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Harry Potter in Latin

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  • talpianna@aol.com
    December 9, 2001 Veni, Vidi, Voldemort By MAUREEN DOWD Op-Ed Columns Archive
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2002
      December 9, 2001

      Veni, Vidi, Voldemort


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      ASHINGTON—My most indelible memory from high school is getting a Coke and
      peanut-butter cheese crackers from the vending machine at lunchtime and
      working on my translation of Julius Caesar's "Commentaries."

      It seemed endless, that eight-year battle for the three-part Gaul, especially
      when you were fighting it one word at a time.

      But the mighty Julius Caesar will meet his match when the mighty Harrius
      Potter arrives in schools.

      J. K. Rowling will publish her first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
      Stone," in Latin and ancient Greek, hoping to inspire children to study those
      two languages, just as she inspired millions of kids to read.

      Now we'll see how good a wizard Harry really is. Can he flick his wand,
      murmur a Latinate spell — "Wingardium Leviosa!" — and raise two languages
      from the dead?

      The London Daily Telegraph reported that Ms. Rowling's British publisher,
      Bloomsbury, has hired Peter Needham, who taught Latin and Greek at Eton for
      30 years, to translate the Latin edition.

      "For the time being I'm calling Harry `Harrius Potter,' " Mr. Needham told
      the Telegraph. "Arrius is a Latin name — there's an Arrius in a Catullus poem
      — and it declines perfectly well so that, for example, we have Harrium
      Potterum. The literal translation of Potter would be Figulus, but I very much
      hope that Potter will survive."

      Ms. Rowling, who studied classics at the University of Exeter, chose names
      with a Latin ring: Lord Voldemort, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy, Albus
      Dumbledore, Nimbus 2000, Sibyll Trelawney. She came up with a Latin motto for
      the Hogwarts School: Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus (Never Tickle a
      Sleeping Dragon). And she alludes to Cerberus and Orpheus with Fluffy, the
      three-headed, music-loving dog that guards the sorcerer's stone, and to
      Proteus with her shape-shifting animagus.

      Latin and Greek have been getting very fashionable lately.

      In America, there's been a dramatic increase in the study of classics in high
      schools and a surge at colleges as well, according to Adam Blistein, the
      executive director of the American Philological Association.

      "Metamorphoses," a play drawn from Ovid's myths, is a hot off-Broadway show
      moving to Broadway.

      Jane Alison, a writer who studied the classics at Princeton, wrote a
      shimmering novel about Ovid called "The Love Artist."

      Gwyneth Paltrow has just signed on to produce "The Secret History," Donna
      Tartt's best-selling debut novel about snobbish classics majors at a Vermont
      college who kill a chicken farmer in a Dionysian rite.

      Charles L. Mee's play "Big Love" is a saucy updating of Aeschylus' "The
      Suppliant Women," in which 50 sisters engaged to marry their 50 cousins make
      a pact to murder their husbands on their wedding night.

      Tom Stoppard's "Invention of Love," about A. E. Housman, the poet and
      classics professor at Cambridge, was a hit on Broadway last spring and
      spurred sales of the Latin love poets Catullus and Ovid.

      The play was cerebral, even by Stoppard standards, and contained palavers
      like this one:

      Pollard: Yes, trochus comes into Ovid, or Horace somewhere, the Satires.

      Housman: The Odes. Sorry. Odes Three, 24, "ludere doctior seu Graeco iubeas
      trocho" — it's where he's saying everything's gone to the dogs. . . .
      Actually, "trochos" is Greek, it's the Greek word for hoop, so when Horace
      uses "Graecus trochus" it's rather like saying "French chapeau."

      But audiences swarmed, and classicists swooned. "When you get into one of
      these plots you are riding in a Cadillac," Dr. Blistein bubbled.

      In pop culture, there was the wildly successful and parodied "Gladiator,"
      which Dr. Blistein dubbed "a guilty pleasure for classicists."

      Latin and Greek reached a nadir in the greedy 80's and 90's, when it seemed
      irrelevant for kids who wanted to grow up to be investment bankers and
      high-tech millionaires.

      But Dr. Blistein said that after Sept. 11, the classics resonated anew, with
      their illuminations on war, tragedy, death, love, philosophy, empire,
      transformation and transfiguration.

      "I coach 8-year-old girls in soccer," he said, "and at a game recently a
      father came up to me and told me he was rereading Seneca on stoicism. I told
      him for me it was Sophocles. When there are big questions and not many
      answers, Sophocles seems to be the man."

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