Unicorn (2020) h/b 80pp £10.00 (ISBN 9781912690879)

This delightful little book, possibly slightly overpriced, takes lyrics from well-known pop songs and translates them, as closely as possible, into Latin. I say ‘well-known’ but I confess that I had not heard of some of the artists, though that should not deter the reader. I enjoyed looking up the song lyrics and listening to the music—an education in itself. 

The book is divided into eleven sections, ranging from ‘Icons’ to ‘Nice Noughties’ via ‘Motown’ and ‘Ratpack’. This gives R. an enormous range of songs on which to draw. How she made her choices, therefore, is an interesting question. For example, in the ‘Icons’ section, the Beatles come up three times, but the Rolling Stones only once. Was this because R. found it simpler to translate Lennon and McCartney’s lyrics rather than those of Richards and Jagger? And why do Tina Turner songs appear four times?

Some of the Latin is quite straightforward and I found the lyrics easy to decode, but others provided more of a challenge. The wonderfully coined and ingenious translations of ‘Rocket man’, ‘Girls on film’ and ‘Major Tom’s a junkie’ clearly benefitted from the expertise of those people R. credits as ‘prominent Classicists’. Did I find some of the English lyrics to be not quite accurate? Well, Ian Dury didn’t quite sing what R. purports, but feri me baculo tuo rhythmi is cleverly done.

As R. says in the introduction, she sometimes sacrifices grammatical prowess in favour of the greater artistic endeavour. In the long run, I don’t think this matters. When I thought some of the translations were a little too loose, I enjoyed the challenge of coming up with my own efforts to see whether I might convey the meaning more lucidly. In most instances I failed.

All in all and taking a lead from ‘Juke Box Jury’, Latin Rocks On is a ‘Hit’ for this aged reader. I would have liked to try out the examples with my students in my teaching days but it nevertheless still affords some fun for the retired classicist who wants to keep up with the times.

Mike Smith