Latin’s New Frontier

 I’m sitting in my study, a recording of The Planets by Holst providing an appropriate backdrop, armed with a Latin dictionary, and a pencil and paper. Oh, and a map of Mars.  You may well ask what an Ancient History student is doing with such an assortment spread across her desk.  Well, this fusion of interests is all thanks to the HiTranslate project ( , which aims to translate captions of photos from the surface of Mars into as many languages as possible, run by the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.  The Iris Project ( , who deliver Latin on the literary curriculum of state schools, have been invited to assist this fantastic scheme, by translating the image captions into Latin.

As soon as I heard about this initiative, I was curious and keen to get involved, since I have had a passion for Astronomy (as well as Ancient History) from a very young age.  I remember my Dad mapping out the Northern Hemisphere on my bedroom ceiling in glow in the dark stars, and spending many happy weekends attending a group for young astronomers at the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge ( .  From my childhood and throughout my teenage years, the Minimus textbooks and The Odyssey stood next to Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time on my bookshelf.  Needless to say, I leapt at this opportunity to combine interest in space and planets with my passion for Latin.

I sent an email registering my desire to be part of this amazing project, and received a wonderfully kind and friendly reply, detailing what the project aims to achieve, with an attachment of a list of the first thirty captions ready to be translated.  Upon opening the list, I was slightly daunted to be presented with a variety of terms I had never come across, but, following some rather enjoyable research, I was able to translate these unfamiliar terms into understandable English, ready to be tackled with Latin dictionary in hand.  Although I have only just begun my participation in this project, I’m already having plenty of fun!  The thing I have found especially interesting, is that there are lots of ways of translating each term or caption, so I’m using vocabulary, both familiar and new, in so many different ways, trying to express each idea in the clearest and easiest way possible.

I hope that my involvement in this project will not only improve my Latin and change the way I approach future translations or compositions, but also allow me to better familiarise myself with Martian geography.  I’d strongly advise anyone who shares my passions for planets and classical languages, or anyone who just wants to try something a little bit different, to get involved!


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