Category: Lost in Translation


Permalink 11:26:07 am, by Chris Jones Email , 165 words, 22519 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Fun & Games

Latin tattoo

There’s an interesting thread on Akela’s Latin Forum regarding awful latin tattoos. The one in the picture is particularly terrible, the hilarious result of sticking an English version of Psalms 23:4 into an automated internet translator. Note that the inker added insult to injury by misinterpreting haud as “hand” and misspelling sententia.

All kidding aside, these internet translators are simply worthless for translating into a non-native language. I do use Babelfish occasionally for business–I receive quite a few technical specifications written in languages other than English, and Babelfish allows me to quickly skim a document before a competent translation is produced–but I wouldn’t dream of using it to communicate in a non-native language.

Most Latin message boards are littered with translation requests for tattoos. The trend seems to reinforce the notion that Latin is some inscrutable code or mystic argot, and as I’m more interested in Latin as a real language I usually don’t participate unless the original quote presents an interesting translation problem.


Permalink 10:41:00 am, by Chris Jones Email , 251 words, 5626 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Modern Latin

Quiddam or Alius?

Just spent some brief email-time consulting with a writer who was commenting on Pope Benedict XVi’s encyclical Spe Salvi. A point of grammar/vocabulary from that letter was essential for teasing out a correct theological meaning.



Permalink 05:00:27 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 252 words, 6075 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, News, Lost in Translation, Literature

Divites spoliavit ut pauperibus donet

Pilleo annuam to the LATINTEACH blog for highlighting the discovery of a Medieval Latin reference to Robin Hood. The image above–taken from the Daily Mails’s story about the find–shows what I presume is the text.

I’m no paleographer, but I think I can apply a few principles from scripts I’m more familiar with to decipher what is written there. If you want to give it a try, here are a few tips:

  • m is oten written by placing a line over the previous vowel. Thus the last word of the first line ends in -um, the fourth word in the second line is cum, and the first three letters of the second-to-last word in line two are com-
  • Frequently-used words/phrases have very common abbreviations; thus forms of hic, haec, hoc are abbreviated to h with a line above, and forms of tempus often are written tp plus the appropriate ending.
  • the long s–which looks like a modern script f–is found in documents as late as the U.S. Constitution, and many medieval documents will exhibit the r rotunda.
  • Frequent confusion of (by then) similarly-sounded vowels like ae and e
  • Sometimes, you just have to make a few intelligent guesses



Permalink 12:29:09 am, by Chris Jones Email , 310 words, 3569 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture


In my opinion staging myths from the Metamorphoses has always seemed like something an ambitious Latin teacher could develop with a little coaxing of the high-school drama club. The Fresno State drama department has taken that idea to the next level by augmenting their dramatic production of Ted Hughes’ “Tales from Ovid” with dancers, a natural given the author’s passionate lyric (which Hughes’ excellent 1997 translation preserves). There are time–rare to be sure–when I envy Californians.

No other ancient writer had the cinemagraphic eye for detail that Ovid did; parts of his long his mythological poem read IMO like a modern screenplay. Take these lines from the myth of Echo and Narcissus, the scene featured in the Fresno Bee article. Here Narcissus has admitted his, well, narcissism in a lengthy solilogy, and Ovid punctuates the scene with a familiar visual image:

Dixit et ad faciem rediit male sanus eandem
et lacrimis turbavit aquas, obscuraque moto
reddita forma lacu est; quam cum vidisset abire,
‘Quo refugis? Remane nec me, crudelis, amantem

“He spoke, and unnerved returned to that same face
and stirred the waters with tears, and the reflected image
was obscured by the disturbed pond; when he saw it disappear
‘Where are you going? Stay, cruel one, and do not desert me
your lover!’”

The shot of a pensive or melancholy actor disturbing their own reflection in water (or that of a ghost) now seems a rather common film cliche–here’s an example from the 2004 Oscar winner Return of the King, another from the 1978 musical Grease (speed to the end if you can’t hack Olivia Newton John). I’m not suggesting any deliberate reference to Ovid in these scenes, just that Ovid’s narrative poetry often includes visual details that–2000 years later–match some of the basic grammar of film imagery; IMO he would have made a great director.


Permalink 06:45:08 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 286 words, 7364 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Greek/Latin Medical Terms

This article from the UK version of Business Week talks about how the use of similar-sounding Greek and Latin-based terms (e.g. hyper-/hypo-, inter/intra) may contribute to potential medical errors (I’m surprised no one mentioned the easy-to-mishear ab-/ad-, but perhaps these prefixes don’t come up as often in medical parlance).



Permalink 11:55:20 am, by Chris Jones Email , 95 words, 4287 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Modern Latin

Adepto madidus?

Adepto madidus

I found this picture while reading an article at the New Haven Advocate about binge drinking among US college students. I believe it’s a portion of some Latin doggerel sparked by English rugby fans: Imbibo, adepto madidus, cado super - “I drink, I get drunk, I fall over.” The problem, of course, is with adepto. We might generously claim this is an oddball future imperative, but a more sober guess :) is this should be adipiscor–which isn’t really great Latin itself (my vote is for fio or the more accurate fiam). At haud mihi explicare madidis!


Permalink 10:01:44 am, by Chris Jones Email , 368 words, 3195 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Roman Culture

Money changes everything...

Several ancient authors remark on the obvious etymology of pecunia - “money", from Cicero’s description of ancient Rome’s origins in his De Republica (tunc erat res in pecore et locorum possessionibus, ex quo pecuniosi et locupletes vocabantur - II.16) to Ovid’s more poetic explanation:

cetera luxuriae nondum instrumenta vigebant;
   aut pecus aut latam dives habebat humum
(hinc etiam “locuples", hinc ipsa “pecunia” dicta est);

Fasti V.279-81

Cetera luxuriae…instrumenta refers to more familiar/modern forms of wealth like gold. In olden times, the dives only had pecus or latam…humum (careful…humus, -i is one of those rare feminines of the 2nd declension). Note how the hinc…hinc of the parenthetical final line–with locuples referring back to latam humum and pecunia to pecus–forms a chiasmus, a favorite figure of speech for classical poets in general and Naso in particular.

If you’re wondering about the adjective locuples - “wealthy", the word is more accurately derived from loci plenus–Ovid’s humum is metri gratia. Here is yet another example of how Latin grounds abstract terms in familiar, everyday concepts, many coming straight from nature and agriculture. A quick scan of familiar names provides easy examples: Cicero, Lentulus, and Fabius are related to the words cicer - “chick-pea", lens - “lentil", and faba - “bean"; perhaps each had an ancestor who cultivated these crops. Better yet there is the adjective laetus, -a, -um, a word often used of “lush” plants or “healthy” animals (not to mention the lesser-known noun laetamen - “manure"), while felix, felicis has an obvious cognate with the verb fello, -are - “suckle".

One of my favorite words in this tied-to-agriculture category is the verb deliro, -are - “to rave, be mad” (hence the English words “delirious” and “delirium"). The 2nd century grammarian Velius Longus explains:

Ita sicuti boues, cum se a recto actu operis detorserint, delirare dicuntur, sic qui a recta uia uitae ad prauam declinant, per similitudinem translationis item delirare existimantur. (De Orthographia; GL VII.73)

A raving man then is literally de lira - “off the row” (lira, -ae is the mound of earth between two plowed furrows) . I suppose today we’d say he’s “off his rocker"; perhaps a sign we spend more time today at leisure than our dirt-scratching ancestors…


Permalink 12:18:02 am, by Chris Jones Email , 215 words, 6168 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

A google of recent news articles shows that the quote in the subject line–"Who will guard the guards?"–is still a rather common adage. Two examples can be found in just the past week:



Permalink 09:21:04 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 50 words, 3048 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Education

Roman Missal Translation

If you are a beginner/intermediate and your interest in Latin is due in part to the revival of the traditional Latin Mass, you may find this ambitious grammatical parsing/translation of the rite useful and interesting. Students in particular will appreciate the ALT-text parsing of the words in color.


Permalink 09:19:28 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 211 words, 3245 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Modern Latin, My Own Latin


My wife and I went to the Cubs game last night (they won!). I’ve mentioned before the club has an unofficial Latin motto, so for a bit of fun I had a t-shirt made with the word “FACIENDUMST” (=faciendum est) etched on the back. That’s my translation for “It’s Gonna Happen", a phrase that’s become a fan slogan of late at the Friendly Confines.

I was curious to see if anyone would get it, and to my surprise two different people at the ballpack recognized the word as Latin and asked me about it. I’ll admit it’s a toughie even if you know a litfair bit of the language: The impersonal gerundive is usually a second-year detail, and the aphraesis ending -umst = -um est is something even a fourth-year student might miss (I chose it because it sounded informal like the original’s “Gonna"). One woman whose father weas a Latin teacher wrote it down to share with him at a later date–"He’d get a kick out of it".

I doubt it will catch on (there’s been at least one incorrect translations of the phrase already this year). But it made my night to know it wasn’t a completely worthless effort. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the summer…


Permalink 11:46:56 am, by Chris Jones Email , 106 words, 8739 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, Fun & Games, Modern Latin


Every on-line Latin forum I’ve visited is littered with Latin translation requests for tattoos. Some of the responses are the well-considered product of Latin diligence, while others are not much better than Babelfish. Which category do you think the following lands in:

Poena Par Sapientia

Behold the right forearm of Laredo Broncos’ pitcher John Odom, a professional (minor-league) baseball player who underwent “Tommy John” surgery to save his career in 2005 (see the scar right below the Latin). I wish this fellow all the best in his career, but hope he finds a better translation for his left arm (I think he’s going for Dolor Par Sapientiae - “Pain equals wisdom").


Permalink 09:03:22 am, by Chris Jones Email , 165 words, 2961 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation

The Real Treasure of the Incas

A bit off-topic, but I was fascinated by this article on the Quechan language and its champion Demetrio Túpac Yupanqui He has championed this native Peruvian language mostof his life, and hopes to foster a more than academic interest with his Quechan translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a move roughly equivalent (given the prominence of Spanish in Peru) to Peter Needham’s Latin translations of Harry Potter.

His life story–years spent extolling the “richness and subtlety of Quechan–strikes a chord with the Latinist in me:

Túpac Yupanqui’s eyes still light up when he discusses Quechua grammar and what can be done to make it more resilient, like radio projects and teaching it in schools.

“If Latin is said to be the language of the angels, then Quechua is the language for expressing the subtleties of existence on Earth,” he said. “That is why it is still alive.”

Many Latinists–and the devoted scholars of most languages in fact–would heartily agree, professor…


Permalink 10:50:33 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 366 words, 7122 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature

"Arms and the man I sing..."

Don’t know how I missed this, but the headline is (almost) the first line from Cornell professor Frederick Ahl’s new translation of the Aeneid for Oxford University Press.



Permalink 07:42:34 am, by Chris Jones Email , 145 words, 3344 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Fun & Games

Happy Memorial Day...

…a holiday in the US which is commonly marked by cookouts and parades; best to all.

If you’re looking for a bit of appropriate Latin, how about Cicero’s translation of Simonides’ epitaph to the Spartan dead at Thermopylae (see the movie 300 for vaguely-historic details):

“Dic, hospes Spartae nos te hic vidisse iacentes,
Dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.”
(Tusc. Disp. I.42.101)

Though the source for this epigram (Tusculan Disputation I.42.101) isn’t well-known today, the writers of the film must have studied it closely. Here are the sentences that follow:

Quid ille dux Leonidas dicit? ‘Pergite animo forti, Lacedaemonii, hodie apud inferos fortasse cenabimus.’ Fuit haec gens fortis, dum Lycurgi leges vigebant. E quibus unus, cum Perses hostis in conloquio dixisset glorians: ‘Solem prae iaculorum multitudine et sagittarum non videbitis’, ‘In umbra igitur’ inquit ‘pugnabimus.’

Each of Cicero’s quotes from Leonidas are featured rather prominently in the


Permalink 10:50:07 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 278 words, 6361 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Fun & Games

Interesting Textkit thread

There’s an interesting debate going on over at the Textkit Latin forum regarding the pronunciation of final -m in classical Latin; if you have some time, it’s worth reading thru the analysis.



Permalink 10:46:21 am, by Chris Jones Email , 346 words, 3219 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

More on Prepositions

The “prepositions” are so called because they are usually “placed before” whatever word they take as an object. But as noted in a previous post, the prepositions started their linguistic life as adverbs closely associated with a verb. They only became detatched over time because, e.g., most verbs prefixed with ad would also have an accusative noun in the sentence expressing the limit of motion, and in comparing several such ad- verbs it became natural to associate ad with the accusative case. The association became strong enough that the adverb itself changed its typical position in the sentence, and the preposition was born.

Remnants of the original positioning pop up on occasion in classical prose. All students are familiar with cum becoming an enclitic with pronouns–e.g. mecum, quibuscum, etc.–but other prepositions also show unusual position related to their original status as fixed adverbs. Sticking with ad, Cicero’s De Natura Deorum provides a good example. When the consul Gracchus was presiding over an election, one of the two vote-collectors (rogatores) dropped dead, and given the superstitious nature of the crowd Gracchus ad sentatus rettulit (II.10)

Senatus quos ad soleret, referendum censuit. Haruspices introducti responderunt non fuisse iustum comitiorum rogatorem.

(quos here anticipates Haruspices later, the folks “to whom” the senate was “accustomed” to refer such matters)

Another example comes from Tacitus, where Claudius responds favorably to an embassy from Parthia and orders his govenor in Syria to support the Parthian prince (iuvenum) in a coup (Annales XII.11):

datum posthac C. Cassio, qui Syriae praeerat, deducere iuvenem ripam ad Euphratis.

But it’s of course the poets who take full advantage of this positional ambiguity; the opening of Horace’s ode Lydia, dic, per omnes te deos oro is notorious, and Vergil has an unusual placement in Aeneid VIII.285:

tum Salii ad cantus incensa altaria circum
populeis adsunt evincti tempora ramis

(populeis here are poplar trees).

These are tiny details in the grand scheme of the language, but details are what this blog is all about. If you have any other examples, feel free to comment!


Permalink 01:44:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 500 words, 5628 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar, Education

Putting up with prepositions

Like all four-year-olds, my son makes quite a few grammatical mistakes in his spoken English. One of these that caught my ear the other day involves the use of a preposition with a verb, and illustrated for me something about the Latin relation between prepositions and adverbs.



Permalink 12:00:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 378 words, 3174 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Double Negatives

I got a question from a student this past week regarding nonnumquam, a combination-word that literally means “not never” but is usually translated as “sometimes".

She noted that in English, “not never” would describe an action that happened occasionally but rarely. But this doesn’t seem to be how it is used in Latin. Take a look for example at this passage from Caesar; here the general must use some of his troops to gather food and materials for fortifications, reducing the number of men available to defend the camp. This led to problems (B.G. VII.73):

Ac nonnumquam opera nostra Galli temptare atque eruptionem ex oppido pluribus portis summa vi facere conabantur. Quare ad haec rursus opera addendum Caesar putavit, quo minore numero militum munitiones defendi possent.

Opera here are defensive “works".

If nonnumquam meant something closer to “once in a while” or “not too often", one could argue Caesar is overreacting (later in the passage he details an elaborate series of trenches and staked pits constructed by the soldiers). Clearly the word isn’t simplying denying that something never happened, but is rather saying the event happened repeatedly, or perhaps a shade less frequently than saepe.

I find this heightened double-negative also at play in non nullus, -a, -um (often written as a single word). This combination doesn’t just mean “non-zero", it actually implies quite a bit more than just a few. Cicero, for example, calls out nonnulli senators who didn’t believe (or at least blithely ignored) Catiline’s conspiacy (In Cat. I.30):

Quamquam non nulli sunt in hoc ordine, qui aut ea, quae inminent non videant aut ea, quae vident, dissimulent; qui spem Catilinae mollibus sententiis aluerunt coniurationemque nascentem non credendo corroboraverunt

Throughout the speech Cicero has made the point that the danger is greater than conventional wisdom has thought, so it’s not hard to see why he would use nonnulli here rather than, say, pauci.

The example shows how Latin invests a greater strength in the rhetorical figure of Litotes than perhaps modern English does. It’s something a careful Latin student should file away for future reference. Recognizing the constituent parts of compounds like nonnumquam and non nulli is good, but interpreting the parts like the equivalent English combination can undo that good work. Something to ponder…


Permalink 12:33:20 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 76 words, 3546 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation

Chommoda Dicebat...

It may be crude, but this scene from the FOX comedy “Family Guy” reminded me of this poem from Catullus (classics-related part starts about halfway thru, when the baby Stewie starts talking about “Cool Whip").

The clip oesn’t hav it, but later on a character keeps the joke going by pronouncing the English word “weird” as if it were written “wheird", to which Brian responds “Oh, come on, that doesn’t even have an ‘h’ in it!".


Permalink 09:10:38 am, by Chris Jones Email , 526 words, 5648 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Modern Latin

De Piris Vernantibus

I thought I’d scan around for some poetry appropriate to the spring season, and found some elegant verses by one Massimo Scorsone entitled De piris uernantibus - “The Springtime Pear Trees” (poem opens in new window).



Permalink 11:29:43 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 120 words, 3733 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, My Own Latin

De Anno et Eius Partibus

As I mentioned in a post some weeks ago, I spent some time translating De Anno et Eius Partibus, the 1582 document explaining changes to both the then-current Julian and liturgical calendars that resulted in the Gregorian Calendar.

Although the methods described in the document are well-known–and better explained at the Wikipedia page on the Comptus, I was surprised to find no English translation of this specific document on-line. After getting over some problems with email and finally just typing out most of it from my notes, I’ve posted my translation here.

Feedback is appreciated; at the very least it ought to inspire me to publish more of my own material (that was my original reason for starting this webpage)…


Permalink 12:49:30 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 350 words, 7050 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Roman Culture

The Roman Collegium

A commenter asked the following question regarding my recent post on mortgages in ancient Rome:

can you tell me if Roman law allowed investors in any kind of business association to have their personal liability for acts of the association limited to the extent of their investment? I’m curious as to how far back the concept of limited liability for shareholders goes in human history.



Permalink 09:57:15 am, by Chris Jones Email , 224 words, 3247 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature


…the Ides of March.

There’s been an interesting re-interpretation of Caesar’s last words in recent years. Sorry to burst your bubble, but no ancient historian puts Et tu, Brute in the dictator’s mouth at the time of his death; that phrase was coined by Shakespeare. Suetonius (Caesar 82.2) has the following:

Atque ita tribus et viginti plagis confossus est uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito, etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse: kai su teknon

kai su teknon - “And you, child” is reported only here; Plutarch’s biography has the great man saying nothing, but pulling his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among his assassins.

Now, it’s unlikely Caesar actually said these words, but for the ancients the best historians were not necessarily the most accurate, but the most artful. Some scholars (sorry, can only find it in French) therefore think the phrase is a veiled threat put in by storytellers to foreshadow Brutus’ own violent death. They base this on the fact that (1) it would be unusual for Caesar to speak Greek in this situation, and (2) there was a similar-sounding Greek cliche (reported in Dio Cassius) current at the time: “You too, my son, will have a taste of power.”

An interesting idea, taking the most recognized phrase in English literature regarding betrayal and turning it into a threat…


Permalink 01:37:03 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 192 words, 4844 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Fun & Games

Diffugere Nives...

There realy should be a lex caelorum that forbids Winter from encroaching on the first Spring month of March. Until then, perhaps a few lines from Horace will clear the winter blues (Carmina IV.7.1-4):

Diffugere nives, redeunt iam gramina campis
arboribus comae;
mutat terra vices et decrescentia ripas
flumina praetereunt;

The Asclepiad meter of this poem has always sounded perfect to me (I personally can never remember which is the 1st, 2nd, greater, lesser, or whatever Asclepiad; I just always listen for the long-short-short-long pattern present in all these forms). Note for example how diffugere (= diffugerunt) struggles thru those first three syllables before the last rushes into nives and a natural stop in the line. More striking is how the first four long syllables of et decrescentia lead into the rushed ending -ia, as if the word itself–like the rivers it describes–is “decreasing” or “losing strength". Both instances capture in sound the inexorable idea of ice and snow melting away.

Repeat the lines as you survey the cold that lingers outside your window; perhaps this incantation will, in turn, bid Maia Maiestas and her brood to arrive a little sooner.


Permalink 04:49:43 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 141 words, 3468 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Fun & Games

Latin Loophole

Usually people avoid Latin as a spoken language, but the world-famous Eisteddfod Welsh arts and cultural festival–which normally requires all staged performances to be done in Welsh–allows performers to speak Latin if a setting of the Mass is performed onstage.

This year the cultural festival will include a concert featuring Verdi’s Requiem Mass, which will allow more international singing stars–who may be completely unfamiliar with Welsh but can fake Latin thanks to a familiarity with the Romance languages–to perform at the Eisteddfod this year. Ticket sales are apparently brisk, but there is some backlash.

I just think it’s amusing that the tables are turned, with Latin now apparently the more “relevant” language (in terms of festival attention). I don’t intend that as a slam against Welsh; I’m just a Latinist basking in an unusual turn of events.


Permalink 03:45:51 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 28 words, 2941 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation

Latin in the Park

Dr. Lorna Robinson of Iris fame is on a mission…

Actually it’s a great idea; anything that gets Latin out of a stuffy classroom is OK by me.


Permalink 12:32:07 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 337 words, 4446 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

More on the Bisextile

As if the Roman calendar weren’t confusing enough, my recent post on the Bisextile may have muddied things up a bit more. Let’s clarify, just in case (like I did) you check a reference and find the erroneous claim that the bisextile day is Feb. 25th.

To recap, the “extra day” in a leap year looks like Feb. 29th in our calendar because that date only shows up once every four years. But in a Roman calendar the extra day was tagged a. d. bis VI Kal. Mar.–like “Feb. 29th", a wording that shows up only once every four years. So it’s fair to say that when the Julian calendar was enacted, this was the extra date.

But when, exactly, is that date? It is believed early on that the Romans did not legally consider the bisextile a separate day, but rather a tack-on to the previous a. d. VI Kal. Mar. to make it a long 48-hour day, i.e. the bis - “twice” means “twice as long", not “done twice". This is based on a reading from the text of the 1st century jurist Publius Iuventius Celsus (alas, I can’t find an actual text). In any event, the third century grammarian Censorius (De Die Natali XX) has the following:

Praeterea pro quadrante diei, qui annum verum suppleturus videbatur, instituit, ut peracto quadrienni circuitu dies unus, ubi mensis quondam solebat, post Terminalia intercalaretur, quod nunc bis sextum vocatur.

Ancient sources (e.g. Ovid Fasti 639-684) place the festival of the Terminalia on the 23rd, implying that the actual bisextile day occurred on the day before a. d. VI Kal. Mar. (Feb. 24th in non-leap years) Naturally, many folks today assume an extra a. d. VI Kal. Mar. would occur after the original day, but this, again, is a result of our “count up” thinking about dates.

Confused yet? I know I was…but I’m convinced Feb. 24th is the official bisextile day. One thing’s for sure; we won’t have to worry about it for another four years…


Permalink 01:47:48 am, by Chris Jones Email , 449 words, 7470 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Happy Bisextile!

Most folks know the 365.25-day calendar we use today (more or less; some modifications were made by Pope Gregory in the 16th century) was one of Julius Caesar’s reforms when he became dictator. But they are usually unaware that technically, the February “leap day” Caesar included once every four years was not February 29th, but February 24th. Here’s why.



Permalink 12:01:28 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 305 words, 3750 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, Lost in Translation, My Own Latin

Boring Latin

I’m often asked by folks–usually those who can’t afford a full-priced translation–to translate Latin documents. One I’m working on now is De Anno et Ejus Partibus, an edict from the Ecumenical Council of Trent describing reforms to the calendar; text is from the Roman Missal. Several Latin copies of this document can be found on-line, and certainly the methods described in this document for, say, calculating the date of Easter are well-known. But in my search I was surprised to find no one has posted (maybe even published) an English translation (though the last link above does have a side-by-side German translation).

Someone has asked me to translate it, and while the Latin is pretty straightforward (aside from some odd vocabulary), the text itself is rather dull and repetitive. Take this section describing the “Golden Number cycle” as an example:

Cyclus decennovennalis Aurei numeri est revolutio numeri 19. annorum ab 1. usque ad 19., qua revolutione peracta, iterum ad unitatem reditur. Verbi gratia: anno 1577. numerus cycli decennovennalis, qui dicitur Aureus, est 1., anno sequenti 1578. est 2., et ita deinceps in sequentibus annis, uno semper amplius, usque ad 19., qui Aureus numerus cadet in annum 1595., post quem iterum ad unitatem redeundum est, ita ut anno 1596. Aureus numerus sit rursus 1., et anno 1597. sit 2. etc

The entire document is over-amplified with examples like these; I think it’s enough to say the 19 Golden Numbers cycle once every 19 years. I don’t doubt it was important to spell things like this out in the 16th century, but it sure makes for boring reading now.

I’ll be working on these 20 pages over the coming week, and will likely post my translation to the web so anyone interested in this at a later date doesn’t have to plow thru the same agony. So I don’t know how much posting I’ll be doing in the meantime–duty calls.


Permalink 10:52:13 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 135 words, 2952 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation

Reaction to Good Friday Prayer Revisions

My original post on the prayer changes went thru the Latin and pointed out the call for conversion in Pope Benedict XVI’s new edition. Reaction among Jewish groups has been quite strong; from the Jewish Advocate:

“Alterations of language without change to the 1962 prayer’s conversionary intent amount to cosmetic revisions, while retaining the most troubling aspect for Jews, namely the desire to end the distinctive Jewish way of life,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, in a prepared statement.

I have been unable to find any reaction from the conservative Catholic side–presumably the pope made the changes to appease more conservative groups like the Society of St. Pius X. If anyone knows of any press release from such a group regarding the prayer, please post it in comments, thx:-)


Permalink 02:35:50 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 778 words, 9083 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Fun & Games

V-Day Antidote - Ovid, Amores III.2

Ovid concludes our week of antidotes to the false sentimentality of Valentine’s Day. It’s a tall order, because a lot of Ovid’s love poetry is a comic vision of romance not much removed from modern television sitcoms. But his poems–like sitcoms–were incredibly popular in their age, and it would take a hard cynic to insist there is no room for a playful approach to affairs of the heart.


Permalink 10:17:22 am, by Chris Jones Email , 305 words, 6881 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation

Annuit Coeptis

Reverse Side of Great Seal
The Great Seal of the United States turned 225 this week. The current custodian of the Seal, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, kicked off a touring exhibition on Tuesday to trace the history and evolution of the Seal’s symbolism.



Permalink 08:52:16 am, by Chris Jones Email , 186 words, 3509 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Fun & Games, My Own Latin

Circa Te

When my daughter was an infant, I would sing her the Carpenter’s some Close to You (Youtube videolyrics) as a lullaby. Every night. For close to two years. Needless to say, I had plenty of time to develop a Latin translation:

Cur statim prodiunt aves,
quandoque tu ades?
Sicut me, student esse
circa te.

Cur stellae cadunt de caelis,
quocumque graderis?
Sicut me, student esse
circa te.

Die tui natalis
Angeli contulerunt
Somnium cernentes parere verum;
Tibi pulvis lunae in flavam,
in caesios lux jacta siderum.

Quamobrem quique urbis vir
Undique sequitir (causa homoeoteleuti pretiosi ;) )
Sicut me, student esse
circa te.

When I posted this on the Latin Forum last year, I got quite a bit of feedback on sicut me - “just like me". May posters felt this should be sicut ego, since the comparison is with the nominative subject “they” of student. I’ll agree that’s a better grammatical choice, but I defended the accusative me as a pronoun in opposition with an implied se in the phrase student (se) esse. Perhaps not best, but it preserves the rhythm, rhyme, and “grammaticity” (?) of the original.


Permalink 11:14:21 am, by Chris Jones Email , 297 words, 6209 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Fun & Games

More on States' Mottoes

In Rebus noted the classical origins of the North Carolina state motto Esse quam videri. Quite a few US state mottoes have a classical origin:



Permalink 04:01:47 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 99 words, 3056 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Fun & Games

Ut it tempus

In this article on Love in ancient Rome, Professor Judith Hallet at the University of Maryland offers a Latin translation of a well-known love song from the movies:

Haec sunt memoranda, manent suspiria, basia longius.

Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Et cum amant duo, iterant “Te amo",

Fies certissimus,
Pertinet mos veterrimus, ut it tempus.
Amores, luna, numquam senescent;

Fervida corda semper invident;
Femina virque sese coniungent,
Fies certissimus.

Eadem fabula, amor cum gloria, dulcis et decorus.
Amantes fovet hic mundus, ut it tempus.

You have about four weeks ’til Valentine’s day, if you plan to use it…


Permalink 10:17:35 am, by Chris Jones Email , 265 words, 3390 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Literature

Agrum lustrare sic oportet.

Hat-tip to Transparent Language, where I found an interesting article talking about Roman feelings on the environment.

Confronted with the stunning monuments that survive to this day (aqueducts, roads, etc.) and the Roman reputation for conquest, one might draw the conclusion that the Romans saw nature merely as something to exploit. As the article points out, this is mistaken; the author cites a good passage from Cato’s De Agri Cultura to support the point; I’ll add a well-known passage from Pliny the Younger’s letters (V.6.7) where he describes his estate:

Regionis forma pulcherrima. Imaginare amphitheatrum aliquod immensum, et quale sola rerum natura possit effingere. Lata et diffusa planities montibus cingitur, montes summa sui parte procera nemora et antiqua habent…

(Imaginare is passive imperative (it’s a deponent verb); planities - “plain", a greek loan-word; summa sui parte - “on the highest part of themself” => “on the summits")
Anyone who reads the entire description will no doubt agreee the ancients valued the natural beauty of he land, but let me point out one particular sentence (V.11):

Prata florida et gemmea trifolium aliasque herbas teneras semper et molles et quasi novas alunt. Cuncta enim perennibus rivis nutriuntur; sed ubi aquae plurimum, palus nulla, quia devexa terra, quidquid liquoris accepit nec absorbuit, effundit in Tiberim.

(Trifolium I think is “clover"; take plurimum as an adverb for the implied verb fluunt; palus, -udis (f.) - “swamp", devexa - “sloped".)

Pliny is describing water runoff, and understands the process by which it nourishes and renews his fields. He may not be a modern environmentalist, but he at least understands the natural balance of land management.

Permalink 06:40:00 am, by Chris Jones Email , 89 words, 3072 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation

De summa sella acriter certatur

Since I wrote a brief couplet on the NH primaries, I thought I’d follow up with an article from Ephemeris on the US presidential contest.

The article is a bit old (Comitarium primarium in Michigan heri habebantur; Mitt Romney in parte Republicana vix super Johannem McCain vicit), but fairly easy Latin. I wish there was a better adjective for Barrack Obama than nigricoloris, which is vaguely offensive to English speakers. I also might quibble with the “gerund+object” construction candidatum vincendi, and hebebuntur is certainly a typo for habebuntur.


Permalink 04:31:26 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 111 words, 3097 views   English (US)
Categories: Announcements, News, Lost in Translation

Perennially young classics

This Wall-Street Journal article on the importance of the Aeneid in western culture is a little old, but still worth reading:

Like his hero, Virgil was fated to establish a new empire, in this case a literary one. His excellent modern translators, from John Dryden, at the end of the 17th century, to Robert Fagles, two years ago, have all tried to “English” the original Latin, to represent their poet in a way that does justice to both the past and the present, to the original and to contemporary audiences. Every generation retranslates the masterpieces of the ancient world. Such efforts prove that a classic is something that is perennially young.


Permalink 12:03:01 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 391 words, 6271 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature

Recent Latin - Redeas

The on-line Latin newspaper Ephemeris publishes recent Latin poetry in its Cultura section. One poem caught my eye, and I thought it merited a little discussion:



Permalink 01:03:05 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 445 words, 5499 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Literature

A Good Teaching Idea

Been catching up on some reading over at the Classical Journal, where I came across this interesting article (warning: 220KB pdf) by Latin professor Rebecca Harrington. It describes a method to structurally arrange Latin texts as an aid to student comprehension.



Permalink 11:48:17 am, by Chris Jones Email , 467 words, 5490 views   English (US)
Categories: Lost in Translation, Literature, Vocabulary and Grammar

The great con- game

Spe Salvi, the recent Papal encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, contains an interesting passage that relies on a subtle point of Latin vocabulary.



Permalink 09:43:14 am, by Chris Jones Email , 267 words, 5303 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Vocabulary and Grammar

Adam Freedman has an op-ed in Sunday’s NY Times which hinges on a point of Latin Grammar.



Permalink 11:10:33 am, by Chris Jones Email , 484 words, 11193 views   English (US)
Categories: News, Lost in Translation, Literature

One Statesman Quotes Another

During the 1984 US presidential debates, a reporter asked President Ronald Reagan (who was 73 at the time) whether age was a barrier to the office. His amusing reply touches on a bit of the classics:


Qui sciet quae quoque sint modo dicenda, nisi tamen in procinctu paratamque ad omnis casus habuerit eloquentiam, velut clausis thesauris incubabit.

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