13

I know that the nouns are stella and bellum, but I think the translation should in spirit be closer to stellar wars or something similar.

26

Joonas' answer is right on grammar, but since we're not talking about a single star, an adjective based on sidus would have better semantics. I'd go with Bella Siderea.

Familiarity with modern Romance languages is not an unmixed blessing when translating into Latin. Often Latin has multiple words in the same semantic field with different shades of meaning, only one of which survived into the Romance languages.

Because number markings on adjectives just show concordance with the noun, there is no way to get around the number implications of stellaria vs siderea. Bella Stellaria means star wars in the sense of wars about a particular star; only Bella Siderea means wars fought among the stars (in the sense of out in space, in remote places). Note that modern astronomical lexis in English retains this distinction at least to some extent--stellar wind is produced by a particular star (i.e., each produces its own), but sidereal time is time as measured by referencing the stars collectively.

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    This has the added benefit of being a classically attested word! – brianpck Dec 20 '19 at 15:01
  • I think you're going too far by saying that stellaria is an incorrect translation. Regarding English usage, "stellar cluster," "stellar nursery," and "stellar parallax" are counterexamples. Regarding Latin usage, I'm not sure why you think it could only refer to a particular star: consider famularis, columbarius, etc., which all can refer to one or many famuli, columbi, etc. – brianpck Dec 22 '19 at 21:50
  • @brianpck When there is an established alternative with the right semantics, choosing the other one suggests a different meaning. Sidus and stella have an established contrast; you don't cite similar situations with your Latin examples. Regarding the English terms, which aren't strictly relevant, for the first the correct English phrase is "star cluster", for the third parallax is a property of each star individually, just as much as mass and luminosity are. – C Monsour Dec 23 '19 at 2:48
  • The contrast, as I understand it, is between "star" and "constellation." Either can be plural, i.e. "stars" and "constellations." I'm not sure why you think stellaris can only refer to a singular star. – brianpck Dec 23 '19 at 3:18
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    I understand that's your claim. I just don't see any reason behind it. If anything, "sidereus" seems wholly inappropriate for stars that aren't constellations. – brianpck Dec 23 '19 at 13:22
16

Indeed, you cannot use a plain noun as an attribute in Latin the way you can in English. Instead of "Star Wars" you have to say "Wars of Stars" or "Stellar Wars". Adjectives are a very natural choice in Latin (whereas I would be tempted to choose genitives in Romance languages).

Bellum is indeed good for "war". It is a matter of taste whether you choose plural; not all official translations of the franchise do so. The adjective from stella is stellaris and corresponds well to the English "stellar".

My translation suggestions are:

Bella Stellaria (plural)
Bellum Stellare (singular)

The singular sounds better to me, but either is valid and readily understandable, at least now at the time of the premiere of Episode IX.

Both stella and sidus are good starting points for "star". I would advice against interpreting words too narrowly in contexts like this — the original English title is not all that descriptive literally either, as stars actually play almost no role in the stories. The way I see it, "star" is just a more poetic way of saying "space". Both stella and sidus work well in this respect. Efficient communication is a part of good use of language and stella resembles many star-words in other languages more closely, so it helps make the name more recognizable.

As brianpck comments below, Stella Bellaria has the benefit of sounding nice due to the repeated element -ella-.

Some might argue that the adjective stellaris is not a classically attested word. While that is true to my knowledge, there are two good reasons why it does not matter much: (1) not all Latin needs to be classical and (2) the word stella and many derivatives in -aris are attested, so stellaris is valid classical Latin to me although the word itself does not appear.

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    Latin wikipedia agrees with the plural, and Italian ("guerre stellari") is also plural. Strangely (judging from Wikipedia), French, German, Greek, and Spanish all seem to favor "war [sing.] of the stars [pl.]"--or, in the case of Spanish, "de las galaxias" – brianpck Dec 20 '19 at 1:07
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    @brianpck Huh. The Spanish name implies that there's more than one galaxy involved? – Darrel Hoffman Dec 20 '19 at 14:35
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    It was a tough choice between Bella Stellaria and Bella Siderea, but I will go with yours as that seems to be much more common and on Wikipedia too. – alekdimi Dec 20 '19 at 20:44
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    @CMonsour I'd hardly think that a post-classical usage would discount this as a good answer (unless the question were, "How would Cicero say Star Wars?"). One point in favor of Bella Stellaria is that, by some linguistic luck, it reproduce pretty exactly the similar sound: Star Wars vs. Bella Stellaria. – brianpck Dec 21 '19 at 15:26
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    @CMonsour I think it is a very strong statement to say that stella is wrong. Recognizability is one of the arguments I present, and I certainly would not use that to excuse a wrong word. But I do sincerely think that stella is valid (as is sidus) for this use, and I did write a whole paragraph about translating "star". – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 22 '19 at 15:50
7

The world has already chosen the translation (whether it's right or not). Wikipedia calls it "Bella Stellaria". Some fans agree:

enter image description here

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    Gives a whole new meaning to "The Empire Strikes Back", err, I mean "Iterum Imperii Oppugnationes" :-) – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Dec 21 '19 at 3:13
  • Some random nobody who knows how to use Google Translate and post to Wikipedia is not "the world". See the answer by C Monsour for why this translation is wrong. – dotancohen Dec 22 '19 at 21:08
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@Joonas Ilmavirta treats "star" like an adjective. To me, "star" should be treated as a noun, in which case the translation becomes

Bellum stellarum

(Disclaimer: I was raised to French & German translations of "Star Wars", where it is indeed translated as "war of the stars" -- bellum stellarum).

EDIT: based on the accepted answer, other candidates for a 'noun' translation include

Bellum siderum

And in keeping with synonyms...

Bellum astrorum

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  • A. Debugne: "War of the Stars" could be interpreted as the stars are fighting each other. The adjectival thing--"starry" wars--giving the feeling that it's war in outer space. – tony Dec 20 '19 at 12:13
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    @tony That kind of ambiguity is inevitable, I would say. Many languages use an official translation meaning "war of stars". I find adjectives to be more idiomatic than genitives in Latin, but a genitive is still a reasonable choice. – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 20 '19 at 13:18
  • In French: La guerre des étoiles. – Quidam Dec 21 '19 at 19:17
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    @JoonasIlmavirta That's a fair point -- on second thought, I agree that adjectives would be more natural here. – A. Debugne Dec 22 '19 at 11:55
  • Bellum Sidereum if we take the accepted answer into account? – Cœur Dec 22 '19 at 15:25
4

I strongly disagree with C Monsour's interpretation of how the -ārius suffix works semantically. Stēllārius can perfectly mean 'of the stars', it is not tied to a singular interpretation ('of a star'). Sīdereus does have the advantage of being a classical word, used by many ancient authors even, much unlike stēllārius which isn't even medieval but modern, but this argūmentum ad antīquitātem is different from the grammatical-semantic argument.

Compare librāria taberna 'bookshop' (attested in Cicero, Philippicae II.21), in which many librī 'books, scrolls' are found, not just one. Or herba pūlicāria 'flea plant', from which fleas were believed to be born from (att. in Caelius Aurelianus, Acūtae Passiōnēs II).

Furthermore, the Favre edition (in the 1880s) of the Du Cange Medieval Latin dictionary mentions a noun stēllāria meaning 'a sea ship, or road in the sea or sky that guides sailors', something that naturally requires more than one star (in fact, there were and are more than a hundred commonly-used navigation stars, it's not just Polaris a.k.a. the North Star).

(Interestingly, stēllārius is also listed in the Favrean Du Cange as an adjective meaning marīnus 'of the sea', in association to ships guided by the stars at sea, and also purpureus 'purple', due to purple colorants being highly valued goods traded by sea.)

In conclusion, bella stēllāria is fine as long as you don't mind modern coinages. Since Latin users today prefer not to use novel words when possible (making only reasonable and convenient exceptions like computātrum 'computer'), I agree bella sīderea is better, but only on the grounds of ancient usage, not on the grounds of meaning.


EDIT: Stēllāria can also be interpreted as the neuter plural form of stēllāris, as both the suffix -ārius and the suffix -āris become -āria in the neuter plural (and bella 'wars' is a neuter plural noun, singular bellum).

Stēllāris is another non-classical, non-ancient word with some usage in medieval and modern Latin. The Lewis & Short dictionary lists one attestation in Macrobius (early 5th century), the OLD doesn't bother. Use that coinage if you want, but what I said about sīdereus being better due to its classical origin stands.

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    Welcome to the site and many thanks for an excellent first answer! – Joonas Ilmavirta Dec 22 '19 at 17:36
  • Is it stellarius or stellaris? I'm seeing both when I look! – brianpck Dec 22 '19 at 21:51
  • I think you misunderstood my post. I made no comment on the semantics of the suffix, but on the semantics of the root noun stella contrasted with the root noun sidus, which conveys the intended meaning. – C Monsour Dec 25 '19 at 15:26
  • @brianpck Oh, right, I forgot about stēllāris. Bella 'wars' is a neuter plural noun, and both the -ārius and the -āris suffix become -āria in the neuter plural. I have updated my answer accordingly. – Renato Montes Dec 25 '19 at 23:24
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    @CMonsour Alright, I wrongly assumed you were saying that. By the way, interestingly the OLD says the classical but not that-well-regarded poet Hyginus uses the word stēlla with the meaning 'constellation' in a couple verses of his work. – Renato Montes Dec 25 '19 at 23:27
2

As an Italian let me exercise my direct descendant rights by saying that "Bellum stellarium" sounds really ugly, "Bellum sidereum" has a much better feeling to it. And why not take the extra step and -thinking at the title of a movie- go for De bellis sidereis after Caesar's well know prequel.

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    De Bellis Sidereis has a nice ring to it, but the historical echo might fit the movies better if they had been written from an imperial rather than a rebel point of view! – C Monsour Dec 25 '19 at 15:29

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