acta diurna

hae pulcherrimae effigies et mansurae

Let it Go from Disney’s Frozen



Today (23rd December) is Saturnaaaaaliaaaa! And this year’s Saturnalia song is appropriately cold-themed. Read on for a demonstration of the imaginative power of Latin (I hope) and the continued relevance of Classics, and something like a love letter to history. felicia Saturnalia, everyone :)

Edit March ’14: I’ve been stunned by the response to this song! Thank you so much to everyone who has watched and commented! This translation is very dear to me so I’m so pleased that you like it.

simul ac cupido conspexit lumine virgo regia…

For the First time in Forever from Disney’s Frozen


This is one of the most difficult songs I’ve ever translated… and one of the most ostentatiously Latin. Anna and Elsa are both wonderful characters, and they have both mythological and historical models… Read on for an explanation!

[NB I have many friends on Youtube who are not native English speakers and who are interested in the dubbing process, hence why I’ve described the English from a British speaker’s point of view. I am also aware that my English writing style is quite esoteric, so I have tried to write extremely correctly, and where I have used slang I’ve explained it in square brackets – but I can translate this post into French, Italian or Greek if required!]

videat Dominus et iudicet…

Deliver Us (The Prince of Egypt) – Classical Latin

The choruses are sung in Hebrew (which I am led to understand is Biblical), with Latin subtitles adapted from the Biblia Sacra Vulgata. The dubbed solo parts are translated in more or less my own style, dun dun dun. The pronunciation is classical, and the style leans towards classical.

Read on for the lines from the Vulgate Bible used, and more ramblings about the translation…

Such dim-conceived glories of the brain…

…bring round the heart an indescribable feud. (John Keats)

To explain my pronunciation of Ancient Greek

Way back in 2011 when I made my first Ancient Greek dubbings, I was thoroughly confused by the responses of a few Greek viewers telling me that the pronunciation was wrong. Okay, my singing was terrible (even worse than it is now) and I’d never heard any form of Greek spoken aloud so I was singing with a horribly strong English accent (Liverpudlian, at that – not the most mellifluous of accents), but wrong pronunciation? That was how I’d been taught – and as far as I knew, it was a proper reconstruction.

I then investigated and found that Ancient Greek is studied in Greece with the same pronunciation of Modern Greek, which in several cases is extremely different to the pronunciation that is taught in England. This is often called the ‘Erasmus pronunciation’ after the man who supposedly made it up but that’s a separate thing; what’s taught in England is more properly ‘reconstructed Attic’.

First of all, here is a table of the two pronunciations.

Letter Koine + modern pronunciation Attic pronunciation
Α α A as in at
A as in at
Β β V as in vet
B as in bet
Γ γ Either y as in yet or n as in sing
G as in go
Δ δ Th as in there
D as in dog
Ε ε E as in yellow
E as in yellow
Ζ ζ Z as in zoo
Ds as in suds
Η η Ee as in sweet
E-e (εε) as in heir
Θ θ Th as in thin
T as in top, but more aspirated
Ι ι Ee as in sweet
Ee as in sweet
Κ κ K as in skip (i.e. unaspirated) K as in skip (i.e. unaspirated)
Λ λ L as in long L as in long
Μ μ M as in Mum
M as in Mum
Ν ν N as in now
N as in now
Ξ ξ Ks as in kicks
Ks as in kicks
Ο ο O as in on (but closer to a in are
than o in or)
O as in on (but closer to a in are
than o in or)
Π π P as in spin (i.e. unaspirated)
P as in spin (i.e. unaspirated)
Ρ ρ R as in butter in American English,
or pero in Spanish, or mera in Hindi.
Not quite rolled: try to say the letter ‘L’
while producing a ‘grrrr’ sound with
teeth clenched; then try to reproduce
the sound you make, with mouth open.
As modern. If it begins a word,
as if preceded by ‘h’.
Rolled when doubled in the
middle of a word.
Σ σς Somewhere between s as in soap
and sh as in shop
Somewhere between s as in soap
and sh as in shop
Τ τ T as in stop (i.e. unaspirated)
T as in stop (i.e. unaspirated)
Υ υ Ee as in sweet
U as in French lune or German ü.
Try to say ‘ee’ with rounded lips.
Φ φ F as in father
P as in pin (i.e. aspirated)
Χ χ H as in how
K as in king (i.e. aspirated)
Ψ ψ Ps as in dips
Ps as in dips
Ω ω O-o (οο) as in aural
O-o (οο) as in aural
Hear alphabet read out Hear alphabet read out
αι E as in yellow Ai as in eye, but without the
exaggeratedly rounded -yuh
at the end
ει Ee as in sweet Ay as in tray, but without the
exaggeratedly rounded -yuh,
and closer to ee than ay
οι Ee as in sweet Oi as in toy, but without the
exaggeratedly rounded -yuh,
and closer to ee then o
αυ Av as in have Ow as in loud
ευ Ev as in beverage Ehw – say bell in a Cockney accent
ου U as in hunt (in Northern English) U as in hunt (in Northern English)
γγ Ng as in sing Ng as in sing
γκ G as in go Nk as in ink
μπ B as in boy Mp as in stomp
Hear diphthongs read out Hear diphthongs read out

At the time I used Italian pronunciation on Latin videos, imitating the Catholic Church which is the only entity that still routinely uses Latin, so I figured I should do the same for Greek. (That’s a short summary of a long experimental process.) But after a version of ‘I Won’t Say I’m in Love’ in Latin that used the classical Latin pronunciation, I decided to stick to classical pronunciation for Latin. However, for many of my Modern Greek videos I have continued to interchange between Modern and Classical (Attic) pronunciation and I’d like to explain why that is. This is a longer story than is recounted here, and it’s linked to a wider, more contentious subject, but here are the basic reasons.

1. Modern Greek is a rare language in England. While most advocates of classical study bang on about how useful Latin is for French and Spanish, very few classicists – very few English people full stop, in fact – speak Modern Greek. Likewise, on Youtube, where most members of the multi-language community focus either on a specific film or a specific language family, Modern Greek is terra incognita to most non-Greeks. I decided that I would make Greek a subsidiary niche as far as possible.

2. Most classicists are under the impression that Modern and Ancient Greek are dissimilar if not totally different languages. On the contrary: Ancient Greek is more or less to Modern Greek what Shakespeare’s English is to modern English. I wish to demonstrate this similarity, and altered pronunciation can sometimes mask it.

3. Part of my aim is to present Latin and Greek as spoken languages. Greek was spoken with the current modern pronunciation by the time of the early Roman Empire. It is the way it was spoken at the time the Bible was written. The Greek of the Orthodox Church, ‘Katharevousa’, is almost identical to Ancient Greek and spoken with the modern pronunciation. The ‘Erasmus’ pronunciation is that of 5th century Attic; while this is the period most studied and emulated by British scholars, it is a poor reflection on the history of Greek as a spoken language. (Latin, contrastingly, has so many descendant languages that it’s easiest to use its own pronunciation.)

This is not to say that I consider the Attic pronunciation wrong, and my notes in Modern Greek on videos with Attic pronunciation, pointing out that it’s in Attic, always include a firm assertion that it’s correct. It’s just a different way of doing it that reflects a particular manner of studying Ancient Greek and evokes a particular atmosphere that isn’t always suited to the songs.

4. I want my videos to be accessible to Greeks and for them to be able to understand ‘works of art’ in their own language. Ancient Greek is studied with the modern pronunciation in Greece, where it is compulsory for all secondary (high) school students.

5. The modern pronunciation sounds nicer, especially in my accent.

fidei merces est videre quod credis

Case Study: When You Believe (The Prince of Egypt), and Son of Man (Tarzan), in Classical Latin and Ancient Greek

‘When You Believe’ was requested, too, a long time ago, and despite finding it quite daunting for various reasons I thought I’d give it my best shot in both languages. I approached the two versions in completely different ways. I find this quite hard to explain, but I don’t know if that’s because it’s hard to understand or just because I don’t know how to explain it. The Latin is a translation and adaptation; the Greek is a translation, that’s that. They’re two separate (though closely linked, obviously) skills.

What is the difference between translation and adaptation? Read on

magno murmure montis

My most recent translation for my Youtube channel would have produced several numbered trivia, so I decided to use it for my first ‘Behind the Scenes’ post. The easiest way to do this is to go through the song and explain my thought process behind anything I find interesting. (I find the littlest details interesting, so apologies if this is very involved.)

Sicut Aurae Varia (Colours of the Wind) – Pocahontas

Music by Alan Menken; lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

This song was requested (by whom or when, I can’t remember), but I’ve been avoiding it for three reasons: firstly, I’ve never seen Pocahontas (I don’t like the artwork), secondly, there is a lot of untranslatable wordplay in it, and thirdly I was a little uncomfortable with the subject. I think I’ve dealt with the second and third reasons well enough; I still don’t like the artwork XD. Anyway, here goes.

Read more

saluete omnes!

Hello everyone! I decided to create a blog on here, because I’m always rambling in my Youtube video descriptions and viewers don’t notice the lyrics underneath my numbered trivia about the translation process.

Also, since the publication of this article, which absolutely stunned me (I had my name mentioned in the same context as Pope Benedict XVI! And the title! AAAAHHHH!), my utterly harebrained idea has acquired about 50 new subscribers, and I thought that I should perhaps have something to say to you all. Plus I have more space for my ramblings, of course. And it’ll prompt me to finish the main website.

So, for those of you who don’t know, my name is Olivia. I like Latin. I also like Greek, and there will be Greek on this blog as well, but this is primarily a Latin website. I’ll get to the Greek, eventually. (Isn’t there a film called Get Him to the Greek? I have no idea what it’s about. I hope I haven’t just said something really odd.)

My main claim to fame is my Youtube channel on which I translate Disney songs into Latin and Greek. I’ve been thrilled by the modest but enthusiastic reaction to this. Thank you to all of my subscribers; I really hope you enjoy my videos and that they encourage you to study Latin and Greek.

I’ll explain how the Youtube channel came about on the website, but for now let me clarify that these are translations and lyric adaptations. I don’t just churn out the exact words in Latin (or Greek) and try to fit them in. I adapt the lyrics into Latin/Greek that sounds nice, that makes sense, that fits the rhythm, that rhymes (or is at least assonant, e.g. ‘as’ rhyming with ‘at’ or ‘am’) and above all, that is as Latin/Greek as I can make it. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of translation into any language: you have to decide what the original text means, and think of other ways to express more or less the same thing. Compare ‘the lonely road through the wood’ and ‘the secluded forest path’. Both evoke very similar images but for a lyricist, they’re two different kettles of fish.

One major snag: I cannot sing. I can hold a tune, but that’s about it. I’ve heard worse though, and I’m content with that. After all, I never claimed to be a singer! I’m a translator; and I’ve been lucky to receive comments from several Youtube users who compare foreign dubs of Disney films, complimenting the adaptation! So I’m not unlistenable, at least, if they got that far.

This blog, then, will be about the experience of translating modern songs into Latin, and other similar adventures: my ups and downs as a student, travels, my thoughts on classical-related issues, reviews, etc. It will probably be esoteric in places. My aim is to prompt discussion of Classics in today’s world, encourage classical studies, and find my own niche as a modern classicist.

The title of this blog is sed antiquitas quidem obscura, which means ‘but ancient history is hazy’. I hope I can make a humble contribution to de-mist-ifying it!