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* Felix Caronni
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Home > Mezzofanti > Biography > 1803 to 1806 > Felix Caronni
The work to which I refer is the narrative of an occurrence, which, although not uncommon even down to a later date, it is difficult now-a-days, since Islam has ceased to
wield, as of old, her thirsty lance,
to realize as an actual incident of the nineteenth century Note 1 the adventures of an amateur antiquarian, who was made captive by Corsairs and carried into Barbary. The hero of this adventure was a Milanese ecclesiastic, Father Felix Caronni. He embarked at Palermo for Naples, in a small merchant vessel laden with oranges, but had scarcely quitted the shore when a pirate-ship hove in sight. The crew, as commonly happened in such cases, took to the boat and escaped, leaving Father Caronni and eighteen other passengers to the mercy of the Corsairs, who speedily overpowered the defenceless little vessel. Caronni, as a subject of the Italian Republic and a French citizen, Note 2 would have been secured against capture ; but his passport was in the hands of the captain who had escaped ; and thus, notwithstanding his protestations, he was seized along with the rest, and, under circumstances of great cruelty and indignity, they were all carried into Tunis. Here, however, at the reclamation of the French, supported by the Austrian Consul, Father Caronni was saved from the fate which awaited the rest of the captives—of being sold into slavery,—and at the end of three months, (part of which he devoted to the exploration of the antiquities of Tunis and the surrounding district,) he was set at liberty and permitted to return to Italy.
Being at a loss, while preparing the narrative of his captivity for publication, for a translation of the papers which he received at Tunis when he was set at liberty, he had recourse to the assistance of the Abate Mezzofanti, as he explains in the following passage.
"No sooner," says he," had I obtained the Tiscara Note 3 [passport,] than I made an exact copy of it (with the exception of the Bey's seal,) in the precise dimensions of the original. It was not so easy, however, to obtain a translation of this document in Italy, both because it had been hastily written with a reed the instrument which the Moors employ for that purpose and because there were introduced into it certain ciphers which are peculiar to the Arabs of Barbary. These difficulties, however, were happily overcome, thanks to the exceeding courtesy, as well as the distinguished learning of the Abate Mezzofanti, Professor of Oriental Languages in the Institute of Bologna, who is commonly reputed to be master of more than twenty-four languages, the greater number of which he speaks with fluency and purity. He has favoured me (in four long letters which contain as much information as might supply a whole course of lectures) with a literal and critically exact version of it, accompanied by copious explanations, as also by a free translation in the following terms :
" ' THERE IS BUT ONE GOD, AND MAHOMET IS HIS PROPHET.' " ' We have liberated Father Felix
Caronni. He is hereby permitted to embark from Goletta for the country of the Chris¬tians, at the intervention of the French Consul, through the medium of his Dragoman, in consideration of the payment of ninety-nine sequins
mahbub, and by the privilege of the mighty and generous
Hamudah Note 4 Basha Bey, Ben-Dani, whom may God prosper!
" Giomada Note 5 is the name of the sixth month of the Arabs, and the year indicated is the year of their
Hegira. Note 6 And, as the Oriental writing runs in the reverse order to ours, (that is, from right to left,) it is necessary, in order that the words of the
translation may correspond with those of the original, to take the precaution of reading it backwards, or, what will answer the same purpose, in a mirror. What will strike the reader, however, as most strange, (as it did myself when first the Tiscara was translated for me) is its particularizing the ' payment of ninety-nine gold
mahbubs,' which, at the rate of nine lire to each, would make eight hundred and ninety-one Milanese lire : whereas this is utterly false as far as I am personally concerned, and the French commissary did not give me the least intimation of any payment whatever. The Abate Mezzofanti suggests with much probability, that it may be a part of the stylus curia? of these greedy barbarians to boast in their piratical diplomacy that no Christian, and still more no ecclesiastic, has ever been made captive by them without being, even though a Frank, supposed to be a lawful prize, and consequently without being made ' to bleed' a
little." Note 7
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