Friday 21 June 2019

Bad Latin in the movies: Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian contains a Latin lesson that Latin students find unforgettable. When the film got released in other languages, though, how did the dubbing process deal with this scene?
Note, a couple of days later: I’ve made some minor edits to try and clear things up: apparently some readers interpreted this post as though I had translated the scene into other languages myself. I didn’t, and I’m not sure what the point of that would be! I’m looking at officially released dubs of the film.
How many Romans? (Life of Brian, 1979)

The English version

Video: link 1, link 2, link 3
Centurion. What’s this then? Romanes eunt domus? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?
Brian. It -- it says ’Romans go home!’
Centurion. No it doesn’t. What’s Latin for ‘Roman’? Come on, come on!
Brian. Ahh! Romanus?
Centurion. Goes like?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vocative plural of annus is ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt? What is eunt?
Brian. ‘Go’!
Centurion. Conjugate the verb ‘to go’.
Brian. Uh, ire. Uhh, eo, is it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. So eunt is ...
Brian. Uh, uh, third person plural, present indicative! ‘They go’.
Centurion. But ‘Romans go home’ is an order, so you must use the ...
Brian. Aaaaahh, the imperative!
Centurion. Which is ...
Brian. Uuumm, oh! um, i, i!
Centurion. How many Romans?
Brian. Aaahh plural, plural, ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? Nominative? ‘Go home’, this is motion towards, isn’t it boy?
Brian. Uh, uh, dative!
[Centurion draws sword and holds it to Brian’s throat.]
Brian. Oooohh, not dative, not the dative sir! No, ah, oh, the accusative, accusative! Uh, domum, sir! ad domum!
Centurion. Except that domus takes the ...
Brian. The locative, sir!
Centurion. Which is?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. dom ... um. Understand?
Brian. Yes sir!
Centurion. Now write it out a hundred times.
Brian. Yes sir! Thank you sir, hail Caesar sir!
Centurion. Hail Caesar. And if it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your balls off.
Brian. Oh, thank you sir, thank you sir, hail Caesar and everything sir!
-- Life of Brian (1979)
When I show this to a beginners’ Latin class, the students love to see Graham Chapman suffering like they do, and John Cleese’s horrible old schoolteacher, but there are some bits I have to explain. In my classes students don’t learn what a noun ‘goes like’: I think that expression is specific to England. Here they learn which ‘declension’ it belongs to.

Then there’s the bit about domus. A movie audience that doesn’t know any Latin won’t mind, but for students who have encountered the niceties of how to deal with ‘to’ in Latin, the route by which Brian gets to domum is confusing. Here’s the reasoning, if you’d like to learn a little Latin grammar. In Latin, ‘to’ is translated with a dative form only if you’re giving something ‘to’ someone, or telling, or showing something to someone. If you want to talk about motion to a place, you have to use the word ad, then the accusative form of the noun: ad urbem ‘to the city’, ad tabernam ‘towards the pub’. But there’s a select group of nouns that use the accusative by itself, without ad, and domus is one of them. A characteristic unique to nouns in that select group is that they can also take another special form, called the locative. So Brian is right to say that he should use accusative domum -- his error is using ad. When the Centurion gets him to remember that domus can take the locative, he says that Brian should use the locative form -- but that would be domi, and it would be wrong. The underlying idea is that because domus can take a locative form, therefore it belongs to that select group of nouns, therefore the correct expression is accusative without ad.

Brian gets the correct result, but the explanation is designed around comic pacing, not pedagogy.
Explanations in various Latin textbooks: Oxford Latin Course vol. 2 p. 122; Moreland and Fleischer p. 103; Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer §§268-275; North & Hillard p. 32; Bradley’s Arnold pp. 207-208.
And now for something completely not different. I think it’s interesting to see what happens to this scene in dubs of the film into other languages. How do they explain the Latin? We’ll look at the German, French, Italian, and Spanish dubs.

The German dub

Video: link 1, link 2

First, I have to praise the marvellous job done by the actor for the Centurion’s voice. He’s wonderful. I’ve no idea who he is, though, because there are no credits for the dubbing.
Centurion. Was haben wir denn daaaaaaaa?! Romanes eunt domus? ‘Menschen genannt Romanes gehen das Haus’?
Brian. Es soll heißen ‘Römer geht nach Haus!’
Centurion. Heißt es aber nicht. Was ist lateinisch für ‘Römer’? Na komm schon, komm schon!
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Deklinieren.
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vokativ plural von annus ist ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt! Was heißt eunt?
Brian. ‘Geh’.
Centurion. Konjugiere das Verb ‘gehen’.
Brian. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Also ist eunt ...?
Brian. Dritte Person Plural Präsens Indikativ! ‘Sie gehen’.
Centurion. Aber ‘Römer geht nach Haus’ ist ein Befehl, also musst du was gebrauchen ...?
Brian. Den Imperativ!
Centurion. Der lautet ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Wie viele Römer?
Brian. Plural! ite! ite!
Centurion. iiiii ... te! domus ... Nominativ? ‘Geht nach Haus’ ist eine Bewegung auf etwas zu, nicht wahr, Junge?
Brian. Ja. Dativ, Herr? Ahh, ahh, ahh, oh nein nein nein nein! Ahh, Akkusativ, Akkusativ! domus, Herr, ad domus!
Centurion. Nun fordert domus den ...?
Brian. Den Lokativ, den Lokativ!
Centurion. Welcher lautet?
Brian. domum! Aaahhh!
Centurion. domum! dom ... um. Hast du verstanden?
Brian. Ja, Herr!
Centurion. Du schreibst das jetzt hundert mal.
Brian. Ja, Herr! Vielen Dank, Herr! Heil Cäsar!
Centurion. Heil Cäsar. Wenn du bis Sonnenaufgang nicht fertig bist, dann schneide ich dir die Eier ab.
Brian. Ahh, Danke Herr! Danke sehr, Herr! Heil Cäsar und alles andere!
In place of the English school expression ‘Goes like?’, the Centurion uses the technical term: he asks Brian to ‘decline’ the noun annus.

When we get to the bit about domus, the German dialogue screws up the grammar worse than in the original. In the original the Centurion asks Brian for the locative, and he gives it as domum (the correct form, but not locative). In German, Brian initially tries to use the expression ad domus, claiming that it’s the accusative, when in fact it’s nominative. What a mess. I wonder how Latin teachers in Germany explain this to their confused students. Maybe they just don’t show it ...

The French versions

Video: link

Thank you to Dr Jutta Günther for deciphering some bits that I couldn’t follow. A French dub was only made for the DVD release in 2003: it’s closer to the English than the subtitled version. This Centurion is a right bastard of a schoolmaster, even more than in the other versions: he’s constantly interrupting Brian’s correct answers with his next question.
Centurion. Qu’est-ce que tu as barbouillé là? Romanes eunt domus? ‘Des promeneurs nommés Romanes, qui vont la maison’?
Brian. Non ... ça veut dire ‘Romains, rentrez chez vous!’
Centurion. Mais non, pas du tout. C’est quoi ‘Romain’ en Latin? Alors, alors!
Brian. Romanus?
Centurion. Ça décline comment?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Le vocatif pluriel du annus, c’est ...
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt. D’où ça vient?
Brian. Du verbe ire.
Centurion. Conjugue le verbe ‘rentrer’.
Brian. ire: eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Donc eunt, c’est ...
Brian. Troisième personne du pluriel du présent l’indicatif! ‘Ils vont’.
Centurion. Mais ‘Romains rentrez chez vous’, c’est un ordre, donc nous devons utiliser ...?
Brian. L’impératif!
Centurion. Qui est ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Combien de Romains?
Brian. Pluriel! Pluriel! ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? C’est un nominatif! ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est un expression d’un mouvement, hein, jeune homme?
Brian. ... datif? Ahh non, non, pas datif, monsieur! L’accusatif, accusatif! domum, monsieur, ad domum!
Centurion. Excepté la domus se décline aussi en ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Lequel est ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. do ... mum. uuummmm! Compris?
Brian. Oui monsieur!
Centurion. Donc la copiera cent fois.
Brian. Oui monsieur, merci monsieur, avé César!
Centurion. Avé César. Si c’est past fait au lever du soleil je te coupe les baloches.
Brian. Oh, merci monsieur, merci monsieur! Avé César et tutti quanti, monsieur!
The subtitled version, however, captures the grammatical logic of the domus bit better than any of the other versions here:
Centurion. domus? Nominatif? ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est là où l’on va, c’est ça?
Brian. Le datif! Non, pas le datif! L’accusatif! domum! ad domum!
Centurion. Mais domus prend le ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Alors?
Brian. domum!
In the original and the French dub, the logic sounds like ‘domus takes the locative, therefore we should use the locative’ -- and that’s wrong. In the subtitled version, the logic is ‘domus takes the locative, therefore the correct form is domum.’ And that’s correct.

As in the German version, the Centurion doesn’t ask what Romanus ‘goes like’: instead he asks how it declines.

I’m vaguely pleased that the Latin domus is given its correct gender in French.

The Italian dub

Video: link
Centurion. Cosa stiamo facendo qui? Romanes eunt domus. ‘Certi chiamati Romanes vanno la casa’.
Brian. Vuol ... vuol dire ‘Romani andate a casa.’
Centurion. No, carino. Come si dice ‘Romano’? Forza, in latino.
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Della?
Brian. Seconda.
Centurion. La desinenza del vocativo plurale ...
Brian. i, i!.
Centurion. Quindi, Romani. Che vuoi dire con eunt?
Brian. ‘Andate’.
Centurion. Coniuga il presente indicativo di ‘andare’!
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Quindi eunt è ...?
Brian. Ahh, ahh, terza persona plurale, presente indicativo. ‘Essi vanno’.
Centurion. Ma ‘Romani andate a casa’ è un ordine, quindi devi usare che cosa?
Brian. ... l’imperativo!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. Eh, oh, oh, um ... eh, i, i!
Centurion. Ma quanti sono i Romani?
Brian. Ah, già, plurale! ite, ite!
Centurion. iiii ... te. domus. Nominativo? ‘Andate a casa’ è moto a luogo, giusto, giovanotto?
Brian. ... dativo, signore? Ahh, no no, no! Non dativo, signore, no! No! Ahh! Accusativo! Accusativo! domum, signore! ad domum!
Centurion. Solo che domum vuole il ...?
Brian. Il locativo, signore!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. dommmm .... dom ... um. Hai capito?
Brian. Sì, signore!
Centurion. Allora scrivilo cento volte.
Brian. Sì, signore! Grazie, signore! Ave, Cesare!
Centurion. Ave, Cesare. E se all’alba non hai finito, ti taglio le palle.
Brian. Grazie signore, troppo buono! Ave, Cesare! Ave, Cesare!
Once again, we have the telescoped bit about the locative, sticking close to the original.

The Italian dub handles the declension of Romanus differently from the others. Here, the Centurion doesn’t ask for a paradigm, and Brian doesn’t answer with annus. Instead, the Centurion simply asks ‘from which (declension)?’, and Brian answers ‘second (declension)’. Then he gives the correct ending, without bothering with a stem, and without bothering to use annus as a paradigm. I’m intrigued that the Italian doesn’t even use the word ‘declension’, just the number.

The Spanish dub

Video: link 1, link 2

A big thank you to Dr Tatjana Schaefer for copying this out (my Spanish is nearly non-existent). And a shout-out to the actor for Brian, who’s easily the best Brian in these dubs. His squealing of ‘El imperativo!’ is gold.
Centurion. Qué describes ahi? Romanes eunt domus ... ‘Gente llamada Romanes ir la casa’?
Brian. Dice ‘Romanos marchaos a casa!’
Centurion. De eso nada. Como se dice Romanos en Latin? Vamos, vamos!
Brian. Romanus.
Centurion. Y se declina como?
Brian. annus!
Centurion. El vocativo plural de annus es...?
Brian. anni.
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni! eunt. Qué es eunt?
Brian. Ir.
Centurion. Conjuga el verbo ir.
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Luego eunt es ...?
Brian. Te-te-te-tercera persona del plural del presente indicativo. ‘Ellos van’.
Centurion. Pero ‘Romanos marchaos’ es una orden, asi que hay que usar ...?
Brian. El imperativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Quantos Romanos?
Brian. Plural! ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus -- en nominativo? ‘Marcharse’ indica movimiento, no, muchacho?
Brian. Dativo, señor! -- no no no no no no, no es dativo! Acusativo! domum, domum!
Centurion. Solo que domus lleva el ...?
Brian. El locativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. do ... mum. Has comprendido?
Brian. Si señor.
Centurion. Escribelo cien veces.
Brian. Si, señor! Gracias señor! Hail César!
Centurion. Hail César. Si no esta escrito al amanecer te corto los cojones.
Brian. Gracias señor, gracias señor! Hail César y todo los demas.
Brian barely squeaks out the word annus: the Centurion should probably have double-checked that he had the right paradigm.

In this version the business of domus makes no sense at all. Brian offers the correct form, domum, only to have it corrected to ... domum. I don’t think the translator understood the reasoning. Which is fair enough, given that it doesn’t quite make sense in the original.

Other versions

Links to other languages, for the curious.

Dubbed/voice-over: Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian
Subtitles: Croatian, Greek, Hebrew, Serbian

Friday 14 June 2019

Titans and Olympians

The twelve Olympians are the most important gods in the Greek pantheon. There’s some variation in their membership, depending on who you read. But there are generally twelve, and they’re always headed by Zeus, along with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, each associated with a third of the cosmos (sky, surface, underworld).

Greek myth has other bunches of divinities too. Some are minor local divinities: river gods, nymphs, and so on. Some can be just about as important as the Olympians, like the Dioskouroi (Castor and Polydeuces) or the Great Gods of Samothrace. And then there’s the Titans.

With the Titans, it can be tempting to think we’ve got two orders of gods: elder gods and younger gods, Titans and Olympians.
The Disney version of the Titans (Hercules, 1997)
No no no, not like the Titans in the Disney Hercules. Not like Clash of the Titans either -- a film that’s rather conspicuous for not actually having any Titans in it. (That applies to both the 1981 original and the 2010 remake, by the way.)

If it’s a popular depiction you want, you’ll find a closer match in Rick Riordan’s series of Percy Jackson novels. There, as in ancient Greek myth, the Titans are the arch-enemies of the Olympians, but they’re also the Olympians’ ancestors and parents.

Titans and Giants

Actually there’s one area where the Disney Hercules does represent ancient sources very well. It does an excellent job at steering around a confusion between Titans and Giants -- a common confusion among ancient writers.

The Titans and Giants were both colossal beings who fought the Olympians. The Titanomachy is the primordial war between the Olympian gods and the Titans, cosmic order vs. cosmic chaos. After ten years of fighting the Olympians finally win, aided by the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers, and they banish the Titans to the eternal void of Tartaros, the bottomless pit at the bottom of the cosmos, beneath even Hades. The Gigantomachy is the battle between the Olympians and the Gigantes or ‘earth-born ones’, spurred to attack Olympus by their mother Gaia: this time the Olympians are aided by the hero Heracles.

So we’ve got one battle at the beginnings of time, and one in the relatively recent legendary past, just one generation before the Trojan War. And yet ancient writers regularly mix them up. Several sources refer to a ‘Titanomachy’ poem as a ‘Gigantomachy’; in Orphic myth, Dionysus is sometimes killed by Titans, sometimes by Giants; one source glosses the Titans as 'Giants beneath the earth’ (sch. Eur. Hec. 471).

The general impression is that the Titanomachy was at root a poetic narrative, while the Gigantomachy belonged more to the visual arts. There were at least three Titanomachy poems: they seem to have had limited success, and the complete poems have all been lost, but we still have an episode in the Hesiodic Theogony dealing with the story. The Gigantomachy, by contrast, had no poetic treatments that we know of, but it was central to the decorations of two of the most important temples in the Greek world: the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the Parthenon in Athens.

If you know the Disney film you’ll see how it navigates this ancient confusion. Zeus has imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros, as per the Titanomachy; but they get released, and Hercules intervenes to defeat the bad guys and save the Olympians, as per the Gigantomachy. The film synthesises both variants without ever dragging attention away from its main story. Rather well thought out, really.

Which Titans?

Most of the Titans aren’t even particularly evil. The trio of Kronos, Iapetos, and Okeanos are generally grouped together as the ones opposed to the Olympians. The Homeric Iliad groups Kronos and Iapetos together, imprisoned in Tartaros:
                  ... the nethermost extremes
of earth and sea, where Iapetos and Kronos
sit and never enjoy the rays of Hyperion the Sun,
nor the winds, and deep Tartaros is around them.
-- Iliad 8.478-481
But you notice Hyperion isn’t imprisoned with them? -- even though he belongs to the same generation of divinities. So: are only some Titans imprisoned? Or do only some divinities of that generation count as ‘Titans’? That’s not how Hesiod thinks of it (Theogony 205-6 makes them all ‘Titans’; at 424 Hekate seems to be counted as an ex-Titan).

There are plenty of Titans moseying around outside Tartaros. Elsewhere in Homer we find Phoibe, the moon, shining in the sky too. Dione appears on Olympus in Iliad book 5. Mnemosyne (‘Memory’) regularly gets invoked by poets. In Hesiod, Prometheus and Epimetheus are obviously still kicking around after Zeus becomes king of the universe -- though Prometheus goes on to be imprisoned too, in a separate story. Hekate gets to keep the prerogatives she had from the Titans.

Even Kronos himself wasn’t always the bad guy. Or, at least, not simply the bad guy. Athens and Rhodes celebrated festivals in honour of Kronos -- and, given that these two places belonged to distinct ethnic groups within the Greek world, that kind of suggests a pretty widespread observance. There were occasions, separate from the festivals, when cakes were offered to Kronos in Athens and in Elis. We know there were temples dedicated to Kronos at Athens and Olympia, both of them in precincts of Olympian Zeus.
For the Kronia festival in Athens and temples of Kronos, see New Pauly s.v. ‘Kronos’. For the Rhodian festival see Theodoret, Cure of the Greek maladies 7 (p. 108,46 = p. 294 Gaisford).

Van Dongen 2010: 192 thinks that Kronos and co. were originally separate from the Titans, pointing out that the Titans don’t have individual names in the Hesiodic Titanomachy. I don’t buy that. First, the idea of separating a single myth into two distinct ‘original’ myths is too close for comfort to the ‘two cultures’ interpretation I look at below. Second, the story is stable enough across both Hesiod and the Iliad (cf. Il. 5.897-898, 8.478-481, 14.278-289, 15.225) to point solidly to a much earlier origin.
Why celebrate Kronos, the arch-nemesis of Zeus? Not an easy question. Some modern theorists go for an agricultural explanation: the Kronia was a harvest festival, the Titans were harvest gods, and that’s why Kronos uses a sickle to cut off Ouranos’ genitals. Well, supposedly. I’m skeptical: I have a sneaking suspicion that some theorists have been taking their ideas about Kronos from Saturn, his Roman counterpart.

There are other ways you could interpret a festival in honour of the enemy of the gods. It might be a celebration of his imprisonment in Tartaros. It might be apotropaic (‘let’s honour Kronos so he doesn’t come back’). I’d prefer not to assume in advance that it’s just a peaceful, innocent harvest festival -- not unless there’s some evidence I’m just unaware of.
Kronos as depicted in the execrable film of Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (2013). But read the books instead -- please, for the love of Zeus, read the books instead. (I hate that Surtr in Thor: Ragnarok reminds me of this godsawful film.)

Two families of divinities?

When you see a pantheon with two ‘orders’ of gods, one popular interpretation is that two pantheons, from different cultures, have been combined. For example: we might say that at some point there was a Minoan pantheon consisting of just the Titans, and when the Mycenaeans conquered the Minoan civilisation, they imposed their own gods -- the Olympians -- as a kind of superior caste. This is wrong, by the way.

But this binary interpretation, that Olympians and Titans originated as a superimposition and a substrate, had a lot of currency among theorists of the early 20th century. Here’s how Walter Burkert puts it.
Historians have long sought to understand Greece and Greek religion as a synthesis of an indigenous substratum and Indo-European superimposition. How far this idea holds good and can be verified in detail is another question. Global dualisms which exaggerate the distinctino between Indo-European and non-Indo-European assert themselves all too easily: male and female, patriarchy and matriarchy, heaven and earth, Olympian and chthonic, and intellect and instinct. The interaction of the two poles is then supposedly reflected in Greek religion as the new gods overthrow the Titans, or as the Indo-European Sky Father takes the mediterranean Mistress as his bride.
-- Burkert 1985: 18 = 2011: 37.
In the work of Georges Dumézil, this division takes on classist tones too: the newer gods are worshipped by the upper class, the older gods by the proles. That seems to be coming more from the Romans than from anything Greek: the Romans with their division of patrician and plebeian, and the worship of Jupiter and Ceres.

younger gods elder gods
Olympians Titans
Mycenaean Minoan
Indo-European non-Indo-European
patriarchy matriarchy
celestial earthly
intellect instinct
culture nature
upper class lower class

Important note: everything about the above table is wrong. (We’ve got no reason to think of the Minoans as matriarchal. That idea still has some currency, thanks to Friedrich Engels, but it’s an extremely tendentious interpretation of very indirect, and very thin, evidence. It comes from Johann Jakob Bachofen’s 1861 book Das Mutterrecht: Bachofen’s theory of an even earlier ‘hetairistic’ phase, where everyone was sexually promiscuous, kind of suggests that the whole idea has its roots in his sexual fantasies. No archaeologists or anthropologists have taken it seriously for many decades.)

But this theory boils down to a thinly-veiled nationalism. ‘Indo-European’ versus ‘non-Indo-European’? Just say what you mean: Aryan versus Untermensch.

(Incidentally, Burkert goes on to point out that when it comes to ritual practice, it’s earthly libations that are related to Indo-European religion, while the rising smoke of Olympian sacrifices is more closely linked to Semitic practices.)

The idea that two castes of divinities reflect two ethnic groups has been suggested for other bodies of myth. In Norse myth, figures like Gro Steinsland have suggested that the two orders of divinities -- the Æsir, with Odin, Thor, Tyr, etc., and the Vanir with Njord, Freyr, and Freyja -- are a result of two distinct mythological traditions coming into contact with each other. So the war of the Æsir and the Vanir supposedly reflects a historical war.

As with the Olympians and the Titans, it may sound like a reasonable working hypothesis. Let’s just emphasise the word hypothesis, though. There’s never any direct evidence to support this kind of thing. And there’s good reason to doubt it.

The parallel between the Greek and Norse pantheons sounds suspiciously like something systematic: it’s integral to the design, baked into each pantheon from the start. That impression gets even stronger if you draw comparisons to other pantheons: Indian myth has the devás warring against the ásuras, Irish myth has the Tuatha Dé Danann as successors to the monstrous Fomorians.

pantheon younger gods elder gods
Greek Olympians Titans
Norse Æsir Vanir
Hurro-Hittite Kumarbi karuilies siunes
Indian Devas Asuras
Irish Tuathe Dé Danann Fomorians
Mesopotamian gods ilani kamûti

For more on this, see West 2007: 162-164.

We certainly don’t have enough evidence to draw genetic links between any of these cases. If the idea of two orders of gods is one that the Greeks inherited, it’s best to assume it came via the Hittites. The Hittite former gods, or karuilies siunes, are incarcerated in the underworld, and there are usually twelve of them, just like the Titans.

But that isn’t to say we know how the myth developed. The Greek and Hittite pantheons have the closest link of any pair in this table, but no one’s going to suggest that Hesiod had a copy of the Kumarbi cycle in front of him. The date and means by which Anatolian and Near Eastern mythical patterns made their way to Greece are obscure.
There’s a similar sentiment in Clay and Gilan 2014: 5-6. Van Dongen 2010 suggests a relatively late date for mythical narratives spreading from Anatolia to the Greek world, with contact between Greeks and Phrygians and Lydians around the 8th century: personally I’d be very happy with a much earlier date, even in the Bronze Age. We have Greek gods in the Bronze Age, but alas, no direct evidence of Titans. See also Bachvarova 2016 for a more luxurious discussion.
I find the parallels compelling enough to accept that a two-generation structure is generally going to be something baked into the pantheon, not a result of two cultures having a war.

But not compelling enough to conclude there are genetic links. M. L. West, too, thinks the parallels are ‘suggestive’, but not so close ‘as to make the hypothesis [of a common heritage] ... irresistible.’ OK, for the Olympians vs. Titans, we’ve got Kumarbi and the Hittite ‘former gods’ to point to as a possible influence. But we don’t have anything like that for Indian, Irish, or Norse myth. There, the ‘two orders of gods’ structure seems more likely to have been created from scratch, rather than inherited from older traditions.
Another view of the Disney Titans -- this time, from the game Kingdom Hearts III (2019). Here Hercules isn’t teaming up with the Olympians, but with (left to right) Goofy, Sora, and Donald Duck. I wonder what Hesiod would think.
That doesn’t mean we have to revert to the ‘Mycenaeans absorb the Minoan pantheon’ model, or the ‘Æsir absorb the Vanir’ model -- let’s call it the ‘two cultures’ model. That model isn’t impossible. But it is euhemerism, and euhemerism has never been a useful guide to any myth’s development over time.

Another good reason to be skeptical of the ‘two cultures’ model is that when people are interested in the elder gods, and don’t know much about the historical background, they regularly go for the exact same interpretation. It’s a repeating pattern -- just like the ‘two orders of gods’ is a repeating pattern. Myths are really good at falling into similar patterns, whether or not they have a genetic relationship to each other.


  • Bachvarova, M. 2016. From Hittite to Homer. The Anatolian background of ancient Greek epic. Cambridge University Press
  • Burkert, W. 1985. Greek religion. (Translated by John Raffan.) Blackwell.
  • ---- 2011 [1977]. Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, 2nd edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer.
  • Clay, J. S.; Gilan, A. 2014. ‘The Hittite “Song of emergence” and the Theogony.’ Philologus 2014: 1-9.
  • van Dongen, E. W. M. 2010. Studying external stimuli to the development of the ancient Aegean. The ‘Kingship in Heaven’ theme from Kumarbi to Kronos via Anatolia. PhD dissertation, UCL.
  • West, M. L. 2007. Indo-European poetry and myth. Oxford University Press.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Bad Latin in the movies: Constantine (2005)

Keanu Reeves. Yup, he’s hot stuff right now. And his films do seem to have a fair bit of Latin. His latest, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019), has a Latin subtitle, a short form of ‘if you want peace, prepare war’ -- a motto favoured by the alt-right, and also Parabellum was the official brandname of the Luger pistol.

Looking back further: in the first John Wick (2014), the gold coins used by professional assassins have Latin inscriptions -- on one side ens causa sui, ‘existing for its own sake’ -- I’m not sure that’s the intended meaning, but it’s what it does mean -- and on the other ex unitae vires, an error for ex unitate vires ‘strength from unity’. In The Matrix (1999), the Oracle has a Latin motto over her kitchen door, temet nosce ‘know yourself’. And Bill & Ted (1989) -- well, there’s no Latin, but we do have Socrates speaking ancient Greek. In a British accent.
John Constantine consults the archangel Gabriel. Left: Hellblazer 43 (1991); right: Tilda Swinton and Keanu Reeves in Constantine (2005).
And then there’s Constantine (2005), loosely based on a storyline in the comic book Hellblazer. Yes, there’s the good old tradition inherited from The Exorcist of repeating ‘in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit’ in Latin as an incantation for dispelling demons.

But there’s a more substantial chunk too. At one point we get to see a passage from a demonic bible, with an extra chapter at the end of 1 Corinthians. The original text, Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, was in Greek ... but, well, I guess demons do love them some Latin.

Here’s the text shown on screen.
The surrounding text has nothing to do with 1 Corinthians, by the way. The verse above the chapter heading is actually Isaiah 1.23.
Ad Corinthios XVII

Amor enim patris modo Satanae possessionis, atque potestatis et voluptatis eius excessus fuit. Atque in lumbis et ex lumbis eius conceptus est filius. Filio de quo fierit damnatio mundi. Hoc modo solo homines orbis terrae verum fatum suorum, certam vocationem, verum dolorem sub calce veri Domini explere poterunt per potestatem veri fili poterunt. Animas enim suas homines in fornace semper ardente sub pedibus verorum angelorum invenient.

Filius, in lucis ardore Patris conceptus, in umbra eius qui cecidit naturus est, nec umquam luce creatoris contaminatus erit. Et lux ignis veri sui patris flammae ardentes in cordibus hominum erint.

Peccata patris modo peccatis fili excessa erint.

Mammon erit nomen eius qui caput patris percutuit. Vires suae desuper patrem descendunt et potentia sua tanta erit ut lucem soli extingueret. Et tenebrae super Terram et super homines descendent.
The interpretation given out loud in the film is related to the Latin text, but isn’t a direct translation.

This isn’t exactly good Latin. OK, I’ve seen worse in students’ homework. This is good enough to work out the intended meaning -- mostly -- and it’s certainly way better than anything you’d get from Google Translate. (That’s setting a very low bar: Google Translate is notoriously bad at Latin. I guarantee you are much, much better at Latin than Google is, even if you’ve never studied any Latin at all.)
Never, ever, ever use Google Translate for Latin. Here’s its attempt at the first bit of Latin I ever read. This is day one material: you’ll be able to follow it even if you’ve never considered learning Latin.
But it’s very obviously translated from English, and translated by someone with a very shaky idea of verb tenses and noun cases. Here’s my best effort at working out the intended meaning:
For the love of the father was exceeded only by Satan’s lust for possession and power. And in his loins and from his loins a son is conceived. From that son will come about the damnation of the world. In this way alone will humans be able to fulfil the true destiny of their world, its assured calling, its true agony, beneath the heel of their true Lord: through the power of his true son they will be able (to do this). For humans will find their souls in a furnace, ever burning, beneath the feet of the true angels.

The son, conceived in the heat of his Father’s light, is to be born in the shadow of him who fell, never tainted by the light of the creator. And the light of the true fire of his father will be flames burning in people’s hearts.

The sins of the father will be exceeded only by the sins of the son.

Mammon will be his name, the one who beheaded his father. His strength descends upon his father, and his power will be great enough to extinguish the light of the sun. And shadows will descend upon the Earth and upon humans.
There’s an awful lot of mistakes in the Latin. Not historically plausible mistakes, mind: we’re talking classic mistakes made by English-speakers who just don’t get how noun cases work.

The first sentence, for example, is mangled enough that I’m not confident it was meant to say what I wrote in my translation. Here’s a literal version of what the Latin actually says:
For the love of the father had been had exceeded only of Satan or of possession and of power and of his desire.
Yeah. And verb tenses are all over the place. The phrase excessus fuit would be a kind of more-pluperfect-than-pluperfect, if that were a thing. My impression is that the translator forgot that Latin doesn’t really do tenses with auxiliary verbs, and shoved in English expressions in their place. In the second paragraph, contaminatus erit is literally ‘he will have been tainted’, not ‘he will be tainted’, which is what I think the writers were going for. Naturus est is clearly a translation of a faux-biblical English phrase ‘he is to be born’: authentic Latin would just use the future nascetur.

There are other problems. They’re all typical of an English speaker with dodgy Latin.

Reflexive possessives are used where ordinary possessives ought to be used. The phrase ‘of the son’ (paragraphs 1 and 3) is misspelled, so that the text actually means ‘oh my son!’. When humans ‘find’ their souls in a furnace (paragraph 1), the choice of words implies that they hit upon a research finding, not that they awake to a realisation. In paragraph 2, the ‘light of the true fire’ is singular, but the verb is plural -- another classic student’s mistake, agreeing with the complement instead of the subject. In paragraph 4 the Latin for ‘sun’, soli, is given a second-declension form when it should be third-declension.

Just for the sake of it, here’s a re-written version of the passage with some better Latin.
Amor enim patris solo Satanae possessionis atque potestatis voluptate exceditur. Atque in lumbis et ex lumbis eius concipitur. Quo de filio fiet damnatio mundi. Hoc modo solo homines verum fatum mundi sui, certam vocationem, verum dolorem sub calce veri Domini explere poterunt, per potestatem veri filii. Homines enim animas suas in fornace semper ardenti reperient sub pedibus verorum angelorum.

Filius, in lucis ardore Patris conceptus, in umbra illius qui cecidit nascetur; nec umquam luce creatoris contaminabitur. Et lux ignis veri sui patris erit, flammae ardentes in cordibus hominum.

Peccata patris modo peccatis filii excedentur.

Mammon erit nomen eius qui caput patris percutiet. Vires eius desuper patrem descendent et tanta erit potentia eius ut lucem ipsius solis extinguat. Et tenebrae super terram et super homines descendent.
You just can’t have demon stuff going on without some bad Latin. (Rich Burlew, The Order of the Stick 635 [2009])