Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tom Sawyer in Latin


It has been a long time since I last posted anything. In the meantime, I have noticed that readership is up: six times as many people peer at my postings than did before. Whereas a year ago I averaged about a thousand hits a month, I now average six thousand!

But I’ve been busy—too busy even to notice that the seventh year of this blog went by without so much as a word from me. It isn’t that I have stopped learning Latin. On the contrary, I have been doing other “Latin” things besides reading Horace. 

I decided a year ago, after reading Tom Cotton’s Latin translations of well-known English works such as Wind in the Willows, Animal Farm, and Pride and Prejudice that I would try my own hand at turning English into Latin. 

Translating is a crossword-puzzle-ly thing to do. As in a crossword (where you find a word that means the same thing as the clue given), you must find a Latin word that means the same thing as the English one given. Of course, there is an added twist, a special treat, because translation is not so easy. Unlike crosswording, you’ve got to be creative in translating, and, if you want your translation to be good, you’ve got to be artistic as well. 

So about nine months ago, I decided to translate something into Latin. What I did not know; so I looked around for a famous book with an expired copyright.  With so much to choose from, I had a hard time deciding. At last, I settled on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written in 1876. The book is not without its controversy. There is the N-word, but I figured that, since I don’t know of an equivalent in Latin, I decided on the simple word for ‘black’: niger. There are also the attitudes of white folks versus black folks, but I felt that that the artistic merits of the book far out-weighed these attitudes. Besides, I don’t always agree with this: bonum est iniurias oblivisci. In this case it is wise to remember past injuries, wiser still not to hide them.

How was I able to translate the book? By searching the internet. I would compare what I wrote in Latin with what I could find on the internet. I would put quotes around a phrase and, if I was lucky, I would find countless examples in the many books on the internet and then and only then would I know that my Latin passed muster. I also searched for English words I wanted in books such as Treasure Island or Alice in Wonderland and located those words in their Latin translations. For instance, if I needed the expression ‘stifling hot,’ I looked for it until I found it. As it happens the expression occurs in Treasure Island, and thus I could find it in Avellanus’ Insula Thesauraria as aestu ad suffocationem. I also made use of the many English translations of major classical works in Latin. If I needed ‘one of the company of thieves,’ I searched until I found an equivalent. Luckily in Apuleius’ The Golden Ass I found: quidem de numero latronum. Of course, this method of translating is slow going, but so is doing a crossword puzzle—until you get the hang of it. In some instances, I was able to use the knowledge I gained from reading Horace. I found that his illacrimabilis was a perfect fit for Mark Twain’s ‘unfeeling world,’ which I translated as mundum illacrimabilem. Hardest of all, were 19th century words that didn’t exist in classical Latin. For these, I searched the Latin Wikipedia and trusted that what I found was a good neologism. In short, it is only thanks to the internet and the countless individuals and organizations that have made Latin books freely available—and searchable—from my home computer that I was able to do what I did.

All in all, translating Tom Sawyer has been rewarding. It gave me an insight into Mark Twain’s genius as a story teller. It forced me to take English thoughts and smooth and shape them into Latin. Here is what I wrote in the introduction to my translation. 


Here is the first chapter with an illustration I did. (In fact, part of my reason for choosing Tom Sawyer was that I had definite images in my head that I wanted to turn into illustrations.)












If you would like to purchase a copy, please go to Amazon.com. The price is $12. 


You might find reading Pericla Thomae Sawyer a fun thing to do. You might even find mistakes and, shall we say, infelicities—which I would definitely like to hear about, especially since this book, which is print-on-demand, can be easily corrected. Update Jan. 15, 2017: dative nullo corrected to nulli and the imperfect stem  nequeba- corrected to nequiba-.

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