Saturday, January 2, 2016

How would you say "I'm Spartacus" in Latin?

In the 1960 movie Spartacus, when the slave rebellion has been conquered, Crassus offers to spare the lives of the lot of them, so long as the real Spartacus steps forward and surrenders so that, presumably, Crassus can parade him as beaten and humiliated in Rome. 

Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas, certainly wanting the best for the people he has so ably led, stands to give himself up, but, one by one, others proclaim, "I'm Spartacus." If you've never seen the movie, at least watch this short clip of the scene I just described.

Since the movie is set in ancient Rome, this raises the question of how, in Latin, would this scene have really played out? How would you most authentically say "I'm Spartacus!" in Latin?

The answer is clear, but it means we need to explore briefly how Latin conveys the particular emphasis that the scene requires.

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In Latin, like Spanish, you don't actually need to use the pronoun with verbs. So, hablo means "I speak," and yo hablo also means "I speak." In Latin, Sum all on its own means "I am," and ego sum also means "I am."

But in Latin, the pronouns are generally not used, unless one really means to emphasize who exactly is the subject of the verb. So for instance, the Roman playwright Terence has a famous line in which a slave declares:

Davus sum, non Oedipus (Terence, Andria 194)
"I'm Davus, not Oedipus." (i.e., I'm Davus, not someone who can solve riddles.)

Terence doesn't use ego in that line because the contrast is between Davus and Oedipus, not "I" and someone else.

In the scene from Spartacus, however, the whole point is that each person standing up to stand beside Spartacus is declaring, not so much that "I'm Spartacus," but rather that "I am Spartacus."

As a result, Latin would indeed require the use of the pronoun ego here to convey the needed emphasis. 

And so, with great linguistic confidence, we can declare, the way you would say "I'm Spartacus" in Latin is:

Ego sum Spartacus.

And I am also willing to say, "Ego Sum Spartacus - I'm Spartacus." I stand beside you, dear man, because I know I live in a world where liberty reigns more than in your age precisely because you dared to stand up against tyranny and oppression. Requiescas in pace, Spartace...

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