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Latin Children's Books

Cover of Cattus Petasatus A major story on today’s NPR Morning Edition was the fiftieth birthday of The Cat in the Hat. Personally, I’ve never been much of a fan of Dr. Seuss. (When I was that age, I much preferred Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel.) Still the mention of Cat reminded me of a Dr. Seuss I can really get behind: Cattus Petasatus, a translation of the original book into Latin by Jennifer and Terence Tunberg.

Some alterations to the meter were required, but the spirit remains intact:

Imber totum diem fluit
Urceatim semper pluit.
Taedet intus nos manere:
Numquam potest sol splendere.

The result is disconcertingly similar to authentic medieval Latin verse.

Primo pro nummata vini;
ex hac bibunt libertini;
semel bibunt pro captivis,
post haec bibunt ter pro vivis,

Thoughtfully, the publishers provide a guide for using Cattus to teach grammar.

This is certainly not the only children’s classic that has been translated into the language of Virgil. The Tunbergs have also tackled two other Seuss volumes: Virent Ova! Virent Perna! and the euphoniously-named Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine GRINCHUS Christi natalem Abrogaverit.

Moving beyond the basic readers, we have one of my favorites: Winnie ille Pu.

Ecce Eduardus Ursus scalis nunc tump-tump-tump occipite gradus pulsante post Christophorum Robinum descendens. Est quod sciat unus et solus modus gradibus descendendi, nonnunquam autem sentit, etiam alterum modum exstare, dummodo pulsationibus desinere et de eo modo meditari possit. Deinde censet alios modos non esse. En, nunc ipse in imo est, vobis ostentari paratus. Winnie ille Pu.

I recently happened across a mention of Aliciae per speculum transitus (quaeque ibi invenit). Sadly it looks like it’s been out of print for many years, along with its predecessor, Alicia in terra mirabili. Happily, the text of this latter is available online.

Itaque cogitabat (nempe ut lucidissime poterat, nam tempestate calida torpebat semisomna) num operae pretium esset surgere et flosculos carpere, modo ut sertum nectendo se delectaret, cum subito Cuniculus Albus oculis rubris prope eam praeteriit. Neque in eo erat quidquam magnopere dignum memoria: neque Aliciae valde insolitum videbatur ut Cuniculum sibi loquentem audivit: ‘Vae, vae! Sero perveniam!’

And you still want more? If you’re one of those people who actually likes the loathsome original, you might try Regulus. Do you prefer Beatrix Potter? Then Fabula de Petro Cuniculo would be more to your tastes. A final pair to mention (by Andrew Needham, who also translated Ursus nomine Paddington) is Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis and Harrius Potter et Camera Secretorum. No samples from these, I’m afraid . . . they’re both on the to-purchase list.  Still, see the Times review of Camera . . . in Latin, no less.

3 replies on “Latin Children's Books”

Even though I was much older than eight the last time I read Asterix, I’m sure I failed to get those jokes as well. I’ll have to scrape up a copy and see what I was missing.

Michael Flanders (of Flanders and Swann) used that line to good effect, translating it as “O Times, O Daily Mirror!”

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