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…

To cut a long story short, I have completely ridden roughshod over all conventions of Latin composition: for the choruses I adapted the Vulgate Bible, which is not even considered Classical Latin, using classical literary techniques, and the solo parts I translated entirely independently, in my own words.

When You Believe is more traditionally classical, because it’s an anthem with a message that can be applied to other situations. I doubt they would have made any of the three songs I’ve translated this way (Deliver Us, All I Ever Wanted and The Plagues) into a pop track; they’re very specific to the situation, traditional musical numbers. I deliberately avoided anything overly classical in these, although the pronunciation, elision and style are classical.

I wouldn’t say this is Ecclesiastical Latin, but the solos are more spontaneous and the whole thing uses Latin as a language that extended way outside the 1st century BC.


Lines from Exodus used in the choruses (translation is my own)


3:8 descendi ut liberarem eum de manibus Aegyptiorum et educerem de terra illa in terram bonam (I have come down to free [my people] from the hands of the Egyptians, and lead them out of that land into a good land)

3:9 clamor ergo filiorum Israhel venit ad me (the cry of the children of Israel has come to me)

3:13 Deus patrum vestrorum misit me ad vos (the God of your fathers has sent me to you)

3:21 daboque gratiam populo huic coram Aegyptiis (I will give favour to this people, in the sight of the Egyptians)

5:16 en famuli tui flagellis caedimur (look, your servants are beaten with whips)

5:19 videbantque se praepositi filiorum Israhel in malo (the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in evil case)

5:21 fetere fecistis odorem nostrum (you have made our scent reek)

6:6 recordatus sum pacti mei (I have remembered my covenant)

6:7 ego Dominus qui educam vos de ergastulo Aegyptiorum (I am the Lord, who will bring you out of the work-prison of the Egyptians)

6:9 narravit ergo Moses omnia filiis Israhel qui non adquieverunt ei propter angustiam spiritus et opus durissimum (Moses told all this to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to him, because their souls were depressed and their work was extremely toilsome)


If there’s a word in the Latin that isn’t shown above, it is used in the Vulgate Bible because I checked. For example, the words for mud, sand and straw – lutum, sabulum, paleae – are all late words that differ from Classical Latin, which would have faenum, harena, stramentum.

It was very easy to find words that would fit the rhythm – easier than I was expecting – and the only lines that stalled me for a while were the rather crucial ‘There’s a land you promised us’ and ‘Deliver us to the promised land’. The natural Classical Latin is terra promissa but I didn’t come across that expression in Exodus, in which the promise is ‘I will lead you out of here into a good, spacious land,’ and when the verb ‘promise’ came up elsewhere it was polliceor not promitto.

For ‘deliver us to the promised land’ I wrote libera nos in terram nostram (‘deliver us to our land’) which is a paraphrase. It was nigh on impossible to get terram and a verb into the former line, so I put patriam es pollicitus (you promised us a fatherland); this meant that the word patriam, was elided, which I was trying to avoid, but I think the meaning remained clear. patria is actually the only word I didn’t source in the Bible (apart from the verbs at the beginning and the expression in excelsis Domine which is modelled on gloria in excelsis Deo): it is how ‘promised land’ is rendered in the Hebrew dubbing – according to the translation of the Hebrew I read, anyway. Of course, I have no idea what the Hebrew word is, but patriam works fine.


The solo parts

NB the initial Hebrew lines in Yocheved’s part (Yal-di ha-tov…) and the wordless lament after ‘river, deliver him there’ are still Ofra Haza’s voice.

You may notice that there is a repeated stylistic feature in the solo parts, which is that the relative pronoun, preposition or conjunction in almost all cases is relegated to the second word (lapsus ut dormias; onus tam carum quod fers; locum si noscis; salvus quo vivat; solo pro te; tandem qui salves). This was metrically expedient (i.e. it fit better) but it is admittedly also a personal quirk. The promotion has the effect of emphasising the previous word. It’s a classical stylistic feature – Catullus started it, imitating Hellenistic poets, so it’s eastern in origin and therefore not too distant in tone from where this is set.

Reluctantly I had to remove the idea of meeting again from Yocheved’s first part, because it simply wouldn’t fit – too wordy and English – but I tried to link the phrases by putting spem qua tu vives, qua precamur: ‘this hope by which you will live, and by which we pray’. The choice of the indicative future instead of purpose (‘a hope for you to live’) was intended to put more force into it to make up for the prayer being lost. What Yocheved does pray for is ut [Dominus] veniat ut nos liberet (for the Lord to come, to deliver us) which is perhaps, admittedly, a rather Christian way of putting it.

I had a lot of trouble finding something to fit the line ‘sleep and remember my last lullaby’ since the stress is on the last syllable and that doesn’t happen with any Latin noun in the accusative. I was rather pleased with my solution, which was to have the line run into the next: accipe me[um] ultimum cant[um] / ut… This is called ‘hypermetric elision’ (elision is where a vowel or vowel-m is dropped off and becomes silent before a word beginning with a vowel; and hypermetric means the last syllable of the last line is elided before the first syllable of the next line) and it’s extremely rare, and always draws attention to the words. In this case it reflects the meaning very closely: Yocheved wants to remain with Moses in his dreams, in the same way that the sense of the previous line remains to be completed in the next.

The line ‘River, o river, flow gently for me’ was quite tricky, again because of the stresses (marked). I could easily have written ‘flumen o flumen’, which has the same pathetic effect as the English repetition, but that left the second half practically impossible; but then I decided to have the second ‘flumen’ as an interpellation and put flumen, da, flumen mihi auxilium. It’s impossible to convey this in the subtitles as it’s nonsense in English, but this says: ‘River, give, river, me help.’ It’s not the rarest combination of words but I actually thought of it because I recalled singing Rossini’s setting of the Eucharistic hymn O salutaris hostia (words by Thomas Aquinas), which goes da robur, fer auxilium, auxilium (give strength, bring help), with a similar rhythm of ‘auxilium’ to the rhythm it has here. I didn’t write flumen, fer, flumen since the repetition of f is meant to give a harsh effect in Latin.

‘I have a prayer just for you’ is, I think, a very good example of how Latin would word things differently: the Latin means, ‘I pray for the sake of you alone.’ Miriam then sings ‘cresce, fratelle’ (grow, little brother). You may recognise fratelle as the Italian fratello, meaning ‘brother’ (not ‘little brother’). This is very late Latin (as is most of the Vulgate), and the classical word is spoken by the queen – fraterculum. I think the different words reflect the difference between the two speakers quite well.

I faffed about with the words libera nos, at the very end, for quite a while because I couldn’t work out where to put the stress. Properly only the first syllable is long, but there’s no way to get long-short-short into the rhythm of ‘deliver us’, yet I was determined to use this word. Eventually I settled for scrapping the appoggiatura (that’s the ‘de-’ in ‘deliver us’ in the English) and singing the a long, as it is in libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna (‘Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death’, from the Requiem Mass, in the setting by Fauré).

2 Responses to "videat Dominus et iudicet…"

  1. “and it’s extremely rare”
    Couldn’t help but smile at this … something that works but rare enough that you need to explain what it is.
    Could you elaborate and when you first encountered this and what your reaction was?… It reminds me of the first time I learned about syncopation and I just smiled at how convenient it was ;)

    Anyways, awesome stuff! Ever think of taking Biblical Hebrew? That way you’d have 3 of the biblical study languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin)… I would feel nervous about doing anything religious because of the importance it has. But you did very well :D

    • livia

      Hehe, I don’t actually remember when exactly I first encountered it – I think it was in a line of the Aeneid, but I remember the occasion because it hadn’t actually occurred to me that normally, lines don’t run over, even when there’s a vowel at the end of one and at the start of the next, so when that does happen, it happens for a specific reason, to convey something, as I used it here.
      I would love to learn Biblical Hebrew, but I just don’t have the time!! And annoyingly, I don’t have the opportunity to do it at university – Theology students get to take Latin or Greek (or maybe both, I’m not sure) and I think Hebrew is compulsory, but the only optional extra for those studying straight Classics (i.e. without a modern language) is Modern Greek (which I’m doing, of course). On that note, I considered doing Classics and Sanskrit, but my college doesn’t offer it and I didn’t want to apply to another…
      Thank you! I know what you mean, and I was particularly concerned to get this one right, although I wasn’t too worried that I’d misunderstand it or anything because I’m Christian myself, and it is important to Christians as well as to Jews; I was more concerned not to make it principally for ‘your average Roman’ (for obvious reasons), but I was better equipped than most to make it for an appropriate Latin-speaking audience since I attend Latin Mass (I do wonder ‘what are the chances’ sometimes XD). I was more concerned about ‘Colours of the Wind’, mainly because of some of the vitriol I’ve read on the Internet about ‘representation’ in Disney films (mainly in niches of the Internet devoted to moaning about that sort of thing, admittedly) – but it turned out some degree of concern was warranted, as you’ve read :P

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