I like to read in Latin every day, just to keep my translation skills warmed up. But reading Cicero for the hundereth time gets excessively dull (he’s all war and traitors and policy and morality all the time). So lately I’ve been reading translations of modern stories. Currently it’s Winnie-the-Pooh (as Winnie Ille Pu).
One of my favourite things about reading modern books in Latin is the way that idioms get translated. So one of Pooh’s favourite expressions, ‘you never can tell with bees’ gets rendered ‘de apibus semper dubitandum est’ (8) — literally, ‘concerning bees it is always doubtful’.
Often words post-date classical Latin vocabulary. It’s fascinating the way translators have to use existing vocabulary to convey the sense of something for which their isn’t a Latin word. So, for example, ‘balloon’ in Lenard’s translation of the Milne story is indicated with the word ‘folliculum’, which literally means a ‘small bag’ or an ‘eggshell’.
Other times, especially with books like Winnie-the-Pooh, I find myself looking up words that don’t exist in the dictionary because they’re Latin renderings of nonsense words. I spent a long time looking up the word ‘vusillus’ before realising it’s Lenard’s translation of ‘Woozle’ — a creature made up in Pooh’s imagination.
Anyway, it’s far more fun than Cicero.
9 January 2015
Milne, A.A. Winnie Ille Pu. Trans. Alexander Lenard. Illus. E.H. Shepherd. London: Penguin, 1991.
Littlejohn, Joyce (ed.). Collines Latin Dictionary. 2nd Edn. Glasgow: HarperCollins, 1996.