Finns turn jargon of Unio Europaea into poetry with weekly Latin readings
Nicholas Watt in Helsinki
Monday July 3, 2006
Sniffy classicists, who have always looked down at the European Union as a pale imitation of their beloved Roman Empire, will be delighted. Having pinched the Romans' idea of a single currency, the EU has now decided to embrace Latin.
Finland, which is running the EU for the next six months, is to publish weekly news bulletins in Latin on its special EU presidency website.
Leaders of the Unio Europaea, who have had a wretched year grappling with the Constitutio Europaea, will be reaching for their dictionaries at their next shindig in Bruxellae.
The EU's notorious jargon, which baffles all but the saddest Brussels anoraks, turns into poetry when translated into Latin. The miserable Common Agricultural Policy becomes the majestic ratio communis agros colendi, which literally means “common scheme for cultivating the fields”.
Classicists can catch up with the news in Latin every Wednesday thanks to two energetic Finnish Latin scholars. Tuomo Pekkanen and Reijo Pitkaranta already have a cult following among Finnish classicists who tune in every Sunday night to Nuntii Latini, a five-minute Latin news bulletin broadcast on YLE, Finland's BBC equivalent.
Dr Pitkaranta said: “Latin is not dead – it is still very much in use in different forms across the world today. Italians, French and Spaniards all speak a new form of Latin. I hope that EU documents are soon translated into Latin which is such a clear language.”
Mia Lahti, the editor of the Finnish presidency's website, said: “Using Latin is a way of paying tribute to European civilisation and it serves to remind people of European society's roots, stretching back to ancient times.”
Classicists hailed the initiative by Finland which is the only country, along with the Vatican, to broadcast news in Latin even though the Roman empire never reached Scandinavia.
Dr Bruce Gibson, a classics scholar at Liverpool University, said: “Finland has a distinguished tradition of classical scholarship and respect for the classics. The Finns are experts in languages: many Finns are fluent in Swedish and English as a matter of routine.
“Though their own language is not a descendant of Latin, perhaps the Finns realise that Latin still provides a common linguistic and cultural heritage to Europe, and therefore are doing everything to promote it during their presidency. Other European nations closer to home might want to take note.”
Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP who recently wrote a book comparing the EU unfavourably with the Roman Empire, was impressed. The author of The Dream of Rome said: “I think this is wonderful, I hope everybody reads it. The best and most significant step for European integration would be to oblige every child in Europe from the age of 14 to read Book Four of [Virgil's] The Aeneid.
“It is the best book of the best poem by the greatest poet. That would do far more than anything else to build up a common European culture. That is what is missing now: an awareness of our European civilisation and common roots.”