Oxford don sets up business penning Latin epitaphs for dead pets

‘Weep for my misfortune, all dog lovers’: Oxford don sets up new Dead Pets Society business to pen Latin poem tributes for beloved dogs, cats and even a HORSE from £125

  • Classics lecturer John Davie stumbled across a Latin epitaph for a dead pet dog
  • Inscription to ‘Lucy’ from 100 years ago inspired him to compose his own poem
  • When friends saw his elegiac verse to his late dog Fuzzy they wanted their own
  • Endeavour has proven so successful he has set up his own online business
  • Examples include: ‘Flete meos casus, canem si quis diligebat; fuit enim Russell, larum deliciae/ Weep for my misfortune, all dog lovers. Russell has died, the darling of our home’

John Davie, (pictured) from Thurlestone, Devon, was inspired to begin composing elegiac verse for pets after taking his own dog, Fuzzy, for a walk in Chiswick park

A classics lecturer has turned his passion for Latin poetry into a business which provides bereaved pet owners with fittingly poignant epitaphs. 

John Davie, from Thurlestone, Devon, who lectures part time at Oxford University, was inspired to begin composing elegiac verse for pets after taking his own dog, Fuzzy, for a walk in Chiswick park.

The pair stumbled across the tomb of a dog called Lucy, with an inscription in Latin. Upon closer inspection he found it to be a poem.

The former Head of Classics at St Paul’s School said: ‘I was struck by how much love was enshrined in these few lines and how clear a picture emerged of a young dog whose death at the age of eight had almost broken his owner’s heart a hundred years ago.

‘How touching it was to read that the animal had possessed ‘all the virtues and none of the vices of humans’ and shown a loyalty without qualification. I found this so moving, that I jotted the poem down.’

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When Fuzzy, a chocolate Labrador, died a few years later, Mr Davie rediscovered the poem for Lucy in a drawer and decided to write a similar poem in Latin for the much missed family dog.

He said: ‘As a challenge I used the verse form of Lucy’s epitaph, the elegiac couplet, which had been used by the Greeks and Romans two thousand years ago in epitaphs and also for love-poetry. 

Two examples of Mr Davie’s work: One is dedicated to ‘Eboli, a much loved cat’. The other is for Russell, a Norfolk Terrier  ‘who showed his tongue for all to see’

‘The process was lengthy and strangely therapeutic. On a whim, I typed the final version out with an English translation and showed it to the family. They were all taken with it and said it was a real source of comfort, a proper remembrance of all the happiness Fuzzy had given us. 

‘Another friend was asked to employ her calligraphy skills and the result, with a photo of Fuzzy, is framed and now part of the house.’

Since then dozens of friends and family who have visited Mr Davie’s home have requested versions for their own pets, including cats, dogs and even a horse.

Following the success of these endeavours Mr Davie set up a website, The Dead Pets Society, to offer his services to other bereaved pet owners. With each one he asks for details of their pet and tries to incorporate these into the poem, making it a personal remembrance.

He said: ‘The response, to my surprise, has been very enthusiastic. People have talked about finding the poems consoling and how they like the use of Latin to show respect and dignity. One of my poems is now on a tombstone in the garden of an Oxford College, commemorating the President’s King Charles Spaniel, Dido.

‘I now write similar verses for other bereaved pet-owners in the hope that it might make the loss more bearable and also become a way of remembering the pet they lost.’  

Mr Davie has also produced epitaphs for his wife Jill’s cat, Eboli, and his stepson’s Norfolk terrier, Russell, which died last month. 

Sir Ivor Roberts, the then president of Trinity College, Oxford, liked the poem to his Dido so much he had it put on a bronze plaque. 

Mr Davie told The Times why he believes the Latin verses are proving to be so popular: ‘I think it gives dignity to the animal. It shows that you are taking your pet seriously, because after all this is a labour of love.

‘By using the elegiac metre I’m putting myself in a linguistic straitjacket. It’s like a love poet in a sense, like John Donne or Andrew Marvell, writing in verse about something that burns them up inside. It’s therapeutic and at the same time shows respect and strength of feeling.’   

‘The elegiac couplet was used originally in the context of death,’ Mr Davie said. ‘Then it became the metre of Latin love elegy, it was hijacked by the love poets, but primarily it was for dead friends and dead animals. It has a long tradition.’ 

Mr Davies prices for an epitaph start at £125. 

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