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ROME — From Facebook to Pink Floyd and Google to Harry Potter, long-dead Latin is enjoying something of a modern renaissance.
Some students in Rome speak the language all day, and one band has even produced an album in the mother tongue of Julius Caesar.
Nor is the language confined to dusty books: Google Translate now has a Latin setting, and Facebook's 1.2 billion users can choose Latin as their default language, where on logging in they are asked "Quid in animo tuo est" ("What’s in your mind").
More than 3,000 people have subscribed to a new online monthly magazine called "Hebdomada Aenigmatum" which features crosswords, Sudoku and other puzzles in the long-dead language used by ancient Roman emperors and philosophers.
Translating clues for "linea traversa" (across) and "ad perpendiculum" (down) is as much a challenge as solving them (7 Across: "tradunt paridem veneri fructum aureum donavisse," anyone?). But the publication has become an unexpected hit with its readers, who are known as "Latin Lovers."
Fint Floyd, a cover band based in the city of Ferrara, obtained permission from British group Pink Floyd to translate and perform the landmark album "Dark Side of the Moon" in Latin. While "Occulta Lunae Pars" will not ring a bell to most, they said their first concert late last month was a success.
"The idea came from the band’s guitarist, who wrote a thesis at university in which she compared the texts of philosophers like Seneca and Horatius with the lyrics of 'Dark Side of the Moon'," the band’s manager Nicola De Cristoforo told NBC News. "We love Latin and want to show that it can still be contemporary, and is as melodic as English. [The song] 'Pecunia' sounds just as good as 'Money'."
At Rome's Accademina Vivarium Novum, Latin is a lot more than "ludum" — or a game — for students. It's the only college in the world where Latin is the only language spoken inside and outside the classrooms.
"After the fall of the Roman Empire Latin continued to be the language used by philosophers, scientists, scholars and intellectuals," Accademina director Luigi Miraglia told NBC News. "We now want to bring back that great humanistic tradition, and they only way to do so is for our students to immerse themselves completely in Latin. This year we have 53 live-in young students from all over the world, including New Zealand, South America and the United States."
Among them is Christian Flow, 26, from Baltimore, Maryland, who said: “I was a classics major at Harvard, I studied these languages for four years there and I had excellent professors, who nourished that love of language."
He added: “I learned how to analyze, pay attention to detail, but in terms of tactile engagement … that you can only get when you speak a language over meals or with your roommates, where you are immersed in it 24/7. That’s not something available in American universities and it’s a different qualitative experience…it’s something completely unique.”
The world's best-known Latin speaker is Pope Francis. Latin is the Vatican's official language, where it is used in everything from religious texts to instructions on ATM screens.
The pontiff gave the outside world a glimpse of the language when he launched a Twitter account in Latin last year. Since then, more than 300,000 followers receive daily tweets, such as "fides mensuratur amore" (love is the measure of faith). However, it still has some way to go to match the popularity of his English-language account, which features 4.79 million followers.
The influence of Latin in modern culture should not come as a surprise. Along with ancient Greek, it was used by philosophers and historians who laid the foundation of modern knowledge. It also heavily influenced the birth of modern languages such as English and Spanish.
It also continues to influence literature, with many best-sellers being translated into Latin. Some books have a head start: although "Harrius Potter Et Philosophi Lapis" ("Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone") may not be too alien to fans of the series because all of the spells featured in the books are already in Latin.