Winnie Ille Pu: The Latin Versions of 10 Modern Stories

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Despite its status as a "dead" language, pretty much anything can be translated into Latin. Here are 10 modern classics that might make Latin class more fun.

1. Winnie the Pooh

A Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne, was published for the first time in 1960. Alexander Lenard, the translator, was also a physician, painter, musician, and poet, but he is most famous for Winnie Ille Pu. The book is the only Latin book to become a New York Times best seller – it remained on the NY Times list for 20 weeks.

First line: Ecce Eduardus Ursus scalis nunc tump-tump-tump occipite gradus pulsante post Christophorum Robinum descendens.

Milne's second volume of Winnie the Pooh stories, The House at Pooh Corner, was originally translated by Brian Staples just for fun. The former Latin student was laid up in the hospital and needed a diversion. The Latin translation, Winnie Ille Pu Semper Ludet, was first published in 1980. Sixteen years later, in April 1996, both Christopher Milne (A.A. Milne's son, for whom the books were written) and Brian Staples passed away.

First line: Die quodam, cum Urso Puo nihil aliud agendum esset, decrevit aliquid agere, Porcelli domum igitur abiit, quid ageret Porcellus speculatum.

2. Olivia


Ian Falconer's Olivia was translated into Latin by Amy High, a Latin educator and enthusiast. As an elementary school Latin teacher in Fairfax County, VA, High was featured in TIME magazine and on the Oxygen cable channel. Upon her untimely death at the age of 39, in 2003, a former professor remarked, "She gave Latin a life it hasn't had in hundreds of years." High's translation, Olivia: The Essential Latin Edition, features Olivia in a toga and laurel wreath.

First line: Haec est Olivia. Perita est multarum rerum.

3. The Three Blind Mice


David C. Noe's Tres Mures Caeci, a Latin translation of "Three Blind Mice," was designed to ease young readers into Latin. The book features illustrations by cartoonist Michelle Thoburn, a veteran of the Walt Disney Company, and is complemented by free downloads of the story read in both English and Latin.

First line: Olim erant Tres Mures Caeci.

4. Walter the Farting Dog

For Walter Canis Inflatus, Robert Dobbin had to get creative with his Latin translations, as many of the phrases found in William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray's Walter the Farting Dog lack classical Latin counterparts. The story is accompanied by the same Audrey Colman illustrations found in the original English version.

First line: Betty et Billy Walterum domum adduxerunt electum ex ceteris canibus foras abiectis.

5. Ferdinand the Bull

Munro Leaf's The Story of Ferdinand became a Disney animated film only two years after its publication, winning a 1938 Academy Award, but it wasn't until 2000 that the beloved story of Ferdinand the bull was translated into Latin. Ferdinandus Taurus, the Latin translation by Elizabeth Hadas, features the original black and white illustrations by Robert Lawson, who was the first person to receive both the Caldecott Medal (1941) and the Newbery Medal (1945).

First line: Olim in Hispania erat taurulus nomine Ferdinandus.

6. Harry Potter

For J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Latin is just one of the more than 65 languages they've been translated into. At the hands of Peter Needham, a retired Latin professor from Eton College, the books became Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. Rowling's hope for the Latin and ancient Greek translations is that they "will help children overcome the common dread of studying the two dead languages."

First line: Dominus et Domina Dursley, qui vivebant in aedibus Gestationis Lingustrorum numero quattuor signatis, non sine superbia dicebant se ratione ordinaria vivendi uti neque se paenitere illius rationis. (from Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis)

7. The Little Prince


A Latin version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince was released in 2000 as simply Regulus. The French masterpiece was translated into Latin by Richard Howard, a professor at Columbia University who has won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry and was named a Chevalier (knight) of L'Ordre National du Mérite (the French National Order of Merit).

First line: QUODAM DIE, cum sex annos natus essem, imaginem praeclare pictam in libro de silva quae integra dicitur vidi; qui liber inscribebatur: Narratiunculae a vita ductae.

8-10. Dr. Seuss Tales

Translating rhyming works is always a challenge, but Jennifer and Terence Tunberg have succeeded in translating three Dr. Seuss works into Latin while retaining the word play of the originals. How the Grinch Stole Christmas became Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit, The Cat in the Hat became Cattus Petasatus, and Green Eggs and Ham became Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!. Don't let the originals fool you, though – the stories are not quite on the same beginner level in Latin as in English.

First lines:

Laetuli Laetopoli florentes festo Christi natalicio valde delectati sunt omnes ad unum….
(from Quomodo Invidiosulus Nomine Grinchus Christi Natalem Abrogaverit)

Imber totum diem fluit / Urceatim semper pluit. (from Cattus Petastus)

Sum 'Pincerna' nominatus… (from Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!)

* By "modern," we mean anything after Latin ceased to be anyone's native tongue. Our examples are from the last 200 years.

What's the most interesting thing you've read in Latin? Or, what do you wish you could've read in your Latin class?

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June 20, 2011 - 4:04am
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