In the traditional English pronunciation of Latin—the one that gave us Caesar /siːzɚ/, Jupiter /dʒuːpɪtɚ/, epitome /əpɪtəmiː/, felix /fiːlɪks/, and virus /vaɪɹəs/—what should be the pronunciation of dives?

Context: J. R. R. Tolkien, English philologist and author of some big story or other, also wrote Farmer Giles of Ham, which is peppered with Latin, dog Latin, and all manner of language jokes. One of its major characters is a dragon by the name of Chrysophylax, also called “Chrysophylax Dives”, and at one point “Chrysophylax the Rich”. Naturally I assumed that the surname or epithet “Dives” was to be understood as Latin dives “rich”.

In the audiobook that Derek Jacobi narrates, he seems to my inexpert ear to mostly use the traditional English pronunciation: Aegidius /idʒɪdiəs/, Julius /dʒuəliəs/, Quercetum /kwɛɹsɛtəm/. Occasionally he seems to shift into a slightly more classical style, as with the King’s names or titles: Augustus /aʊgʊstʊs/, Aurelianus /aʊrelianʊs/, but also Bonifacius /bɒnɪfæsiʊs/ and Antoninus /æntonaɪnəs/.

But for Chrysophylax, he pronounces “Dives” as English /daɪvz/.

Now, I’m hesitant to disagree with Sir Derek (I CLAVDIVS) Jacobi, who probably learnt Latin at school when the English pronunciation was still current. But if it is the Latin dives, I would have expected /daɪviːz/, with the vowels of limes /laɪmiːz/ and Pisces /paɪsiːz/.

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    Jacobi was born in 1938 and will have received his Latin education in the early '50s; the reconstructed pronunciation was universal at that point.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Nov 6, 2022 at 16:18
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    @Cairnarvon I see. I’d been under the impression that the traditional pronunciation endured long past the point where we knew better, so to speak, but I don’t know where I get that notion! I certainly didn’t learn Latin at school, so that can’t be it. (John Cleese’s Latin schoolmaster bit comes to mind, with Romanes /ɹoʊmaːniːz/ et cetera, but I don’t think I can blame him either. Also I don’t know if I’m violating some unwritten rule of Latin SE by mentioning that…!) Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 8:51
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    @TimPederick I hear JC saying /ɹoʊmaːnejz/ in that scene, which is just the reconstructed classical pronunciation being mapped onto English phonemes
    – Tristan
    Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 13:46
  • @Tristan Quite right. Not sure how or why I turned /-ejz/ into /-iːz/ in my head! Commented Nov 9, 2022 at 8:35

1 Answer 1


I agree with your guess of /daɪviːz/.

For comparison, the Oxford English Dictionary's entry for miles gloriosus mentions /ˈmaɪliːz/ as a former possible pronunciation of miles, which has the same spelling and declension pattern as dives.

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    I can confirm that this is at least the ecclesiastical English pronunciation of the apocryphal name "Dives" from the Biblical parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In some early translations from Latin, the rich man was given the name Dives based on a misreading of the Vulgate texts (dives should have been translated as "rich man" and is so translated in more recent translations, but the name stuck, since when discussing the parable it's more convenient for the character to have a name), so the etymology is sound. Commented Nov 7, 2022 at 12:59

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