Home culture Hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Performed in Classical Latin

Hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Performed in Classical Latin

Hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Performed in Classical Latin


By the ear­ly nine­teen-nineties, at least in the Unit­ed States, Latin instruc­tion in schools was­n’t what it had once been. Stu­dents every­where had long been show­ing impa­tience and irrev­er­ence about their hav­ing to study that “dead lan­guage,” of course. But sure­ly it had nev­er felt quite so irrel­e­vant as it did in a world of shop­ping malls, cable tele­vi­sion, and the emerg­ing inter­net. Thir­ty years ago, few stu­dents would have freely cho­sen to do their Latin home­work when they could have been, say, lis­ten­ing to Nir­vana. But now, in the age of Youtube, they can have both at once.

In the video above, the_miracle_aligner cov­ers “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” in a medieval (or “bard­core”) style, using not just peri­od instru­men­ta­tion but also a trans­la­tion of its lyrics into Latin. Since its release a few years ago, this Colos­se­um-wor­thy ver­sion of the song that defined grunge has drawn thou­sands upon thou­sands of appre­cia­tive com­ments from enthu­si­asts of Nir­vana and Latin alike.

As one of the lat­ter points out, “most Latin words rhyme because of con­ju­ga­tion,” and when they don’t, the lan­guage’s unusu­al free­dom of word order pro­vides plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ty to make it work. Still, the song con­tains more than its share of tru­ly inspired choic­es: anoth­er com­menter calls it “just immac­u­late” how “the ‘hel­lo, how low’ rhymes as ‘salvé, parve.’ ”

As tends to be the way with those of us here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry inclined to dig deep into a lan­guage like Latin, some take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get into char­ac­ter: “I vivid­ly remem­ber the night Gaius Kur­tus Cobainius the Elder pre­miered this song at the Amphithe­ater of Pom­pey in the Sum­mer of 91AD. The plebs went nuts and were throw­ing Ses­ter­ti and Denari on the stage. I even saw a patri­cian woman lift her tunic! Oh how I miss those days.” In what­ev­er lan­guage it’s sung, the instant­ly rec­og­niz­able “Smells Like Teen Spir­it” will send any Gen­er­a­tion-Xers in earshot right back to the stren­u­ous slack­ing of their own youth. And the cry “Oblec­táte, nunc híc sumus” would have cut as sharply in the age of bread and cir­cus­es as it did in the MTV era — or, for that mat­ter, as it does now.

Relat­ed con­tent:


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