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Top 5 books for Latin lovers, chosen by Harry Mount

The author and editor of The Oldie selects five books that are sprinkled liberally with Latin

Latin inscription on a wall at the Vatican

Latin inscription on a wall at the Vatican, Image: Jill Mackie from Pixabay

Author Harry Mount selects his top picks for people who like a bit of Latin.

1. The Asterix books by René Goscinny, illustrated by Albert Uderzo 

The Latin in the Asterix books is spot on. In Asterix and Cleopatra, the old pirate says, “Alea iacta est” (“The die is cast”), when his ship is scuttled. Julius Caesar originally said the words as he crossed the Rubicon river in 49 BC, in his battle with Pompey.

2. The Harry Potter books by JK Rowling 

How funny that the biggest-selling books in the world are full of Latin, not least the motto of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus” – “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”.

3. The Bible 

Some of the most famous Biblical phrases come from the Vulgate, the Bible’s Latin translation. Take Jesus’s words to Mary Magdalene when she tried to touch him after the Resurrection: “Noli me tangere”
– “Don’t touch me”. 

4. How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willans, illustrated by Ronald Searle 

With his mangled grammar, Molesworth, the naughtiest boy at St Custard’s, is brilliant on the difficulty of learning Latin: “Fancy a grown man saying hujus hujus hujus as if he were proud of it it is not english and do not make SENSE.” 

5. Odes by Horace

Et Tu, Brute? book cover
Et Tu, Brute? The Best Latin Lines Ever by Harry Mount and John Davie is out on October 13 (Bloomsbury, £14.99)

So many of the great Latin poet’s lines are familiar today, in Latin and English: “Carpe diem” (“Seize the day”); “Nunc est bibendum” (“We must drink now”). How right he was! 

Et Tu, Brute? The Best Latin Lines Ever by Harry Mount and John Davie is available to order from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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