Tattoo it like Beckham (or not)

Posted on October 26th, 2007 by

Apparently LA’s newest British soccer player (or ‘footballer’ if you will) is sporting a new tattoo that will be of interest to Latinists.

David Beckham’s New Tattoo–A Classicist Writes

Beckham-”Let them hate me…”

Becks has apparently decided that a move to Los Angeles demands a new tattoo or two. Amongst the many designs now decorating the celebrity right forearm is what was originally a Latin slogan, here rendered in English: “Let them hate (me) as long as they fear (me)”. The idea is, or so I have read, to express something of Becks’s anxieties about the transatlantic move, and his determination not to be battered by any adverse publicity.

Sadly, sometimes languages have an annoying habit of not playing well with other languages:

The original reads in Latin: “Oderint dum metuant” (a nice example for you Latinists of the use of “dum as proviso, plus the subjunctive”). According to the Daily Mail, Becks first of all wanted the real Latin, but it was the word dum (“provided that/as long as”) that caused the problem. Could it be taken as a reflection of the mental agility of Mr Beckham? Better perhaps to play safe by avoiding it entirely?

And as renowned classicist Mary Beard points out, it’s always good to know the original context of things one plans to etch permanently on one’s body.

So far as we can tell, the slogan goes back to the second-century BC Roman tragedian Accius…from his play Atreus, and from the mouth of the title role itself. In ancient mythology and culture, this King Atreus was the limit case of tyranny and monstrosity… he was the man who, so the story went, chopped up the children of his brother Thyestes, and then served them up to him in a stew (minus the hands and feet).

From then on, it became a catchword for the kind of ethics that a proper constitutional Roman deplored in a tyrant.

So our celebrity hero is sporting a slogan that, for the Romans, its originators, was the instant identifier of the excesses of tyranny? Enough said?


Apparently this translation of a Latin saying is an addition to other Latin tattooes that grace his body. Others include: “Perfectio In Spiritu” which translates as “perfection in spirit” and “Ut Amem Et Foveam” “so that I love and cherish”. This last one resides under another tattoo–the name of his wife Victoria in Hindi script.

Given that his other tattooes consist of his children’s names and images of angels, etc., which are interpreted as reflecting his personal and family life, I wonder if it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imagine that his choice of these languages–Hindi and Latin, which point to both England’s colonial connection with India and its historical identification with ancient Rome–are meant to reflect his British identity.



  1. Harry Youngvorst says:

    Well, at least he didn’t get a Japanese, or a “Tribal”, symbol. Have to give him credit for some originality.

  2. A lot of people get written tattoos in other languages without, unfortunately, knowing the proper meaning of the saying, only what it means in translation, which sometimes does not convey the true meaning of the saying. He is like too many people who don’t seem to realize the true reflection the written tattoo may convey to someone who speaks that as a native language.

  3. Bill says:

    and One day eh will get it removed. It just goes hand in hand. I am sure the cost for Beckham is minimal

  4. i think for now lot of public figure have tattoo at lease one if we cant see maybe at hidden place 🙂

  5. CJ Tatts says:

    I think his tattoos are pretty cool (although not sure I understand the translations) – not so sure about the bearded look though (Oct 09)