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English to Latin Translation needed!
May 15, 2009 10:48 AM   Subscribe

I need to have a latin phrase translated for a tattoo I'm getting, anyone know latin? the phrase is: "One day we will burn together as stars"

"One day we will burn together as stars"

I want "One day" to communicate a time in the distant future. I wish to have the idea translated, rather than the exact text of 'single day'. I don't know Latin colloquialisms, so any help would be much appreciated :)!
posted by Charlie Lesoine to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
olim stellae simul ardebimus
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:13 AM on May 15, 2009


I don't disagree with I_pity_the_fool's translation... I just have a question about the translation of "as stars". What was the justification for choosing a nominative plural?

I admit that with my limited Latin knowledge, I'm stumped as to how I'd render "as stars". I haven't even really convinced myself what part of speech "as" serves!
posted by sbutler at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2009


sbutler: "as" is a preposition. "as stars" would be a very short prepositional phrase, modifying the verb.
posted by wheat at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2009


You've got 'olim'and 'simul' correct. However, 'let us burn' takes the subjunctive and is translated as 'ardeamus'. I don't know how to translate 'as stars', but it's definitely not a prepositional phrase.
posted by kldickson at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2009


If you're wary of strangers on the internet, here's a $30 professional latin tattoo translation service. These folks are also strangers on the internet, but with their very own internet page. (And doctorate.)

Also, I'd love to hear why this phrase is significant to you.
posted by Sfving at 1:08 PM on May 15, 2009


Gah, that picture might seem like a derail if I don't explain it.

What I was trying to illustrate is that getting a tattoo in ones own language can be fraught with peril, so to do so in a language one does not understand is even more dangerous Bonus round: when people see it they may think you speak the language and start conversing with you in it, then you have to cop to having a tattoo you don't really understand.

All that being said, it is your body, and if you want a latin phrase about stars on it, go for it!
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


olim means "formerly", or "once", as far as I know. So that wouldn't work.

Also stellae should be rendered as "stellis"...pretty sure it would be the ablative case here, with no preposition required. That would be the Ablative of Comparison.

I would swap in "demum" or "tandem" instead of "olim"...either would work, although I think "demum" is closer to the meaning you're after.

so that would make the translation:

oilm stellis simul ardebimus
posted by hiteleven at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


sorry...I mean:

demum stellis simul ardebimus
posted by hiteleven at 1:13 PM on May 15, 2009


Ars longa.
posted by box at 1:14 PM on May 15, 2009


You've got 'olim'and 'simul' correct. However, 'let us burn' takes the subjunctive and is translated as 'ardeamus'.

This is not a jussive sentence ("let us..."), or a subjunctive sentence in any way. It is declarative. So "ardebimus" fits.
posted by hiteleven at 1:15 PM on May 15, 2009


One more thing, man i'm wordy today. Be darned sure that the translation is perfect. There is a sign up in my local Coffehouse with some incorrectly worded latin on it. All the antiquites, language, etc. ph'd's and other erudite persons (Cambridge scholar on Sir Issac Newton, etc.) make fun of it regularly. You don't want such a thing permanently on you, then if you run into these sorts they will point out what is incorrect and relish the opportunity to show off their intellectual muscle. They might be too polite to do it in front of you, but trust me, if the latin is wrong, they will talk about it.

So, all that said, you came to the right place. There are plenty of people here that can translate latin properly. Just make sure you don't trust someone that can't. I have no idea how you will tell the difference...
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2009


"Olim", while it can refer to the future, has a strong flavor of the past -- it's how you'd translate "once upon a time", for instance.

Here's a better translation:

in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

Literally, "We circle in the night and are consumed by fire." Think moths. Also it's a palindrome, so it reads the same way forwards and backwards, which should make some nice design possibilities.

Also, it's something someone wrote so that it would be nice and clever and pretty in Latin (in the middle ages), not a nice and clever and pretty English phrase that someone thought should be translated into mangled and hideous Latin because "everything sounds nicer in Latin". If you like the English phrase, wear the English phrase. Don't hide what you like when you're getting it tattooed on your body!
posted by Casuistry at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2009 [20 favorites]


olim means "formerly", or "once", as far as I know. So that wouldn't work.

Perseus Project has examples meaning "Of the future, one day, some time, hereafter". So I don't think olim is necessarily a bad choice.

Also stellae should be rendered as "stellis"...pretty sure it would be the ablative case here, with no preposition required. That would be the Ablative of Comparison.

I disagree. You aren't comparing to a star the way I read this. You are saying, one day we will be stars. Kind of along the lines of Sagan's we are made of star stuff.
posted by sbutler at 1:18 PM on May 15, 2009


Also, that is hella not what the ablative of comparison is about.

The nominative "stellae" was being used in apposition to the subject (like in "puer carmina legi", "as a boy, I read poems"), I assume. It's poetic enough.
posted by Casuistry at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2009


Oops, that was to hiteleven, not to sbutler, whom I crossposted with.
posted by Casuistry at 1:26 PM on May 15, 2009


I did think the sentence meant "we will be like stars," not "we will be stars"...a subtle difference, I suppose.

My first instinct is still to put it in the ablative case, though...perhaps it is an Ablative of Manner? I do hear what Casuistry is saying, though.

As for the varying meanings of "olim", "in antea" also makes a similar shift in the Middle Ages, but only in very obscure diplomatic documents. Possibly "olim" does the same thing, but I've never seen it. Better to go with a more appropriate word.
posted by hiteleven at 1:35 PM on May 15, 2009


Anecdotal story:

I had a professor in college who was one of the premiere medieval history scholars in the United States, though getting a little creaky. Anyway, I was getting a tattoo and I thought a Latin tattoo might be nice so I came up with a nice phrase, and went to him to see if he could translate it for me. He had no idea who I was (or any other of the 180 students in the class) but he was gracious enough when I presented him with the slip of paper. He looked at it, and then looked at it again a little puzzled.

He went over to a large metal chest, unlocked it, opened it and took out an book easily three times the size of a volume of the OED about about as thick. I mentioned that it looked old. He said that it was a 16th century hand written Latin dictionary and that a lot of people would like to have it. He asked me for the phrase again and I showed him. He said that he had never heard that before. I told him I made it up and was thinking of getting it tattooed. He gently closed the book, looked at me and told me that English to Latin translations are meaningless because it is a language of historical record and that he didn't want me walking around with a permanent inscription that someone who spoke Latin historically would have thought was gibberish.

The moral of the story is that whatever you get, don't show it to any serious Latin scholars. And that dictionary was one cool book.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:42 PM on May 15, 2009 [26 favorites]


I am actually finding this thread fascinating. I can't help but agree with mrmojo, but that's just my opinion as well. (and would love to have seen that book!)

Anyways, I thought I'd throw this out there, it's what an automatic translator would say: in posterus nos mos exuro amo astrum

Or more literally: Unus dies nos mos exuro una ut astrum

I only post these because they're so different from what everyone has suggested, it's just a good illustration of why you DON'T want to use free translation like that. As a bonus: Latin speakers, please feel free to illustrate why those translations are incorrect.

Personally, I would never feel comfortable enough with a translation until I met a native Latin speaker, and those are hard to come by.
posted by indiebass at 2:12 PM on May 15, 2009


hiteleven, the ablative of comparison generally replaces constructions with "quam". So, "viri sunt potentiores quam pueri", men are stronger than boys, or, with the ablative of comparison, "viri sunt potentiores pueris." (Not the loveliest sentences, granted.) You don't use it to replace "quasi" or other words of that sort of comparison. So "quasi stellae" or "velut stellae" or something like that would be better if you really wanted to stress that it's not literally stars.

Also, please to be giving me a copy of that dictionary.
posted by Casuistry at 3:15 PM on May 15, 2009


Hey wow, lots of responses. Firstly, I mean this sentence to communicate that one day, we will all be united as stars when our sun explodes and casts out its detritus to create new stars, which we will be a part of, reunited with those we love.

I don't believe in god or a soul, this is as close to the comfort of reuniting with my dead loved ones as I believe I will ever come. It comforts me to be reminded of it.

So take the meaning to literally mean one day our atoms will become part of the same stars.
posted by Charlie Lesoine at 4:57 PM on May 15, 2009


Charlie, that's a pretty nice thought as far as existential thoughts go and one that I might consider memorializing if it fit my situation. I'm not trying to trivialize your aspirations or experience; a few months after my meeting with the Latin scholar I got a large I-Ching hexagram tattoo on my back, and I can't claim any authentic knowledge of that either. Ultimately, you have to go with what you know you want to live with, but I think it's good to hear that interpretations can vary considerably. Good luck.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:35 PM on May 15, 2009


By 'ars longa,' I mean that art is long--in this case, for the rest of your life. Whatever you decide to get, be sure that you really, really like it.
posted by box at 6:31 PM on May 15, 2009


Since you are trying to connote such a literal, forceful meaning, I might go with:

demum in stellas simul ardebimus

This could quite literally be translated as "One day/eventually we will burn together in stars," but in tends to convey broader meanings in Latin, and could be rendered as "about", "into", "among", and other words along the same lines. It seems to be the best fit.

Of course the caveat is that the word order is more or less totally flexible. "in stellas simul demum ardebimus" or "simul in stellas demum ardebimus" might work just as well, if not better. The site linked to by Sfving seems worth looking into. Seeing as this is going to be permanently etched onto your skin, might as well solicit suggestions from as many sources as possible.

On another note, the story provided by mrmojoflying bothers me the more I read it. So Latin is a language of "historical record", according to his old prof? So what historical period would that be, then? Classical? Medieval? Renaissance? Enlightenment? Pre-Vatican II 20th-century ecclesiastical history? Because Latin was used in all of these periods, to varying degrees. There is lots of great 19th scholarship written in Latin...were those people writing outside their "proper" historical context?

To flip the argument, Latin as a language has arguably been on life support since Late Antiquity. In the Middle Ages it was used largely by the literite elite...mostly ecclesiastics and jurists. Outside of church, people spoke in the vernaculars that gave rise to modern European languages. This medieval professor is working with materials written in a language that made sense to about as many people %-wise as it does today, roughly speaking.
posted by hiteleven at 9:57 PM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another suggestion:

nobis olim restituti sidera nova ardebimus

This is a looser translation (literally: "one day, restored to ourselves/one another, we will burn (as) new stars"); here's my rationale:

The expressions "nobis restituti" (restored to ourselves) and "sidera nova" (new stars) are adapted from poems of Catullus (#66 and #36 respectively), so each of them has a classical precedent (i.e. Latinists will be somewhat less likely to scoff at them). Both of those poems deal with reunions: in 36, Catullus, as usual, hopes to be reunited with Lesbia; in 66, King Ptolemy and Queen Berenice are reunited after he's been away at war--and as an added bonus, that poem is narrated by a lock of Berenice's hair that's been turned into a star.

I'm going to agree with I_pity_the_fool that "olim" is the best time-adverb here. My sense is that "demum" is more like "finally" or "at last," referring (for example) to something you've been waiting impatiently for, or a kind of ultimate logical consequence; "olim" has a more mythological feel (as Casuitry points out, it's the phrase you use to introduce a story or fable), which seems closer to what you're after. "Olim" can indeed refer to the future, as it does in one of the most famous phrases of the Aeneid: forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit ("perhaps one day it will be pleasant to remember even these things"). I think the sense of a longed-for but only vaguely imaginable future in that line of Vergil is pretty close to what you way to convey.

(Jesus, did I just spend Friday night trying to compose a Latin tattoo?)
posted by DaDaDaDave at 11:10 PM on May 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


I admit that with my limited Latin knowledge, I'm stumped as to how I'd render "as stars". I haven't even really convinced myself what part of speech "as" serves!

Stellae is in apposition to the implied nominative pronoun. If you have a look at Allen and Greenough's Latin Grammar (available here), in section 282-284, you can see examples of nouns used to describe another and standing in apposition to them. For example:

litteras Graecas senex didici. I learned Greek as an old man.
eius mortis sedetis ultores. You sit as avengers of his death.
habeatur vir egregius Paulus. Let Paulus be regarded as an extraordinary man.
ego patronus exstiti. I have come forward as an advocate.

It's correct that apposition should probably only be used if we're talking about literally burning as stars. If we're talking about burning like stars, we should use quasi or velut.

My first instinct is still to put it in the ablative case, though...perhaps it is an Ablative of Manner? I do hear what Casuistry is saying, though.

The ablative of manner is not used like that.

Of course the caveat is that the word order is more or less totally flexible. "in stellas simul demum ardebimus" or "simul in stellas demum ardebimus" might work just as well, if not better. The site linked to by Sfving seems worth looking into. Seeing as this is going to be permanently etched onto your skin, might as well solicit suggestions from as many sources as possible.

AFAIK, this would mean into stars.

I stand by my translation, but I think that DaDaDaDave's is excellent and Casuistry's suggestion is also very clever.

Personally, if I were having a tattoo done in Latin, I'd got with pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. But that's just me.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 4:10 AM on May 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Firstly, I mean this sentence to communicate that one day, we will all be united as stars when our sun explodes and casts out its detritus to create new stars, which we will be a part of, reunited with those we love.

I don't believe in god or a soul, this is as close to the comfort of reuniting with my dead loved ones as I believe I will ever come. It comforts me to be reminded of it.

So take the meaning to literally mean one day our atoms will become part of the same stars.




Plato is an example of a historical philosopher and naturalist who also believed this. His works influenced a lot of the common thinking at the time, and the Metempsychosis school of thought is probably the best fit for categorizing how ancient Romans thought themselves to be a part of the stars.
The Pythagoreans also subscribed to this belief, though to somewhat ridiculous extremes (they would not eat beans because they believed there were souls of people in them).

Anyway, I bring this up because your tattoo idea reminded me of a line in Book VI of the Aeneid when Aeneas visits his father Anchises in the underworld. Anchises explains the process of life and death to Aeneas:

"Principio caelum ac terram camposque liquentis lucentemque globum lunae Titaniaque astra spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet. Inde hominum pecudumque genus vitaeque volantum et quae marmoreo fert monstra sub aequore pontus. Igneus est ollis vigor et caelestis origo seminibus, quantum non corpora noxia tardant terrenique hebetant artus moribundaque membra."

Translated:

"Firstly, the sky and lands and liquids, the moon's bright globe,
The Titan sun and stars,
Are nourished by the spirit within, and a mind,
Infused through all the members of the world,
Drives the great living mass.
From that source man and beast,
The lives of birds, and monsters from the shining sea are derived.
There is fiery energy from the beginning of the heavens,
That belongs to these souls,
So long as harmful mortal bodies do not hinder them,
Their free essence dimmed by earthiness and deathliness of flesh."




I'd talk more about Pythagoras and Plato, and how this found its way into Virgil's poem but I have to study for an Organic Chem final!
posted by Demogorgon at 6:10 AM on May 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


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