A Latin Hobbit? It's Greek to me
When you’re doing Latin in secondary school, you take your jollies where you can find them. The lines in Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe about Pyramus stabbing himself in the groin and causing blood to shoot forth like a burst pipe caused mass sniggering in the classroom at my convent school in north Dublin.
By the time we were doing the Leaving, five years of Latin classes had rendered us slightly hysterical with boredom, and we were so desperate for entertainment we would find ourselves amused by everything from Laocoön being attacked by sea monsters in the Aeneid to the word “ducibus”. The only genuine bright spot in a sea of Virgil and Horace was Catullus, whose poems, as far as we could tell, were either achingly romantic or absolutely filthy (we never got to read any of the latter sort, but we knew they existed).
So even though I was never a huge Tolkien fan, I would have been delighted by Mark Walker’s new Latin translation of The Hobbit – Hobbitus Ille.
Walker, a British Latin teacher, says in the introduction that he embarked on this admirably nerdish endeavour because he wanted to give Latin students something more enjoyable to read than Cicero. For this I salute him.
Even 20 years ago, we Latin scholars knew we were an endangered species (mine was one of very few non-private schools in Dublin to offer the subject), so the audience may be limited, but his heart is in the right place. I do question his use of “ille” in the title – as I recall, Latin has no definite article and ille means “that” rather than “the”. But then, he’s a Latin teacher and I got a B in Leaving Cert Latin in 1993, so you can decide yourself whom you’d rather believe.