The Highbrow Struggles of Translating Modern Children’s Books Into Latin

According to conventional wisdom, Latin is a dead language. But a simple Amazon search shows that it still has a surprisingly active life—not just in medical and law terminology, but also in children’s books.

After serving as the chief language of ancient Rome, and then as the language of scholars and holy men, Latin mostly faded out of modern usage. Even its study is becoming increasingly rare, but there are still some publishers and scholars who are taking modern works, mainly kids’ books, and translating them from modern English into what can best be described as a kind of modern Latin.

From picture books such as Walter the Farting Dog, to longer works such as Winnie the Pooh, and the first two books in the “Harry Potter” series, a wide variety of titles have made the jump to Latin over the years. Children’s books make good candidates for such translation work due to their simplified language and short length, and in turn can give the study of Latin a more contemporary feel. But this doesn’t mean that turning these books into Latin in the first place is any small feat.

Green Eggs and Ham was very difficult,” says Terence Tunberg, who has been teaching Latin for over 30 years. Along with his wife, Jennifer, he has translated a number of children’s books into Latin.

In addition to Green Eggs and Ham (Latin title: Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!), the Tunbergs have also translated Dr. Seuss classics How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi natalem Abrogaverit) and The Cat in the Hat (Cattus Petasatus), as well as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (Arbor Alma).

“[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][They’re] a good teaching tool, there’s no doubt about that. We did not try to write simple Latin,” says Tunberg. “We tried to translate it the best we could given the resources of the Latin language without dumbing it down.”

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