***Spoilers for Loki episode 2***
Among the varied surprises of the second Loki episode, there’s a scene that allows star Tom Hiddleston to fly his nerd flag high. The scene is an all-around delight, and it feels like an Easter egg for Hiddleston, his fans, and Classics geeks everywhere. Gratias vobis ago, Loki creatives.
Yes, the scene I’m referring to is the one that takes place in ancient Pompeii in 79 AD. Loki convinces Mobius to travel to an apocalypse to test his theory that any variance activity will be wiped out by the subsequent cataclysmic event. So they visit Pompeii right on the verge of the town’s destruction by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius. While Mobius wants to be cautious so as not to disturb the timeline, Loki does what he does best, which is causing chaos. He releases a wagonful of goats (“Be free, my horned friends! Be free!”), then launches into a speech in Latin where he tells everyone that they’re about to die. If it felt like Tom Hiddleston was particularly gleeful in that moment, it’s probably because it brought together various threads of his life and training.
When Hiddleston attended the University of Cambridge, he earned a “double first” in Classics. For those of us not in the U.K. university system, that means attaining first-class honors in one’s primary subject of study. One “first,” per Wikipedia, “is the highest honours classification and indicates high academic achievement.” So when Hiddleston studied Classics, he really studied Classics.
The opportunity to have Loki give a considerable Latin speech seemed like it was created just for the actor. We don’t know whether Hiddleston, an executive producer on Loki, suggested it himself, or if the writers’ room came up with the scene idea as a treat and a nod to Hiddleston’s background. But we do know that Hiddleston seemed utterly in his element and like he was having the time of his life.
It’s not every day that an actor, now a major movie star headlining a superpowered series for Marvel Studios and Disney, gets to declaim at length in an ancient language. But it’s not much of a leap for Tom Hiddleston, who already performed in Ancient Greek in his Cambridge days. Hiddleston is happy to talk about his Classics studies, and has done so in interviews and on red carpets and late-night talk shows. Latin is a particular love of his, discovered early at school after he said no other subjects really clicked.
“What do you do with a Classics degree?” Stephen Colbert once jokingly asked him. “Other than, like, ‘Hey, you want to know about Ovid’s Metamorphoses? ‘Cause I translated it.'”
To which Hiddleston gamely replied, “I can tell you about it, yeah. Apollo and Daphne … Honestly, I discovered strangely that I was good at it, it was one of the first things at school I found I was good at. I was terrible at math, terrible at science—and then I started learning Latin declensions, and I was like, um—I know the answer to that, and other people didn’t. And then I actually became really interested in it. I think those stories are so great. I genuinely loved reading The Odyssey and The Iliad, and Plato in the original Greek.” That’s when Colbert drops a pen on his desk like a mic drop on Hiddleston’s statement.
Canonically, it also makes perfect sense that Loki speaks fluent Latin, since he’s well over a thousand years old and the character prides himself on being an intellectual know-it-all. If Thor studied the Flora colossus language as an Asgardian “elective” and thus can understand Groot, as we learned in Infinity War, I wouldn’t be surprised if Loki was a veritable Babelfish of foreign languages.
Alongside Hiddleston’s obvious joy in delivering this scene, anyone who has studied any Classics or Latin was likely also grinning ear-to-ear while it played out.
The double first Cambridge uni classics degree Latin speech we deserve pic.twitter.com/TlJ4u47ttH
— Sarah Scott (@sarahscott429) June 16, 2021
Some classify Latin as a “dead” language because it doesn’t have a group of people who are raised speaking it as their native tongue. But Latin is still going strong, as this essay from Jonathan Roberts notes:
Somebody recently said to me (in English), “Latin is cool and all, but nobody speaks in Latin today.”
“Not only do people speak it,” I replied, “but people can speak it well enough to host podcasts in Latin. And that number is growing.” […] Yes, people do speak Latin, and they most certainly write it. There’s even a growing number of Latin novellas.
Does Tom Hiddleston listen to podcasts in Latin? Probably. Should the Loki series use its time-travel capabilities to have Loki lecture in, say, Aramaic or Ancient Greek next? Please! Mobius might dryly refer to Loki as “Professor Loki,” in this episode, but I think I speak for many people when I say we’re happy to have all of the nerdy Loki moments the show wants to give us. Can’t you just picture this man in a classroom with a piece of chalk in his hand, ready to write grammatical forms on the board?
(images: Marvel Studios)
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