Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.11.18
Francisca Deraedt (trans.), J. Capart: Makita, sive De historica cuiusdam muris tempore pharaonum. Brussels: Fundatio Melissa, 1997. Pp. 175. ISBN 2-87290-013-6 (pb).
Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Word count: 341 words
This gem of a book offers some of the best sheer fun that one can have by reading Latin. Capart, an eminent Belgian Egyptologist, has woven a wonderful children's story around a series of Egyptian papyri with pictures of cats serving mice. The plot centers on the thrilling adventures of a sacred Egyptian mouse and is first-rate in itself, while the way the papyri appear to illustrate it is priceless. Perhaps even funnier is the commentary on Egyptology provided by the narrator (a layman with little respect for the profession); would that we could all see our professions from the outside as well as Capart can!
The original story, published in French in 1936, is now unavailable, so Deraedt's Latin translation is the only option for those who would sample this Egyptological delight. Fortunately the translation is a joy to read; it is clear and easy to understand without doing violence to Latin grammar, syntax, or style (barring the occasional misprint). This book is emphatically different from the erudite but obscure Latin of certain other translated children's books; such care has been taken to make it readable that long vowels are even marked where useful to the reader. Most of the vocabulary is classical and familiar, and where this was impossible, as for Ianuariopolis (Rio de Janeiro) or microscopium (microscope), Deraedt uses standard neo-Latin equivalents and cites her authorities in a glossary, with translations of those words which are not self-evident. As a result one can simply read this book like a novel; I only reached for the dictionary about once every 30 pages.
There is of course a certain larger sense in which Makita does not read like a classical text; Cicero would never have written anything like it (though Latin literature would be more fun if he had). But even those who do not normally appreciate neo-Latin literature will probably enjoy Makita's adventures, and while this is not the sort of work that one would normally make required reading for one's students, it could be a first-rate book prize.