Translating Children’s Literature to Latin: ‘Virent Ova! Viret Perna!’

In News by Dennis Abrams

Taking on Dr. Seuss rhymes and cadences, translator Terence Tunberg and his wife Jennifer, are believers in seeing children’s books rendered into Latin.

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

‘To Keep Latin Alive’
At Atlas Obscura, Eric Grundhauser writes about The Highbrow Struggles of Translating Modern Children’s Books Into Latin.

He writes:

Eric Grundhauser

“From picture books like Walter the Farting Dog to longer works like Winnie the Pooh and the first two books in the Harry Potter series, a wide variety of titles have made the jump to Latin over the years.

“Children’s books make good candidates for such translation work due to their simplified language and length, and in turn can give the study of Latin a more contemporary feel.

“But this doesn’t mean that turning these books into Latin in the first place is any small feat.”

The University of Kentucky’s Terence Tunberg, a 30-year veteran of teaching Latin, has worked with his wife Jennifer to translate several children’s books into Latin, as Grundhauser writes:

“In addition to Green Eggs and Ham (Virent Ova! Viret Perna!!), the Tunbergs have also translated the Dr. Seuss classics How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Quomodo Invidiosulus nomine Grinchus Christi natalem Abrogaverit) and The Cat in the Hat (Cattus Petasatus), as well as Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (Arbor Alma).”

Tunberg tells Grundhauser that the translated kids’ books are “a good teaching tool, there’s no doubt about that. We did not try to write simple Latin. We tried to translate it the best we could given the resources of the Latin language without dumbing it down.” That takes some doing, of course. “The challenge there was obviously the Seussian wording,” Tunberg says, “but also he [Seuss] had his own kind of rhythmical rhyme. We wrote How The Grinch Stole Christmas in a very alliterative prose.”

The project began when classics textbook publisher Bolchazy-Carducci reached out to Tunberg, having purchased the rights to some of the works of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991).

Terence Tunberg

Tunberg is quoted by Grundhauser saying that his publisher “caught on to the idea that if they have very young children’s stories in Latin along with the regular books by Caesar and Cicero and all these other people, it would be a draw. And they were right. I still get royalties.”

Although Tunberg says he’s focused on research now and no longer translating children’s books, he tells Grundhauser that good candidates for Latin translation include Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Lord of the Rings. A Latin translation of The Hobbit, Hobbitus Ille, was published in 2012).

He tells Grundhauser:

“If you want to keep Latin alive, and you want to keep people interested in it, the availability of that stuff is always good. Ultimately the classics gain, too, because the student who reads my imagined version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is more likely to end up reading Virgil and Cicero.”

Eric Grundhauser’s full article at Atlas Obscura is here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.