Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crappy Latin

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #24 was released this week. It's Part 2 of the 4-part "One More Day" series currently threatening to change "everything that you know" about Spider-Man, brought to you by writer (and BABYLON 5 creator) J. Michael Straczynski and artist (and Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief) Joe Quesada. Aunt May's life is in the balance, Peter Parker feels guilty about it, you know the drill.

In this issue, Peter/Spidey goes to visit the Marvel Universe's Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange, to ask him to help save Aunt May. Strange is reluctant to help, but eventually decides to give it a shot, if only to help console Peter.

Strange invokes the "Hands of the Dead" using a spell in Latin. Oh boy! I've been reading Latin since 1987 (!). Let's take a look.

Here's the text, along with the footnoted translation:


WHAT IT'S SUPPOSED TO MEAN: "Hear me, ancient spirits, and help this troubled soul."

WHAT IT ACTUALLY MEANS: "Hear to me, asdfjkl for the phantoms, because I, this troubled soul, am helping." Or, as David Sedaris would say, "me talk pretty someday".

Let's break it down:

AUDITE MIHI -- "Hear me". AUDITE is fine -- this is the correct form when you are commanding people. MIHI, however, should be ME -- whoever translated this is making a common mistake -- the verb AUDIRE (to hear, listen) takes a regular old direct object (which should be ME), but many folks substitute the indirect object (MIHI, something like "Listen to me").

ANCIENT PHASMATIS -- "ancient spirits". Where to begin? ANCIENT is English, not Latin. A beginning Latin student would use a form of ANTIQUUS, while I'd prefer a form of VETUS (root of the English "veteran"). I suppose PHASMATIS could be "spirits"; it would imply formless images or visions. PHASMATIS is the wrong case, though; Strange is directly addressing the spirits, so it needs to be in the vocative: VETERA PHASMATA. I don't like PHASMATA, though. I'd go with MANES (or VETERES MANES); the MANES are the spirits of the dead, and nearly every Roman tombstone offers up the deceased to the protection of the DIS MANIBUS "Divine Spirits of the Dead".

QUOD -- QUOD means "because" or "which", neither of which make any sense here. To be simple, I'll suggest ET "and".

SUCCURRO -- this literally means "I am offering aid", which isn't the correct form. To make it parallel to AUDITE, the form should be SUCCURRITE. But again, it just seems like the wrong word to me. I'd choose ADIUVATE, which is what the Latin Vicipaedia uses for site help. Plus, AUDITE ET ADIUVATE has a nice ring to it.

IS TURBATUS ANIMUS -- This threw me for a bit, but I think I've figured it out. Our mystery translator has used IS where I, and I think most people, would use HIC. (IS is a very weak demonstrative, and is usually used as just a pronoun "him, her".) But all three forms are nominative, which means they must be the subject of the verb SUCCURO. But, of course, Dr. Strange as asking the ancient spirits to help the troubled soul. Let's go with the accusative, direct object, case. HUNC TURBATUM ANIMUM.

Put it together:


Obviously, this clumsy sentence would never be mistaken for Vergil, or even Statius. But at least it's free of grammatical errors.

Unless the point was that Dr. Strange and Peter (note page 11) are really pretty stupid?