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Pico della Mirandola
Home > Mezzofanti > Eminent linguists > Italian Linguists > Pico della Mirandola

The first in order, dating from this period, among; the linguists of Italy, is also in many respects the most remarkable of them all;—at least as illustrating the possibility of uniting in a single individual the most diversified intellectual attainments, each in the highest degree of perfection;—the celebrated Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, son of the Duke John Francis of that name. He was born in 1463, and from his childhood was regarded as one of the wonders of his age. Before he had completed his tenth year, he delivered lectures in civil and canon law, not less remarkable for eloquence than for learning. While yet a boy he was familiar with all the principal Greek and Latin classics. He next applied himself to Hebrew ; and, while he was engaged in that study, a large collection of cabalistic manuscripts, which were represented to him as genuine works of Esdras, turned his attention to the other Eastern languages, and especially the Chaldee, the Rabbinical dialect of Hebrew, and the Arabic. Unfortunately, the strange and fantastic learning with which he was thus thrown into contact gave a tinge to his mind, which appears to have affected all his later studies. His progress in languages, however, cannot but be regarded as prodigious, when we consider the poverty of the linguistic resources of his age. At the age of eighteen he had the reputation of knowing no fewer than twenty-two languages, a considerable number of which he spoke with fluency. And while he thus successfully cultivated the department of languages, he was, at the same time, an extraordinary proficient in all the other knowledge of his day. His memory was so wonderful as to be reckoned among the marvellous examples of that gift which are enumerated by the writers upon this faculty of the human mind. Cancellieri states that he was able, after a single reading, not only to recite the contents of any book which was offered to him, but to repeat the very words of the author, and even in an inverted order. In 1486 he maintained a thesis in Rome, Be omni Re Scibili. Much of the learning which it displayed was certainly of a very idle and puerile character; much of it, too, was the merest pedantry; but nevertheless it is undeniable that the nine hundred propositions of which it consisted, comprised every department of knowledge cultivated at that period. And it is impossible to doubt that, if Pico's career had been prolonged to the usual term of human life, his reputation would have equalled that of the greatest scholars, whether of the ancient or the contemporary world. He was cut off, however, at the early age of thirty-one. It is not unnatural to suppose that this circumstance, as well as the rank of Pico, and the singular precocity of his talents, may have led to a false or exaggerated estimate of his acquirements. But, even allowing every reasonable deduction on this score, his claim must be freely admitted to the character of one of the greatest wonders of his own or any other age, whether he be considered as a linguist or as a general scholar.

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