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Bridge of words, bridge of worlds: An exploration of the pioneering Italian-Tibetan-Italian dictionary of Orazio della Penna (1680–1745)

manuscript of Orazio della Penna

Conference on zoom by Federica Venturi, associate researcher at the CRCAO.

The Italian apostolic missions to Tibet in the first half of the 18th century are largely known through the perceptive and detailed account of the Jesuit priest Ippolito Desideri, “Notizie Istoriche del Thibet”. However, the letters, reports and other records of the Capuchin friars who operated alongside Desideri from 1717 to 1721 (and on their own both before and after his mission) are largely overlooked, in part because they are only accessible in the original Italian, and in part because this body of writings consists of a hefty collection of shorter documents, disparate in content and of varying scientific worth. Still, according to Luciano Petech, the only one among the Capuchins who “could measure himself up against Desideri” was Orazio della Penna. Unfortunately the majority of his writings, including translations of major Tibetan works into Italian (viz. the Lam rim chen mo), appear to have all been lost. Among these was his bilingual, bidirectional dictionary of Tibetan and Italian, said to contain 35,000 words, which has recently been recovered. This presentation will illustrate the manuscripts comprising this dictionary, discuss their scientific worth, and expound the plan to study them in detail.

Orazio della Penna