Part of Ascensus Casusque Sigii Sidorum et Aranearum Martis, a project to translate Ziggy Stardust into Latin
Back to Hang On To Yourself — Forward to Suffragette City
by David Bowie
Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly
And the Spiders From Mars
He played it left hand
But made it too far
Became the special man, then we were Ziggy's band
Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan
He could lick 'em by smiling
He could leave 'em to hang
He came on so loaded, man, well hung and snow white tan
So where were the Spiders, while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just the beer light to guide us
So we bitched about his fans, and should we crush his sweet hands?
Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo
The kids were just crass
He was the Nazz
With God-given ass
He took it all too far, but boy, could he play guitar
Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man, I had to break up the band
Ziggy played guitar
ab D. Bovio
Sigius lyra canebat, Virdocum et Gilio bene componens
Et Araneis Martis
Cum sinistre canebat
Sed longius ibat
Insolitus factus, musici Sigii tum eramus
Sigius vere cantabat, paetus et pilis spissis
Ut aliquis Niponae
Subridens posset vincere
Eos penderi desereret
Homo, potentior se agebat, cum fascino coloreque nicis
Ubine Araneae, cum muscae testes laborabant frangere?
Sole lumen cerevisiae nos ducendo
Sic fautorum querebamur et manusne dulca frangenda?
Sigius tempori canebat, dicens nos Christianos esse
Pueri sole viles erant
Ille Nazz erat
Cum culo Deo dato
Omnibus longius gerebat, quidem lyra canere poterat
Pudorem futuens, Sigius in mentem se linxit
Ut messiatem leprosum
Cum pueri virum necaverunt, chorum egebat findendo
Sigius lyra canebat
I spent a lot longer translating this song than some of the others, partially because I don't have as much time as I did, and partially because it's the most famous song in the album, and thus more of you are probably seeing this than otherwise would. Anyway, on to real notes!
There were several words in this song that are products of the way that music works in our society that Romans didn't quite have, such as the idea of musical groups with obsessed young fans, or jam sessions. Some of these were easy, like the line "then we were Ziggy's band" becoming "then we were Sigius' musicians," or "jamming good with Weird and Gilly" into "composing well with Virdus and Gilius."
I'm not sure if the Romans had the idea of a suntan the way we do (fair skin was a rarity if you live in Rome all year), and I couldn't find an equivalently euphemistic replacement for "well hung," so "he came on so loaded, man, well hung and snow white tan" became "Man, he carried himself so strongly, with a huge penis and a complexion of snow," which is significantly less subtle than I would have liked. Suggestions are appreciated!
The verb frango turns up a lot in my translation. It has meanings of breaking down, crushing, overcoming, weakening, and the like. Appropriate both on the level of literally considering crushing Ziggy's hands, and watching as stardom crushes his spirit. I was able to capture in a Latin word a fair amount of the subtext of the second half of the album, which was nice.
For the line "Ziggy sucked up into his mind," I was faced with the problem that there was an obvious level of sexual reference in the word "suck," but not an overwhelming one. Unfortunately, Romans had many words for the sexual side of the word, but not one that simply captures the level of Ziggy retreating into himself. So I went with a sexual word, knowing that in context (making love with his ego) it wasn't too inappropriate.
I tried to find an equivalent word for voodoo — scary evil magic (I know that voodoo isn't always that, but it's the right meaning for context), but found nothing that sparked my fancy. I ended up going with Christianity on a lark, as there was certainly a time in Roman history when you could make fun of somebody in a religious way by calling them a Christian. I also enjoyed the way that that played off the Ziggy/Jesus equivalence so central to the plot of the album. You'll notice I left "Nazz" intact later in that verse — the word was a reference to a specific Beat poem about Jesus of Naz(z)areth, and I can't think of any way to duplicate that in a Latiny way.
A few other quick points: "screwed down hairdo" because "dense hair." "Ziggy played guitar" became "Sigius played the lyre." "Like some cat from Japan" became "like somebody from Nippon" because I liked the ring of "Niponae" better than "Iapanae."