Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hearts and Minds

Here's an interesting (at least to me) exchange from Column Eight over the past couple of days:

A cry from the heart, literally, from Fee MacGregor of Randwick: "My son is getting married in August to the lovely Anna. The wedding will take place at Lewes Castle in Sussex (not far from Hastings), and my husband was asked to design a card. He chose to make it look like a panel from the Bayeux Tapestry. He wanted to have something in Latin on the card, along the lines of 'From opposite sides of the world - two hearts joined', the sort of thing which, when translated, will draw sentimental sighs from the fairer sex and involuntary retching from those who despise public displays of affection. Can you translate? In my translator program 'heart' always comes out as 'viscus' or 'pectus', but if you convert that back it comes out as 'chest', or viscus can come out as 'entrails', which is slightly off the mark. We have been trying for weeks to find a Latin scholar." Any takers?

Des Cahill, MA (Latin), of Manly is one of many readers to offer a translation of "From opposite sides of the world, two hearts joined", for the Bayeux Tapestry wedding card... "Adversis partibus orbis terrae duo corda coniuncta."

There are, of course, myriad other interpretations, including this, from Zenon Alexander of Balmoral. "My alma mater, Sydney University, solved this problem long ago by adopting as its motto 'Sidere Mens Eadem Mutato', loosely translated as 'One at heart though poles apart', referring to its relationship with Oxford University. 'Mens', the mind or intellect (or heart), is emotionally more poetic than 'entrails'." Who are we to doubt the classical credentials of a man named Zenon?

Hi, my name is Elizabeth Smith," writes none other than Elizabeth Smith of the Blue Mountains, "and I am a first year Latin student at Macquarie University... I was able to do a translation into classical Latin of 'From opposite sides of the world - two hearts joined'. It reads as: 'Ab adversi lati mundi - duo animi conveniebamus'. The translation of 'joined' is a bit tricky, as to whether they would like the infinitive - to join, or in the past tense, have joined. In any case, the infinitive meaning is 'convenire', the literal meaning, 'to come together'. Anyway, I hope this is right, as I'm sure my professor reads Column 8 and I'll be reprimanded if incorrect." Don't worry about the prof, Elizabeth - you're already better at Latin than Column 8 ever
will be.

There are lots of words for heart/mind/soul in Latin which are often used interchangeably. here are some of them:

anima: soul, spirit, vital principle, life, breathing, wind, breeze, air
animus: mind, intellect, soul, feelings, heart, spirit, courage, character
cor: heart, mind, soul, spirit, intellect
mens: mind, reason, intellect, judgment, plan, intention, frame of mind, courage
pectus: breast, heart, feeling, soul, mind
spiritus: breath, breathing, air, soul, life
viscer: entrails, innermost part of the body, heart
viscus: soft fleshy body parts, internal organs, entrails, flesh

For the record, I would probably translate the phrase something like adversis terris, animi coniuncti, which may not be exactly right, but at least has the virtue of simplicity. I think animi is probably the most appropriate word for hearts in this context, though why I say that I'm not sure- none of the others feel quite right.

For the dangers of using internet translators see these Latin tattoos.

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6 comments:

sarah shipley said...

i liked the idea of that "lol at bad latin tattoos" site, but i didn't understand what was wrong with any of them. i guess it's only for people who are actually good at latin. you should write a blog about them (like engrish, but for latin... ratin?) with translations so everyone can be in on the joke!

jm said...

there were a couple of obvious ones there which seem to have disappeared. if you go here you'll find one which you will understand with ease. This guy has tried to translate 'through the valley of the shadow of death', and ended up with per valley of umbra of nex. I'm sure even you can see the problem there.

sarah shipley said...

hahaha! if you are silly enough to rely on babelfish or whatever to translate something for you, wouldn't you at least check for words that were still in english?! i would want to be pretty certain i had the right translation before it was permanently tattooed on my skin. then again, i don't see the point in getting a tattoo in a language you don't understand in the first place, unless it's a motto or something.

jm said...

i agree with you entirely.

Mike Salter said...

...adversibus terris, animi coniuncti...

I'll pretend I didn't see that third declension ending for a perfect pass. participle. ;-)

jm said...

whoops... how embarassing. it's fixed up now.