Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

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Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti

Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (19 September 1774 – 15 March 1849) was an Italian cardinal and famed linguist and hyperpolyglot. Born and educated in Bologna, he completed his theological studies before he had reached the minimum age for ordination as a priest; he was ordained in 1797. In the same year, he became professor of Arabic at the University of Bologna. He later lost the position for refusing to take the oath of allegiance required by the Cisalpine Republic, which governed Bologna at the time.


In 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the Institute of Bologna, and soon afterwards was reinstated as professor of Oriental languages and of Greek. The chair of Oriental languages was suppressed by the viceroy in 1808, but again rehabilitated on the restoration of Pope Pius VII in 1814. Mezzofanti held this post until he left Bologna to go to Rome in 1831 as a member of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide), the Catholic Church's governing body for missionary activities. In 1833, he succeeded Angelo Mai as Custodian-in-Chief of the Vatican Library, and in 1838 was made cardinal of the title of St. Onofrio al Gianicolo and director of studies in the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.[1] His other diverse interests included ethnology, archaeology, numismatics, and astronomy.[2]

List of languages spoken[edit]

Mezzofanti was well known for being a hyperpolyglot who fluently spoke thirty-nine languages.[3] Also, the study by Russell indicates that many of the dialects are so different that they actually should be seen as a separate language. Classifying the languages and dialects according to today's language system, over 150 years later, would be a separate study. The list, in the conclusion of his study:

"Languages frequently tested, and spoken with rare excellence."

  1. Biblical Hebrew
  2. Rabbinical Hebrew
  3. Arabic
  4. Aramaic
  5. Coptic
  6. Ancient Armenian
  7. Modern Armenian
  8. Persian
  9. Turkish
  10. Albanian
  11. Maltese
  12. Ancient Greek
  13. Modern Greek
  14. Latin
  15. Italian
  16. Spanish
  17. Portuguese
  18. French
  19. German
  20. Swedish
  21. Danish
  22. Dutch
  23. English
  24. Illyrian
  25. Russian
  26. Polish
  27. Czech, or Bohemian
  28. Hungarian
  29. Chinese

"Stated to have been spoken fluently, but hardly sufficiently tested."

  1. Syriac
  2. Ge'ez
  3. Amharic
  4. Hindustani
  5. Gujarati
  6. Basque
  7. Wallachian
  8. Algonquin


  1. ^ Anonymous 1911.
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia:
  3. ^ Charles William Russell, Life of the Cardinal Mezzofanti -Facsimile copy of the 1st edition (London, Longman &Co, 1858), page 467