DOMINICUS GERMANUS DE SILESIA Fabrica ouero dittionario della lingua volgare arabica, et italiana

Rome, nella stampa della Sac. Congreg. Propag. Fede, 1636


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xx) 102. Roman and Arabic letter, little Italic. Woodcut vignette to t-p. Varying degrees of age browning, heavier to last four gatherings, small tear to upper edge of t-p. A good copy in contemporary vellum, title inked to spine, traces of paper label and C18 casemark to fep, slightly later inscription ‘St Bonav[entur]ae Venetian[i]’, initials ‘C.B.(?)’ and ‘R.F.(?)’, crossed-out casemark ‘K ios’ at foot, ‘Ling. Or. II’ and ‘25’ stamped at upper outer corner, faded impression of letters beneath and to margin of A2.

Good copy of this important C17 Arabic grammar for Italian speakers. Dominicus Germanus (1588-1670) was a Franciscan from Silesia. After a few years at a Franciscan monastery in Niessen, he moved to Rome to study Arabic at San Pietro in Montorio, a major centre for Arabic studies. A brief stay in the Holy Land improved his knowledge of the language. Upon his return to Rome—then the hub for the publication of Arabic texts—he was one of the chosen linguists for work at the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, an institution which oversaw missionary activities, where he applied his expertise to the translation and editing of the bible in Arabic. The Congregation’s printing press had been established in 1626 and owned movable types for major languages written in non-Roman alphabets. It valued the fundamental importance of local vernacular in missionary activity, whilst producing grammars and familiar texts which could also be used in teaching unfamiliar and exotic languages to those preparing for missions outside the Christian world. ‘Fabrica’ was Domenicus’s first major work as an affirmed arabist. Albeit the title identifies it as a dictionary, it is rather a grammar of ‘vernacular’ Arabic for Italian speakers. Like Erpenius’s work printed in Leiden in 1613, it applied the structure of Latin grammars to Arabic. The first paragraph is a masterful attempt to encourage students to take the first step: ‘it is necessary to become children again for those who wish to learn a foreign language, especially this rich and varied tongue.’ The work begins with an introduction to the alphabet, diacritics and pronunciation, with parallel Arabic, transliterated (gradually dropped) and Italian text. The first easy texts under scrutiny are Christian prayers like the ‘Salve Regina’ and ‘Pater noster’, and the Ten Commandments. The second section deals with declensions of names and adjectives and conjugations of verbs. C17 Arabic grammars were based on the language of the Qur’an and ancient poetry. However, ‘the authors of seventeenth-century textbooks of Arabic had a polemical attitude to the Qur’an and preferred to give examples of Christian origin. In his ‘Fabrica’, Domenico Germano introduced some quotations from the Qur’an without any translations, so that the student would be unable to understand the meaning of the verse, but, immediately following it, he gave a translated example from an Arabic version of the Bible’ (Girard, ‘Teaching and Learning Arabic’, 207).

This copy was at the Franciscan monastery of St Bonaventura in Venice in the mid- to late C17. Although at the time Venice did not share with Rome the same strong tradition in oriental languages, it was the place where the Qur’an was printed for the first time, in 1537-38. In 1610, Pope Pius V urged religious orders to open and manage schools of Arabic in order to prepare missionaries; the Franciscans were among those who answered most readily (‘The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology’, 490). This copy was probably acquired with a view to instructing the friars of St Bonaventure.

BM STC It. C17, p. 306; Brunet II, 1553 (mentioned). Not in Adams. A. Girard, ‘Teaching and Learning Arabic in Early Modern Rome: Shaping a Missionary Language’, in The Teaching and Learning of Arabic in Early Modern Europe, ed. J. Loop et al. (Leiden, 2017), 189-212; E. Colombo, ‘Western Theologies and Islam in the Early Modern World’, in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology, ed. U.L. Lehner (Oxford, 2016), 482-98.
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