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'Latin Rocks On': bringing the Classics to a wider audience

20 April 2020

Alumna Sarah Rowley (Classics and Modern Languages, 2003) combines Latin with pop lyrics in her innovative new book, Latin Rocks On, designed to promote the language in an accessible and entertaining way. Sarah explains how she came to write the book below, and you can also find out more by listening to BBC Radio 4’s Front Row at 7:15pm on Monday 27 April, when she will be one of the guests.

Can you tell us about your time at Oxford and how it influenced your career?

I read French and Latin at Queen’s and remember thinking how lucky I was to be taught in the beautiful back college quad by academics who were such experts in their fields. I remember my initial tutorials with Professor Pearson, and studying that weighty tome Dans la Recherche du temps Perdu by Proust – and feeling quite overwhelmed by how much one character could recall through the bite of a madeleine... I also recall studying Baudelaire and being fascinated by all the nuances and patterns that Professor Pearson could glean from a single poem.

I have fond memories of translating passages from Ovid and annotating gobbets (a great word) in Dr Bowie’s tutorials and I loved being a part of a wider discussion on these great ancient poets and moments in history. My time at Oxford made me realise that I wanted to pursue a career that combined communication with some sort of strategic thinking.

How did you come to work in the technology sector?

After university I worked at Comic Relief before joining a tech start up called SwiftKey which was known for its language prediction app of the same name. It was during this time that I collaborated on a project called SwiftKey Symbols, an assistive communications app for people with speaking difficulties. I loved that it provided real value to people. From there I moved into technology in healthcare, specifically artificial intelligence and its application across the industry.

And what led you back to Latin and inspired you to write this book?

Throughout this time I had been volunteering with a Classics charity, and infrequently updating a Twitter page @LatinRocksON translating song lyrics into Latin. My aim was to share the language with people in a more accessible and less daunting form. Above all I was keen to emphasise just how entertaining and amusing the language can be. The account has enjoyed far-reaching and international support over the years and from it came the idea for the book – a compilation of pop lyrics, from Beyoncé to Bruce Springsteen.

What’s your favourite song when translated into Latin?

My favourite lyrics translated into Latin are Marvin Gaye’s ‘tu non scis me audivisse per vitem?’ or Abba’s ‘saltans regina!’ because you can almost sing them in the original melody!

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Latin Rocks On by Sarah Rowley was published on 1 April 2020 and is available from Unicorn Publishing, as well as Amazon, Waterstones and other book retailers. In it, Sarah combines pop music and classics by translating song lyrics into Latin, from Marvin Gaye to Madonna, Take That to Taylor Swift.

Sarah is also one of the alumnae featured in our Women of Queen’s series, which was compiled as part of the 2019-2020 celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the admission of female students to the College.

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