Il Cantilena

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Il Cantaliena

Il Cantilena is the oldest known literary text in the Maltese language.[1] It dates from the 15th century (no later than 1485, the death of its author, and probably from the 1470s) but was not found until 1966 or 1968 by Prof. Godfrey Wettinger and Fr. M. Fsadni (OP). The poem is attributed to Pietru Caxaro, and was recorded by Caxaro's nephew, Brandano, in his notarial register (Dec. 1533 -- May 1563).

Although written in Maltese, in Latin script, it was a very early Maltese that had not yet been influenced much by Italian or English, and as such is an example of historical Maltese.


Original orthography[edit]

This is the text of the Cantilena in the original orthography:

Xideu il cada ye gireni tale nichadithicum
Mensab fil gueri uele nisab fo homorcom
Calb mehandihe chakim soltan ui le mule
Bir imgamic rimitne betiragin mucsule
Fen hayran al garca nenzel fi tirag minzeli
Nitla vu nargia ninzil deyem fil bachar il hali.

Huakit hi mirammiti lili zimen nibni
Mectatilix mihallimin me chitali tafal morchi
fen timayt insib il gebel sib tafal morchi
vackit hi mirammiti.

Huakit by mirammiti Nizlit hi li sisen
Mectatilix li mihallimin ma kitatili li gebel
fen tumayt insib il gebel sib tafal morchi
Huakit thi mirammiti lili zimen nibni
Huec ucakit hi mirammiti vargia ibnie
biddilihe inte il miken illi yeutihe
Min ibidill il miken ibidil i vintura
haliex liradi ’al col xibir sura
hemme ard bayad v hemme ard seude et hamyra
Hactar min hedann heme tred mine tamarra.

Approximate English translation[edit]

Witness my predicament, my friends (neighbours), as I shall relate it to you:
never has there been, neither in the past, nor in your lifetime,
A [similar] heart, ungoverned, without lord or king (sultan),
That threw me down a well, with broken stairs
Where, yearning to drown, I descend the steps of my downfall,
I climb back up and down again, always faced with high seas.

It (she) fell, my edifice, [that] which I had been building for so long,
It was not the builders’ fault, but (of) the soft clay (that lay beneath);
Where I had hoped to find rock, I found loose clay
It (she) fell, my building!

It (she) fell, my building, its foundations collapsed;
It was not the builders’ fault, but the rock gave way,
Where I had hoped to find rock, I found loose clay
It (she) fell, my edifice, (that) which I had been building for so long,
And so, my edifice subsided, and I shall have to build it up again,
change the site that caused its downfall
Who changes his place, changes his fate!
for each (piece of land) has its own shape (features);
there is white land and there is black land, and red
But above all, you must stay clear of it.


This text contains many Siculo-Arabic morphemes (word-roots).[citation needed] The only Romance words are vintura "luck", sometimes translated into English as fate, and et, deriving from Latin which means "and".

In general, early Maltese texts contain very little non-Semitic vocabulary; even in later texts, poetry tends to use more Semitic vocabulary than general language use.[citation needed]



  • Friggieri, Oliver (1994), "Main Trends in the History of Maltese Literature", Neohelicon 21 (2): 59–69, doi:10.1007/BF02093244 

External links[edit]