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I'm reading a book titled 君死にたもう流星群 and translated (on the book itself) as She Was Killed by Shooting Stars; I'm trying to understand the structure of the title, but I'm kinda stumped by たもう.

I found that たもった can mean something like "to do with grace", and it's a classical form equivalent to くださる; the same is said here.

Both of those sources speak about たもうた, though, and while I thought it can simply be the past form of たもう and so means the same thing, I'm not sure how I should read it in the title: the verb is 死ぬ, "to die", not something like "to kill" (as the English title would suggest), so maybe "You died [with grace] due to the shooting stars" or "The shooting stars that made you die [with grace]"? But then, in 君死にたもう is 君 that dies, but since たもう is modifying 流星群 it doesn't really seem to fit something like "You died due to shooting stars", it'd would make more sense with something like 殺す (maybe 君殺したもう流星群, "The shooting stars that killed you"?).

I tried looking also on my grammars, but I found nothing, so while I understand that there is a person that died and shooting stars are somehow involved, I can't put all of this together and understand the title.

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    I don't make sense of the whole title either, but 君死にたもう (死にたまふ) is a well-known phrase. たもう is たまう - a honorific to the subject.
    – sundowner
    Jan 4, 2023 at 0:51

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As pointed out in the comment section, this 君死にたもう is almost certainly from 君死にたもうこと勿れ, the title of Yosano Akiko's famous poem about the cruelty of war (English translation). So one might imagine just by looking at the title that it is about some tragic and unreasonable death.

たもう (給う in kanji; たまふ in classical kana orthography) in this context is a classical-Japanese equivalent of なさる, not くださる. 死にたもう is お死にになる or 死になさる in modern Japanese (although a dedicated honorific verb 亡くなる is the norm in modern standard keigo). That is, this たもう makes the verb honorific, but does not indicate the action is beneficial to the speaker or anyone.

So after removing the keigo, the title is simply 君が死ぬ流星群 in modern Japanese, and this is an adverbial-head realtive clause meaning "meteor shower in/with which you die". Note that the subject of 死ぬ is not 流星群 but 君, and the 流星群 is either the cause or the place of her death. Since English prefers 物主構文, something like "meteor shower that kills you" sounds more natural in English even though the original title has no direct equivalent of "kill". That's why the title ended up "She Was Killed by Shooting Stars" in English.

君(を)殺したもう流星群 is grammatical, but now 流星群 is the subject of the verb (殺す), so this pays respect for the shooting stars. This phrase is nonsense unless this novel is about worshiping the killer shooting stars.

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  • Since you spoke about classical orthography, does just the orthography change, or also the pronunciation? As in, たまふ is pronunced "tamafu"?
    – Mauro
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:20
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    @Mauro It's pronounced たもー regardless of the orthography.
    – naruto
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:21
  • The missing う is a typo, or is pronunced たも and not たもう?
    – Mauro
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:42
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    @Mauro It's たもー, not たも. The bar after も is a long vowel marker.
    – naruto
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:45

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