“A Wolf…Chases Christ into the Rivers”: Some Latin Magnetic Poems

A friend of mine (not a classicist) found a vintage Latin Magnetic Poetry set and gave it to me.  It’s not so much for Latinists as it is for English-speakers familiar with Latin: it’s got all the familiar phrases from law (habeas corpus) and Catholicism (in nomine patris) and general fancy talk (caveat emptor).

I decided to give it a go, and see what syntactically coherent sentences and phrases I could put together in classical-ish Latin. I set myself the rule of using every word in the kit, and not reusing any word that wasn’t duplicated in the kit.  Don’t bother scanning them, as they’re not metrical, but who’s to say they aren’t Saturnians?

Photograph of Magnetic Poetry, in Latin: 18 small clusters of tiny white rectangular magnets with Latin text printed in black.  The rest of this blog post consists of a transcript of that text, with translations and a tiny bit of commentary.  The translations are colloquial rather than literal, but T. H. M. believes he can justify his colloquialisms (at least as long as every journal and book editor he's run into aren't the arbiter!).

some Magnetic Poetry, in Latin, assembled during a frantic semester teaching Latin Prose Composition

Some of them sound like they could plausibly have been written or at least thought by an actual historical Roman:

ars firma uitae est scientia in libris
life’s reliable skill is book-knowledge

homini est nihil beati
humankind has no share of happiness

Magna Mater omnes forma mala amat
the Great Mother loves everyone who has a bad body

uidi populum
facile errare
et labi ad bellum

I’ve seen the populace
easily going astray
and slipping towards war

aurea uox mea non est pura
my golden voice is not pure

sic ego rebus maximis gratias non emeritus sum
that’s why I haven’t earned thanks for my super-great accomplishments

Some had a feeling of banter that could, if you squint real hard, fit in a comedy of Plautus:

amor ab ipso bono
quem hominem amas;
te uici, Maria

I’m loved by the very nobleman
whom you love;
I’ve beaten you, Maria

idem sum
de quo delirium est
I’m the very guy
everyone’s crazy about

tu Brute carpe artes pauperes salis
dum gratia patris fiat tibi absurdo

you, Brutus, pick out the impoverished arts of wit
so long as you’ve got your dad’s good will, you ridiculous man

aue homo quid in curriculum uadis
de quo non bene cogito?

hey, dude, why are you wandering onto the racetrack
that I don’t think well of?

Others entered the danger zone, of either hanky panky or sacrilege:

ueni ad opus sub toga filii proximi
I got to work underneath the toga of the boy next door

coitus habeas tremens ante nauseam
may you, trembling, have sex to the point of nausea

pax alma mirabilis
pacifici Satanas domini beati
toto anno aureo
in cetera terra beata

the wondrous nourishing peace
of the peace-bringing blessed lord, o Satan,
within the entire golden year
in the remaining blessed land

nosce unum partum e culpa dei:
filius caueat de te pater
et de poena dura
et nomine minimo delicti

recognize one born out of God’s mistake:
the Son is on guard against you, Father,
and against harsh punishment
and against the slightest name of criminal action

But the best ones took me into the realm of the bizarre:

lupus bipes Christum in flumina sequitur
minima cum cura

a wolf walking on its hind legs chases Christ into the rivers
he don’t give a fuck

alter emptor lupi mortui exit e gloria populi
the dead wolf’s other buyer has lost the good reputation of the public

uiam inueniam
aut bona faciam absentia
nulla fide

I’ll find a way—
or I’ll make all my property disappear
with no regrets

mortem malo
sed corpus magnum uirile ago
per uitam
annum perpetuum

I prefer death
but I drag my giant manly body
through life
for an endless year

And in case it wasn’t clear what the whole Magnetic Poetry set was trying (with middling results) to do, notice that one standalone magnet at the top of the photo:
LATIN.

I managed to use every single word in the kit, which means this page has the sum of all Latin Magnetic Poetry options — so now it’s your turn to mix & match. Post your handiwork in the comments!

T. H. M. Gellar-Goad is Associate Professor of Classics and Zachary T. Smith Fellow at Wake Forest University. He is author of Laughing Atoms, Laughing Matter: Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura and Satire, and co-organizer of Feminism & Classics 2020 (err…2021? 2022?). Send quibbles, emendations, and scandalized expressions of dismay to him at thmgg@wfu.edu.

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