Books

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.

To support our work buy a copy!If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Top 5 books on boxing, chosen by commentator Andy Clarke
Books

Top 5 books on boxing, chosen by commentator Andy Clarke

Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing
Books

Parasol Against the Axe by Helen Oyeyemi review – electrifying, experimental writing

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss
Books

The Hearing Test by Eliza Barry Callahan review – a droll insight into a year of loss

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw
Books

Top 5 books about the British seaside, chosen by crime writer William Shaw

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know