The Latin Versions of 12 Modern Stories

When it was translated into Latin, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets became Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum.
When it was translated into Latin, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets became Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. / Wolfgang Lonien, Flickr // CC by SA-2.0

Despite its status as a "dead" language, pretty much anything can be translated into Latin. Here are 12 modern classics that might make Latin class more fun.

1. and 2. Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner

A Latin translation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh was published for the first time in 1958. Alexander Lenard, the translator, was also a physician, painter, musician, and poet, but he is most famous for Winnie Ille Pu, the only Latin book to become a New York Times bestseller—it remained on the 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, a former Latin student, for fun—he was laid up in the hospital and needed a diversion. The Latin translation, Winnie Ille Pu Semper Ludet, was first published in 1980.

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

3. 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, Virginia, High was featured in TIME magazine, among other places. Upon her death in 2003 at the age of 39, a former professor said that "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."

4. 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, and its Amazon description notes that “every phrase and word has been carefully checked by not one but three Latinists, each with a Ph.D. in Classics and more than 50 years of combined experience teaching Latin.”

First line: "Olim erant Tres Mures Caeci."

5. 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."

6. 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 Caldecott and Newbery Medal winner Robert Lawson.

First line: "Olim in Hispania erat taurulus nomine Ferdinandus."

7. And 8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Latin is just one of the more than 80 languages that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books have been translated into. In the hands of Peter Needham, a retired Latin professor from Eton College, two books in the series—Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (a.k.a. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—became Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. Rowling's hope for the Latin and ancient Greek translations was that, according to The Telegraph, 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

9. The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's masterpiece The Little Prince has been translated into Latin several times: First by Augusto Haury in 1961, then 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), in 2000; and by Franz Schlosser in 2015. Howard’s version, titled Regulus, featured restored versions of Saint-Exupéry's original art.

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. —from Regulus

10., 11., and 12. Dr. Seuss Tales

Translating rhyming works is always a challenge, but Jennifer and Terence Tunberg have managed to translate 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 aren’t 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!!

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A version of this story ran in 2011; it has been updated for 2021.