· Biography
     · 1774 to 1798
     · 1798 to 1802
     · 1803 to 1806
     · 1807 to 1814
      · Catalogue
      · Raisonné
      · Russian Embassy
      · Deprivation of
      · professorship
      · Death of his
      · mother
      · Modena and
      · Parma
      · Literary
      · Friends
      · Giordani's
      · account
      · Greek
      · Scolarship
      * Latin
      * scholarship
      · Deputy
      · Librarianship
      · Visitors
      · Learned
      · Societies
     · 1814 to 1817
     · 1817 to 1820
     · 1820 to 1823
     · 1823 to 1830
     · 1831
     · 1831 to 1833
     · 1834
     · 1834 to 1836
     · 1836 to 1838
     · 1838 to 1841
     · 1841 to 1843
     · 1843-1849
     · Recapitulation
     · About the book
   · FAQ
   · Characters
   · Places
   · Highlights
   · Language table

Learn That Language Now -- Learn a New Language 3 Times Faster
Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1807 to 1814 > Latin scholarship

A famous latinist comes to test Mezzofanti's scholarship as a latinist, with the firm intention to prove that a man who divides his attention between so many languages can have but a superficial understanting of each of them. After some time a friend of the latinist asks him what he thinks of Mezzofanti. He replies "By Bacchus, he is the Devil!"   

In connexion with this very remarkable testimony to the accuracy of Mezzofanti's knowledge of Greek, I may mention (although it more properly belongs to a later period of his life) an amusing anecdote illustrative of his accomplishments as a Latinist, which is recorded by Dr. Santagata, and the hero of which was M. Bucheron, Professor of Latin Literature in the University of Turin, and one of the most celebrated classical philologists of modern Italy.

M. Bucheron came to Bologna, from some cause strongly prepossessed against Mezzofanti, and disposed to regard him in the light of a mere literary charlatan, of showy but superficial acquirements. Of his Latinity—especially in all that bears upon the critical niceties of the language, and the numberless philological questions regarding it which have arisen among modern scholars, M. Bucheron entertained the lowest possible estimate ;—considering it, in truth, impossible, that one whose attention had been divided over so many languages as fame ascribed to Mezzofanti, could be solidly grounded in any of them.

He resolved, therefore, to put the Abate's Latinity to a rigorous test ; and came to the library prepared with a number of questions, bearing upon the niceties of the Latin language, which he proposed to introduce, as it were casually, in his expected conversation.

He was presented to Mezzofanti by his friend, Michele Ferrucci, Librarian of the University of Pisa, from whom, I may add, Dr. Santagata received the account of their intervieAV. The conversation, as Bucheron had pre-determined, began upon some common-place subject : but in a short time he artfully contrived to turn it upon those topics on which he desired to probe his companion. The trial was a most animated one. From a series of obscure and difficult questions of Latin philology, they passed to a variety "of oriental, historical, and archaeological topics. At the moment when the interest of the conversation was at its very height, Ferrucci was unfortunately called away by business; but the result may be judged from the sequel. On his return, after a somewhat lengthened absence, he met Bucheron coming from the Library. " Well," said he, " what do you think of Mezzofanti ?" " Per Bacco !" replied the astounded Piedmontese. Per Bacco ! e il Diavolo ! * Note 1His celebrity, indeed, was by this time universally established. With all his unaffected humility; with the full consciousness (which he expressed in all simplicity and truth to his young friend, Carlino Marescalchi) that he was " best fitted for the shade "—he had insensibly grown into one of the notabilities of Bologna. He was constantly visited and consulted, especially by Oriental students, from foreign countries. What is more remarkable, more than one Jewish scholar appears in the record of his visitors. Among the papers of the Abate De Rossi is a letter of this period (March 18th, 1812,) in which Mezzofanti introduces to him a certain " Signor Moise Ber ;" and, notwithstanding the variety of orthography, (a variety quite natural in an Italian letter, there can be no doubt that this Signor Moise Ber was no other than Rabbi Moses Beer of the Israelite University of Rome, whose Orations and Discourses have since been published. Note 2

Who was Mezzofanti ?
Table of contents  |  Next page


Note 1
Santagata " Sermones," p. 20-1. There is a mixture of humour and stateliness in the Doctor's Latin rendering of the exclamation :—" AEdepol, est Diabolus ! "

Note 2
" Orazioni Funebrie Discorsi Panegyrici, di quelli pronunciati da Moise S. Beer, già Rabbino Maggiore presso l'Università Israel-itica di Roma." Fascicolo primo. Livorno 1837. The name Beer is an eminent one among the German Jews. The dramatist Michael Beer of Berlin; his brother, William Beer the astronomer; and a second brother, Meyer Beer the composer, (commonly written as one name, Meyerbeer,) have made it known throughout Europe: Possibly Moses Beer was of the same family.

Copyright 2009 - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.
Printed from