Obviously Harry Potter is a craze that is unparalleled by any other book series in the history of writing. NO one can deny the genius and cleverness with which J. K. Rowling writes her books, the plot twists, betrayals, and all-revealing last book are simply amazing in content and style of writing. However, there is perhaps an extremely overlooked aspect of Rowling's writing that is only another attribute to her author's cunning.
As unexpected as it may seem, a lot of names, spells, potions and more are derived from the dead language of Latin. Since I have taken over four years of Latin, finding these references has been part of the joy of reading Harry Potter for me. However, Latin may be a strange topic for many of you. So Here's a little bit about the language.
About Latin and Its Origins
So Latin is perhaps most famously spoken by the ancient Romans. So Julius Caesar, Virgil, Ovid, all those old guys spoke ... Latin. It was the language spoken by gladiators in the ancient Colosseums, and it was the language that "Et tu Brute?" was spoken in. It is actually all around us, but scarcely recognized.
Latin is a dead language, which means it is not spoken anymore. So why is it still taught? Why do people still care? That's what I thought for a long time. But it turns out that Latin does in fact come in useful. It is the root for all romantic languages, French Spanish, Italian and so on. It is the root of things that we say like
- i.e. is "id est" in Latin meaning "that is"
- NB is "nota bene" in Latin meaning "note well"
- R.I.P is "requiat in pace" in Latin meaning "rest in peace.
Did you ever wonder why aqua always means something having to do with water, that's Latin! Below are some of the most prominent Latin references in Harry Potter.
Top 15 Latin References
1. Expecto patronum
In Latin this literally means I await a guardian. In the books and movies the spell would conjure up a "guardian" that would watch over who ever made it. The patronus is made of pure happiness. For each person it was a different animal and thanks to the patronuses that Harry conjured, he was able to keep his soul safe from dementors. The protection against dementors is the main use of the patronuses. When it is revealed in the last book that Snape's patronus is in the shape of Lily's (Harry's mother's) patronus, it is understood that this is a sign that he truly loved her, even after her death. The shape of the patronus is very significant in the books, changing with a character's personality, if they go through something drastic for example, like with Nymphadora Tonks.
This spell turns off the light being conjured by someone's wand. In Latin this means night, therefore the spell is quite relevant to its meaning in Latin. (another derivative of nox is nocturnal, meaning awake during the night.)
Lumos lights the wand-tip of the person who says the spell. Lumos is a form of the Latin word lumen which means light. Obviously, this spell makes light and that's why it is called Lumos. (another derivative of the Latin word for light is illuminate which means to make light, notice the common root lum in both illuminate and lumos.) This is one of the first spells that Harry ever learns, it becomes a classic, used in all the books, and a spell that probably every reader knows. Related to this root, Dumbledore also has a deluminator, which de-"lights" all the sources of light around it when it is clicked. That would be handy in the nighttime when you're in bed and too lazy to get up and turn off the lights no?
4. Remus Lupin
Lupus in Latin means wolf and Remus Lupin is obviously a werewolf. Remus is the name of one of the two brothers in the Roman myth "Romulus and Remus." According to the myth, two abandoned babies, Romulus and Remus, were found by a she-wolf and raised by her. They then grew up and founded Rome. Therefore, both Lupin's first name and last have to do with wolves. Another derivative of lupus is lupine.
This spell is the summoning charm. It brings whatever you say after accio to you. In Latin accio means literally I summon or I send for. Therefore if Harry says "Accio broom," that means "I summon my broom".
In Harry Potter, this would make the person who the wand was pointed at have a really loud voice. In Latin sonus means loud noise or sound. Obviously you can make the connection.
In Harry Potter, this makes what ever the wand is pointing at go down. In Latin descendo literally means I go down, I descend.
8. Felix felicis
This potion in the sixth Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince) made the drinker lucky and able to succeed at anything they did. In Latin this means happiness of happiness. This obviously relates to the happiness that the potion will bring the drinker. (another derivative in English is felicity. This potion was vital for Harry Potter to be able to get the memory out of Professor Slughorn which proved that Voldemort had made horcruxes, the whole way in which Harry defeated Voldemort.
This potion makes the drinker spill out their deepest secrets. In Latin verita means truth. Obviously, this potion makes you tell the truth. (another word derived from verita in English is verify. This was the potion that Snape threatened to use on Harry in the sixth book, and the potion that made Barty Crouch tell his secrets in the fourth book.
Levis in Latin means light (as in weight) corpus in latin means body. Therefore Levicorpus basically means light body. The Levicorpus spell makes someone's body get hoisted into the air.
Volo in Latin is the word for to want. Morte in Latin is deather. Voldemort, rouhtly translated means want of death, which is an apt name for our villain no?
Bellatrix is literally female warrior, and for Voldemort's female number two, so to speak, this is also an apt name.
Malfoy's mother, named after the Roman myth of Narcissus. The half god who fell madly in love with his reflection in a river, so much so that he died looking at himself. Is Narcissa in the books very selfish or narcasistic? Not outrightly or necessarily, but she is the mother of our protagonist's rival at school, so it works.
14. Draco Malfoy
Draco in Latin means dragon. Malfoy in Latin comes from the root mal meaning bad or evil. So Malfoy is an evil dragon. Take that Slytherin.
15. Albus Dumbledore
In Latin Albus means white, probably a reference to his white beard. Dumbledore means bumblebee in Old English. J.K. Rowling says that she thought Dumbledore loved music and she often imagined him walking around humming, like a bee.
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These are only some of the ways in which Latin comes into Harry Potter, there are countless others. This is not even to mention the other kinds of name connections, some coming from french words, others from constellations that are related to the character, and yet others from Old English as you saw in Dumbledore.
Regardless of all of these, this only furthers the fact that Harry Potter is one of the most well-thought-out book series that I have ever seen. It is truly a tragedy that they are over.
If you want to know a other things that you can read that are Harry Potter related, to keep the magic alive, you can click here, for a whole hub on Harry Potter literature that isn't the actual seven books. Thanks for reading!