Need an accurate English to Latin translation.
May 14, 2014 11:06 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine wants to get another tattoo, and the phrase he's picked to get inked is this: "I am the angel of death, not mercy." He would like for the ink to be in Latin, so obviously he wants to make sure the translation is spot-on. Any Latin scholars able to help with this? Thank you so much!
posted by shiu mai baby to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Angelus mortis non clementiae sum

Literally, "I am the angel of death not of mercy."

You could also go with

Angelus mortis sum, non clementiae

which would translate exactly to the grammar of the English, but I don't think it flows as well in Latin.
posted by Maecenas at 11:20 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most literal translation would probably be something like:

sum angelus mortis non misericordiae

Sum (I am) angelus (angel in the nominative) mortis (death in the genitive - "of death" or "death's) non misericordiae (misery in the genitive - "of mercy.")

I'll be interested to see what others say. I think "mortis" and "misericordiae" may or may not be the right types of death and mercy you are looking for. Part of the problem with latin translations is that the meanings of such things have changed a lot since then, so it's tough to find the exact nuance you want in an old word.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:21 AM on May 14, 2014

On preivew: I like "sum" at the end too - more typical latin structure, though you usually see modern translations do it more English-mirrored.

Clementiae is not bad either - literally "clemency." I tend to think of it more as compassion than mercy, but that might be better. It has a sort of "pardoning" nuance to it, like an emperor granting you clemency.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:23 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Y'all are the very best of the web. Thank you so much!
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2014

So, in terms of "death," we'd like to turn to the bible, I guess. My first thought was the angel of the tenth plague, who is a Destroying Angel. Looking at the vulgate passages containing Destroying Angels, the best I found was in Job 33:22 where they are called 'destroyers' (memitim in Hebrew) which is translated in the Vulgate as mortifer—note that this is an adjective, not a genitive like mortis, and so might be more literally translated as 'death-bringing angel'.

Also, in Proverbs 16:14, they're called nuntii mortis or 'messengers of death' (angel is just the Greek word for messenger). So the genitive mortis does seem to be valid.

As for the mercy part, the bible seems to be all about misericordia (cf. Matthew 5:7). I guess being focused on mercy from an emperor is what I get for rarely reading any Latin not within 100 years of 1 AD.
posted by Maecenas at 11:50 AM on May 14, 2014

Best answer: (So, to clarify: Angelus mortis non misericordiae sum is my official vote.)
posted by Maecenas at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I personally would drop the "sum" - the Romans often left it implied, unless they wanted to stress "I AM the angel of death etc."
posted by Omnomnom at 1:00 PM on May 14, 2014

If you drop the "sum", it's not clear whether the reference is first-, second-, or third-person.
posted by zeri at 2:20 PM on May 14, 2014

Best answer: For $30 these fine folks will provide a translation for you. Their educational backgrounds include studying Latin at Cambridge (to the doctoral level) and Oxford. One taught Latin professionally for many years until retiring.

Alternatively, for $25 for a short phrase or $50 for a longer one (not sure which this would be), this fellow will provide a Latin translation. He has both an MA and a Ph.D in classical studies and has taught Latin professionally for a decade.

A tattoo is permanent. I strongly recommend hiring an expert.
posted by jedicus at 2:21 PM on May 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh man. That second link, with all the bad translation tattoos, is pure gold. Thank you for that, jedicus.

And thank y'all again for all the excellent help. It's very much appreciated.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:41 PM on May 14, 2014

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