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!]


I have mixed feelings about this song. On one hand, I love the structure, music and performances. On the other hand, the lyrics are awful. ‘For the first time in forever’ is absolute nonsense. It doesn’t mean anything. Of course, we understand it, but it is a conscious colloquialism, and a particular type of colloquialism that is extremely out of place in this era and setting, and extremely jarring to anyone who doesn’t speak English in this way. ‘I don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone’ – what zone? ‘Elated’ vs ‘gassy’ is a very weak contrast – ‘elated’ is quite a formal word whereas ‘gassy’ is colloquial, and and I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to mean. It just got worse and worse. A Scandinavian princess who’d been locked in a castle all her life would not emerge speaking like a brat from an American sitcom. (She reminded me of Hayley from Modern Family.) Elsa’s lyrics are fine, but she’s supposed to be formal and closed-off, and Anna is supposed to be ‘down-to-earth’ and relatable, so they make her speak like… that. Perhaps this ‘contemporaneity’ is less offensive to American ears, but I’m English and I hate it. We don’t speak like that; and it makes Anna come across to me as annoying, affected and self-absorbed (all of which she is, to an extent, but I don’t think they intended to give that impression in the song, certainly not of her being affected). Here, we would say, ‘For the first time in a lifetime,’ which is also colloquial, but it’s grammatically correct. Of course, whether or not you think the grammar should be correct depends on whether you feel that a fairytale princess should be ‘inspired by’ real girls or ‘an inspiration to’ real girls.

Anyway, I really, really struggled with the lyrics at first… and then I saw the clip, which is set in a gallery, which I wasn’t expecting at all, and I decided I could base it on Catullus, one of the most emotional, witty and visual poets, who wrote… well, everything, but his ‘masterpiece’ is a convoluted ‘mini-epic’ that describes, amongst other things, a tapestry. I had already started Let it Go, based on Tacitus. Catullus is a Republican poet (i.e. he wrote before the Roman Empire and the ‘Golden Age’ of Latin) who was never truly matched, and Tacitus is an imperial historian with Republican sympathies* who wrote a century after the ‘Golden Age’ (a misleading appellation, since Tacitus is by far the greatest Roman historian), so it was a nice link, and a challenge to adapt authors other than Vergil (I adore Vergil, but my general style is mostly based on Vergil, and it’s good to branch out). It is also a further challenge, to prove to my Latin professor, who was actually a lot less sceptical when I told him than he might have been (XD), that I can base a Disney song on Catullus. (Hi, Stephen! I said the footnotes were long…)

* To save me writing a spiel, it is easiest to think of ‘Republic vs. Empire’ as ‘democracy vs. monarchy’. They’re far from exact equivalents, but the difference in general feeling – particularly later writers’ indignant nostalgia for the ‘freedom’ of the Republic – is reasonably comparable.

Once I’d made up my mind to base this song on the poetry of Catullus, I was no longer wondering how on earth I could say something, but which out of many appropriate lines I should adapt! Obviously I wouldn’t be ‘setting a poem to music’ (unlike the Latin versions of Deliver Us and The Plagues from The Prince of Egypt, where I set the Vulgate Bible to music – with classical syntax, I hasten to add) since the context is different. The aim was, in fact, to select lines from Catullus’ poetry to make a version that, to the untrained eye, would look like a simple adaptation of the English. It isn’t the same sort of exercise as writing Latin off the bat [i.e. spontaneously], but I chose most of the wording myself, it was great fun, and I reckon Catullus – who wrote his poems in his library with older poetry for reference – would be pleased with the effort, at least.

This translation is ‘ostentatiously Latin’ in a number of ways – in its tone, its expression, and particularly the syntax. The subtitles I’ve put on the video aren’t entirely accurate, because many of the lyrics are long sentences, of which a strict English translation would reverse the sense order and ruin the effect, and a lot of the tricks used to get the repetition of ‘for the first time in forever’ are impossible in English, which is not an inflected language. It’s also ostentatiously Latin because it has a principal mythological and historical model. The recognition of previous models was common (even compulsory) in ancient composition, and it adds layers to the reading experience. The relationship between texts is an important question in Classics because we have poetry that references older poetry that hasn’t been preserved, and the question is: what is added by the extra context? The poem on which this is mostly based, Catullus 64, actually tells a story that is never mentioned explicitly, because Catullus makes references to, or translates excerpts from, older poetry that does tell that story. The easiest way to explain the effect of this technique in this song is that it increases the dramatic irony considerably, in a way that isn’t possible in English.

*Spoilers – don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film, unless you don’t care about knowing what happens*

The mythological model is the well-known story of Theseus and Ariadne as told in Catullus 64. The poet starts off writing about the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, then he describes a tapestry on the wedding chair that depicts the Cretan princess Ariadne abandoned on an island, and explains how she got there. Ariadne was the half-sister of the Minotaur, which Theseus, prince of Athens, came to kill. Ariadne fell in love with him, and so helped him kill the Minotaur and get back out of the Labyrinth on the condition that he’d take her away with him and marry her. On the way home, they stopped off on an island, and while she was asleep, he sailed away and left her there. She woke up, saw that she’d betrayed her family for nothing, screamed in rage for a while, and prayed for vengeance, which was granted: Theseus forgot to change the colour of the sails on his ship as his father had requested, so his father thought he was dead and killed himself. (Good couple. Similar in all the bad ways – like Anna and Hans!) In this song in particular, my ‘portrayal’ of Anna is inspired by Ariadne in the process of falling in love as she gazes upon the newly arrived Theseus – Anna doesn’t realise that she’s going to throw her lot in with Hans [i.e. place her trust in Hans], whom she’s just met, and alienate Elsa, only to find out that Hans was merely using her. But then there’s a twist: instead of extending the story of abandonment for the rest of the film, the parallel shifts, and in the reprise of the song (which I’ve translated, but not recorded), Anna and Elsa are both different ‘takes’ on Ariadne [i.e. inspired by Ariadne in different ways] – Elsa is an Ariadne who wants to be left deserted; Anna cajoles her, using words that Ariadne used to promise help to Theseus. This mimics the twist in the plot of Frozen, which we expect to be a story of romantic love but turns out to be a story of familial love. Meanwhile, we have a broad historical parallel that isn’t quite as evident in this song as it is in Let it Go: Elsa and Anna represent, respectively, Tiberius and Drusus Nero, stepsons of the emperor Augustus. From an old aristocratic family, they were both earnest and dutiful, but Tiberius was austere and cynical (and a bit awkward) while Drusus was charismatic and optimistic (and a bit naive). Tiberius went on to become emperor, a role that he saw as ‘servitude’, and spent most of his time trying to hide how much he hated it – but more about that in Let it Go.

Neither of these parallels is an allegory; it goes without saying that I’m not retelling the story of Theseus and Ariadne, but nor am I retelling that of Tiberius and Drusus. Drusus tragically died before Tiberius became emperor, and Tiberius, although he flounced off to live in a castle much like Elsa does, died miserable in said castle and didn’t have anyone to come and rescue him with the magical powers of love, much less trolls to give him advice on dealing with sycophantic courtiers, unless you count Augustus as a ‘troll’ in the modern sense… ahem. Anyway, it is not an allegory. It’s an application – an experiment in the effects of linguistic allusions, a linguistic tribute, and hopefully a demonstration that ‘the history book on the shelf is always repeating itself’. Maybe it’s an exercise in ‘what if’ – we start with a similarity, and then the stories diverge, and the linguistic references show that there are other directions a story like this could have taken, as well as illuminating the similarities, and the fact that there are similarities – ‘tales as old as time’.


Below is a colour-coded translation of the Latin (to show how the syntax works) and a guide to the references.


domus accensas lumine vix me credo visere

I hardly believe that I’m seeing the house ablaze with light.


This comes from Catullus 64.55 (poem 64, line 55): necdum etiam sese quae visit visere credit (‘she doesn’t yet believe she’s seeing what she’s seeing’), which describes Ariadne’s incredulity when she sees Theseus has abandoned her – so the song begins rather ominously.


quantos expectamus hospites?

What great number of guests are we expecting?


Theseus is described as a guest of Ariadne’s family at 64.176, but I got this word from the Italian (da tempo immemore, qui non si vede un ospite - ‘as long as I can remember, no guest has been seen here’).


saecula solae tegimur

For ages we [‘Elsa and I’, or simply ‘I’] have been shut in, alone


I chose the verb tegimur because Peleus & Thetis’ wedding was set in Pharsalia tecta (‘the roofs at Pharsalus’, i.e. in a house at Pharsalus) and it was a ‘eureka’ moment. saecula is an accusative of duration.


atrium numquam colitur

[For years] the atrium (i.e. the entrance hall) has never been honoured (=with no one visiting)


This construction was inspired by rura colit nemo (‘no one looks after the fields’), 64.38.


at hodie veri advenient homines!

But today, real people will come!


quorum copias admirantem somno ut excitam quo me ducet haec felicitas?

As I admire the multitudes of them, as though roused from sleep, where will this happiness take me?


admirantem comes from monstrum Nereides admirantes (’the sea-nymphs, admiring the strange sight’), 64.15. There is an implication that the boundaries of nature have been transgressed. I was trying to suggest that Anna’s admiration may soon merge with horror.

The phrase somno ut excitam comes from excita somno (‘when she’d woken up’), 64.56. Anna is saying that it’s a good thing, because it was like she was asleep before, and now she’s waking up to real life, but again, the implication is ‘be careful what you wish for’, since Ariadne woke up to a terrible discovery.

duco (‘lead’) can also mean ‘marry’.


hodie tandem nostris aulis vera splendent lumina

Today, finally, real lights shine in our palace


The ideas of light, shining and music are present throughout many of Catullus’ poems, and I wanted to suggest that all of the senses were being used. aulae are literally ‘halls’ but by extension the word comes to mean ‘palace’.


hodie tandem nostris aulis resonabunt carmina

Today, finally, songs will ring out in our palace


gaudio incensa mixto curis palleo

I go pale, on fire with joy that is mixed with worry


This references sancte puer, curis hominum qui gaudia misces (‘holy boy [Cupid], you who mix humans’ joys with worries’), 64.95. (‘Holy boy’ doesn’t sound so silly in Latin.) She’s saying that she’s feeling the ups and downs of romance.


quia tandem nostris aulis voces audio

Because finally, I hear voices in our palace


I chose this wording because I couldn’t find anything to translate ‘I won’t be alone’ that didn’t sound rubbish (and the English is a bit rubbish, never mind the fact that it’s grammatically incorrect). It vaguely echoes nec missas audire queunt nec reddere voces (‘[the breezes] can’t hear sounds (lit. voices) that are emitted, nor give sounds back’), 64.166, so it is another way of saying, ‘I’m not deserted.’


ardeo intueri tantos coetus!

I’m burning with desire to look at such great throngs of people!


forte et conspiciam… futurum maritum?

Perhaps I’ll even catch sight of… [my] future husband?


Here I was thinking of the line in the title of this post: simulac cupido conspexit lumine virgo / regia (‘As soon as the princess caught sight of him with her eager eye’), which describes Ariadne’s first sighting of Theseus – although I used my own words, except conspiciam. I chose the word coetus because it can have connotations of sexual union. (It’s meant to be an accidental innuendo.)


nunc me fingas ut statuam,

Now (you might) imagine me as a statue, 


imaginem elegentiae, Veneris ornatam gratiis

the image of sophistication, decorated with the graces of Venus (goddess of love)


The above two lines (nunc me fingas … ornatam gratiis) are a nod to the ‘wittier’ poems that come earlier on in Catullus’ corpus. It would perhaps have been more natural to write nunc me fingas ut tabula (‘now imagine me, as in a painting’) but I put statuam instead, to allude to: a) the fact that Ariadne is described as saxea effigies bacchantis (‘the stone likeness of a Maenad’, 64.61, a strikingly paradoxical image); b) the fact that Anna is turned into an ice sculpture at the end of the film. fingas can either mean ‘please imagine’ or ‘you might imagine’.

Most of the foreign dubbings so far have mistranslated this part slightly. ‘Tonight, imagine me, gown and all’ doesn’t mean ‘Tonight I’ll be dressed extremely formally’, as it has been translated in several versions (French and Italian for example, but others too), but ‘Tonight imagine me, wearing this gown’. It doesn’t make sense for Anna to say how she’ll be dressed, when she is already wearing the gown she will wear to the ball.


subito aspectu attonita viri qui divos superat

Suddenly, astonished at the sight of a man who surpasses the gods [in beauty], 


viri qui divos superat comes from 51.1-2, ille … videtur … superare divos (‘he seems to surpass the gods’), which describes Catullus jealously observing a rival talking to Lesbia, his mistress (well, a better description is that Catullus is one of Lesbia’s many casual conquests, but it takes him a while to work that out). The poem starts out as a translation of a poem by Sappho (Greek poetess) but Catullus makes it much more personal, and then adds a stanza of his own that I’ll mention later. Anna is not equated to the onlooker; she’s just using the words.


The language of this line makes it clear that Anna is lost in her fantasy. By all accounts, the verb superat should be in the subjunctive (superet), a) because it’s part of an extended hypothetical scenario (continuing on from me fingas), b) because, even outside of an extended scenario, it’s hypothetical because she doesn’t know who this man is or even if he’ll be there. But the fact that the verb is in the indicative means that Anna is now acting out this scenario, and she’s making this man a definite reality. This reproduces the effect of the English: ‘Tonight, imagine me, gown and all… I suddenly see him standing there.’


pudorem condo mensis consciis

I hide [my] shame in the table, which is complicit


at in sermones usque ad noctem me laetam suscitat nimis exoptata novitas!

But the novelty [I’ve] so longed for delights me and rouses me into conversations until nighttime!


Witty conversations and happiness (often short-lived) are common themes in Catullus. This sentence is kept in suspense up until nimis exoptata novitas, which is very ironic. nimis is a barbed word, since it can mean ‘so much’ or ‘too much’. Here Anna means the former, but in hindsight, it’ll turn out to be the latter. novitas (‘novelty’) was very rarely a good thing for Romans. It literally meant ‘newness’, but came to mean ‘an unknown quality’ – and anything unknown was BAD.


hodie primo post memoriam vivemus otio

Today we shall live in the first period of leisure in [my] memory


More dramatic irony! Anna speaks longingly of otium, leisure, but that’s another dangerous concept for Romans; wanting to live a life of otium amounted to decadence. In poem 51, above, the stanza Catullus adds is about how otium is bad for him. It’s not entirely clear what he means, but it doesn’t matter here XD


hodie primum vitae in lucem e tenebris evocor

Today for the first time, I am called out of the shadows into the light of life


This is a general continuation of the light/darkness theme that runs through both Anna’s lyrics and Elsa’s (in Let it Go).


amores per ineptiam sperare soleo

I am used to hoping for love in [my] silliness


I chose the word ineptia (silliness) in reference to desinas ineptire (‘stop being foolish’, 8.1), where Catullus tells himself to stop pining after Lesbia when there’s nothing down for him [i.e. when she is clearly not interested in him]. (NB Catullus’ poetry tells the story of his affair with Lesbia, but the poems about her aren’t in chronological order in the anthology, which gives a very interesting perspective; sadly, we don’t know who put them in this order, so we can’t say if Catullus himself meant to produce this effect.)


sed tandem mea sponte quaerere audeo

But finally I dare to look [for it] of my own accord


comprimere, recondere, maioribus semper digna esse

[You must] hold it in, hide it, always be worthy of [your] ancestors


consta, clausta dissimula populi si times odia

Stand firm, closed-off, put on a show, if you fear the people’s hatred


Elsa’s words mark a drastic change in tone. They are all references to descriptions of Tiberius in Tacitus and Suetonius. He is described as holding things back, speaking ‘reconditely’, being closed-off, putting on a show, and generally incurring hatred because he was the least down-to-earth person you could possibly meet. He himself says that he wishes to be remembered as ‘worthy of his ancestors’, ‘standing firm in the face of danger’, and being indifferent to the people’s hatred – Elsa will get to that point in Let it Go. More about this there.


at brevis erit lux! moris angimur!

But the daylight will be short! I’m in pain from the delay! 


brevis erit lux comes from 5.5, nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux, nox est perpetua una dormienda (‘when the single, fleeting sun of our lives has set, we must sleep for one perpetual night’). angimur means ‘we are in pain’ but here it is the ‘royal we’, although it could refer to both of them.


custodes, portae pandite claustrum!

Guards, open the lock on the gate!


portae pandite claustrum is based on 61.75, claustra pandite ianuae (‘open the locks on the door’), part of a wedding song – the doors are opened because the bride has arrived.


*lines overlapping*

hodie tandem nostrae aetatis fiunt somnia veritas

Today, finally, our generation’s dreams are becoming reality 


aetas is a favourite word of Catullus (although it’s common everywhere). It can mean ‘generation’, ‘period of time’ or ‘youth’. So nostrae aetatis is a fancy way of saying ‘my’. The juxtaposition of somnia veritas was inspired by Lucretius, another Republican poet, although he juxtaposes them in a completely different context. I wrote this part when we only had the last verse of the song, from the trailer.


comprimere, recondere, maioribus semper digna esse

[You must] hold it in, hide it, always be worthy of [your] ancestors


oblita solitudinis amorem inveniam

Having forgotten [my] loneliness, I’ll find love 


(constans, ne fias populo odio)

(Firm, so you don’t become an object of hatred for the people)


arripiam occasionem, mittendus est timor!

I’ll seize the opportunityI must cast out my fear (lit. ‘fear needs to be cast out’)!


This doesn’t reference Catullus, but the construction mittendus est timor (gerundive!) was suggested to me by nox est dormienda above, after I had tried several configurations with ‘fear’ as the object, since that was how I ‘poeticised’ the line, ‘I know it all ends tomorrow, so it has to be today,’ which is very prosaic (and, again, a bit rubbish XD).


quia tandem nostrae aetati fulget vita diu sperata sole clarior!

Because finally, the life [I’ve] long hoped for shines on our generation, brighter than the sun!


The mood of this line is inspired by Catullus in general. He uses all of these words in similar contexts but not together. sole clarior (‘brighter than the sun’) is a strong metaphor found elsewhere that I really like; the idea of using it with vita came from poem 5 again (it’s the one that begins ‘let’s live and love’, so it fits the mood of this song well), but Catullus doesn’t actually use that phrasing. (For that matter, I’m not sure if he ever explicitly uses the metaphor of life shining.) Another inspiration was the Italian version of the song, which saved me a lot of hassle, since it does not repeat the words ‘for the first time in forever’ twice as most other versions do, but goes: So che per la prima volta, quella vita che sognavo oggi sembra mia! (‘I know that for the first time, that life I was dreaming of, today seems mine!’) This is my favourite translation of this part, so the Latin is a version of this but more poetic and with more formal syntax (the main problem with Latin is that it couldn’t say something like per la prima volta, since per doesn’t mean ‘for’ in Latin, it doesn’t have an article, and volta as ‘time’ is a late development in the meaning of the word, which comes from Latin volvo, ‘turn’).


Right, there we go! I’m sorry about the quality of the video but I wanted to put this one up before Let it Go and I want to put Let it Go up for Saturnalia. As ever, I’m sorry about my singing – that said, considering how high this song goes, I’m rather pleased with it! I actually recorded it in one take, rather late at night, when I had just returned from seeing Frozen at the cinema – I’m going to see it again tomorrow, so maybe it’ll produce a similarly successful rendition of the reprise XD


I hope you enjoy this translation and that you’re excited for Let it Go!

1 Response to "simul ac cupido conspexit lumine virgo regia…"

  1. Stunning work, as always! :) I’m a huge fan of the “consta, clausta” bit.

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