The Study of Eastern Languages

From Mythology to Philology

The church had long encouraged, in theory, the study of languages that might prove useful in converting unbelievers. But as late as the fifteenth century, it had amassed little expertise. The converted Jew Flavius Mithridates impressed the pope and cardinals on Good Friday 1481 simply by his ability to pronounce long passages in Hebrew and Aramaic. In the course of the sixteenth century, Rome became a center for the study of Near Eastern and other little-known languages. Christians (and a few non-Christian prisoners) from the Slavic world, Armenia, Mesopotamia, North Africa, and Ethiopia came to Rome, often on ecclesiastical business. They found eager students who wanted to learn their languages, inventive printers who could cut type following their scripts, and papal support--especially for the publication of the Bible in Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and other languages. Meanwhile the library amassed extraordinary holdings from many languages and from many cultures. The Church Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-45) brought delegates to Italy from many churches and cultures. The books they brought with them proved instrumental to the growth of the Vatican Library and of near-eastern studies in Europe.

This room is divided into two parts by a painted wall. Do you want to have a look at other side of the wall, or go back to the Main Hall?