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad"
In this sentence "whom" is used at the beginning where subject is normally placed, but why is it in accusative case? It's should be in the nominative case right? Please explain.
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There are a few things going on here, but the most important one is that
whom the gods would destroy
The relative pronoun has to be in the objective case (i.e. "whom") because within the clause it is the recipient of the action (destroy). "The gods" are the subject of the relative clause, but only within the clause, thus making the pronoun "they" necessary outside of it.
But even so, the relative clause is still the object of the sentence. So we have to dig a little deeper.
So we also have a little bit of poetic license going on, in the ritualized manner of dramatic speech. In the play, Prometheus is warning his brother Epimetheus against accepting the gift of Pandora from the gods.
P: O Epimetheus! Is it then in vain that I have warned thee? Let me now implore. Thou harborest in thy house a dangerous guest.
E: Whom the gods love they honor with such guests.
P: Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.
P is chiding E on his lack of forethought by mocking E's fatuous statement.
Longfellow places the relative clause first for emphasis. He does this in other places:
E: O my brother! Thou drivest me to madness with thy taunts.
P: And me thou drivest to madness with thy follies.
As seen in the ELU question object-subject-verb order, it's a common practice to put the object first for such emphasis.
I find cookie dough ice cream disgusting, but Moose Tracks, I like!
The object of make has been preposed - moved to prenuclear position before the subject. With the object in its default position the sentence would read:
They first make whom the Gods would destroy mad.
Corrected for word order,
The Gods first make whom they would destroy mad.
The object whom they would destroy is a fused relative, that is the relative word whom has the meaning of him who(m) / the person whom. The corresponding main clause being:
The gods would destroy him.
And, for reference, the non-fused relative:
him whom the gods would destroy __
where object him has been moved to prenuclear position followed by relative word whom
There are two further points of interest here. One is that the object is rather heavy compared to the predicative complement mad and so it would sound natural to postpose it, to put it after mad, if it were not preposed:
The Gods first make mad whom they would destroy.
Another thing to note is that using who(m) as a fused relative is pretty rare, which adds a bit of poetic flair to this expression.