Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A Little Or A Lot Of Latin Lit.

We have found quite a lot of Latin in Poul Anderson's works from "Delenda Est" to "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." (See here.) We have even been told that Falkayn quoted Flecker in Latin translation but have had to do the translating ourselves. See here.

In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), William Walker pats the barrel of a cannon and says, "'Ultima regio regnum,'" (p. 442) translating this phrase as "'The last argument of kings.'" (ibid.)

I think that the phrase should read: "Ultima regio regum." "Regnum" is a noun meaning "kingly government; kingship; royal power; monarchy," whereas "regum" is the genitive plural of "rex," a king, thus meaning "of kings." "Regio" means a boundary rather than an argument.

I speculated here about how Walker would wind up. Here is another speculation: will McAndrews who was persuaded to join Walker switch his loyalty back to Nantucket? He can clearly see that Walker is doing no good.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I suspect S.M. Stirling, renowned for the thoroughness and detail of his research, deliberately botched Walker's use of Latin to show the limitations of his education.

    War, unfortunately, is the last argument of nations finding themselves unable or unwilling to settle their quarrels peacefully. And I see no reason to expect this to ever be different.


  2. Paul and Sean:
    Every other time I've seen a version of this phrase, it's been "Ultima *ratio* regum" -- definitely not "regio." According to some sources, it's what Louis XIV had engraved on his cannons.

    The cyperpunk novel *Snow Crash* includes an autocannon, ludicrously powerful for its size, named "Reason," which has "Ultima ratio regum" inscribed on it, the author choosing to translate "ratio" as "reason" rather than "argument." He seems to have done this "just for pun": at least once after using this gun, someone remarks that he'd known the enemy would "listen to Reason."

    Reason, to be specific, is a nuclear-powered gatling railgun firing depleted uranium needles.

    1. Hi, David!

      Yes, I have read about the alleged Louis XIV origin for "Ultima ratio regum." And translating that motto as "the last reason of kings" does seem odd, even allowing for the author's wish to indulge in a pun.

      And would a nuclear powered gatling railgun be analogous to low yield tactical nukes?