An abridged translation of an Inaugural address delivered in the Church of the University of Malta October 1st 1858 by the late Professor Stefano Zerafa.
Malta, through the valour of its inhabitants has gained for itself the name of the bulwark of Christendom, the dread of the barbarian, and the school of heroes.
Malta produced in eloquence Menander who gained the honour of a laurel crown for his speech at Delos in behalf of Cubulus the son of Demetrius before the Archon
Aristemus; in philosophy Aulus Lucinius the friend of Cicero who styled him "the Maltese Aristotle" : Diodorus, a lover of the fine arts commended by Cicero in
the 5th Oration against Verres; Lucius Castriccius one of the learned friends of the Emperor Augustus ; St. Publius Bishop of Athens and Nicholas of Malta who was
a minister of Finance in the Empire of the East about the year 1400. a. d.
But why should we speak of none but the men of the olden days, when on the same soil and in the same climate there have been men of renown in our own time.
"The Maltese can boast of learned men. Amongst others we may mention Don Antonio Bosio whose able description of Roma Sotterranea takes rank amongst classic works.
Ciantar's account of the shipwreck of St, Paul is most conclusive in its arguments, most sparkling in its wit, and most satisfactory and pleasant in its subject matter.
It was received with great applause in France, and gained for its author admission as a member of the Academy of fine arts and inscriptions.
The Maltese are proud of their politicians. Giovanni di Malta was, on account of his extraordinary abilities, appointed Vice-regent of Constantinople during the
absence of the Emperor Contacuzenus;
Basilius was proclaimed Prince of Wallachia daring the sway of the Grand Master La Vallette, and Gio. Battista Platamone, a Gozitan by birth became Viceroy of Sicily
in 1437. Fra Salvatore Imbroll a juris-consult and theologian, who wrote various works about the year 1633, and who belonged to the Order of Jerusalem was sent as
Ambassador to Pope Urban VIII : Debonis was consulted by the Republic of Venice upon matters of the last importance ; Bishop Bres was governor of Frosinone, and Xerri
of Senglea, was on account of his political talents appointed Lieutenant Governor of Narni and afterwards of Citta di Castello, where he died universally lamented.
The Cavalier Mallia was, from his skill as a diplomatist, appointed Counsellor of the Russian Embassy at Vienna. Cardinal Sceberras ruled supreme in the province of
Sinigaglia where the grateful inhabitants erected a marble statue in his honour, and many of the advisers of various Grand Masters proved themselves no less able than
Famous juris consults have been born in Malta. Don Giulio Casauri, a professor of jurisprudence in the academy of Palermo, who was afterwards Auditor General of the
Cardinal Infante di Spagna, flourished about 1620 A. D.
Filippo Cagliola of the Order of Minor Conventhalist of St. Francis, was a professor of theology, the counsellor of the Santo Officio, and confidential friend of
Pope Alexander VII, in 1664 A. D.
Pisani filled with honour the post of Promoter of the Faith in Rome; and to these priests of Themis we must add Dr. Giovantonio Cauchi (about 1663 a.d.) Micallef
and Torregiani who were all three lawyers of renown. The Auditor Zammit had a statue raised to his memory by Sir Thomas Maitland who was then Governor of Malta,
on account of his skill in jurisprudence.
The Maltese have likewise had their philosophers. Dr. Domenico Francesco Bencini the author of the notes inserted in the work of Anastasius, the librarian, was
Professor of Philosophy in the learned city of Bologna, about the year 1698, a. d; Dr. Bernard gave proof of his philosophical talents. Bishop Caruana, the father
of his country was a philosopher and mathematician, and the able Don Pietro Mallia kissed the hand of George III, when sent upon a deputation to London.
Think not that Malta cannot make boast of her mathematicians. Cristoforo comes first teaching how to solve problems of every kind by means of the intersection of
curves, and simplifying the method of the great Cartesius.
Dr. Fra Giuseppe Zammit of Zurrico, the Promoter and Principal of the Ancient Malta Medical School, wrote eulogiums on several of his distinguished compatriots
about the year 1670, and rose to fame by his solution of several most difficult problems. Dr. Carlo Azzopardi and P. Giovanni Zammit were mathematicians, and
possessed skill in physics of no mean order. Casgha, Professor of Mathematics at Catania gained great distinction both there and elsewhere.
Astronomy has not been neglected in Malta : Miriti was a skilful astronomer and geographer, held in high honour in Germany, -where he died. Michele Costanzo one
of the most able astronomers of Europe corrected the errors in the observations of the Abbot Chappe, which were published by Cassini, upon the latitude of many
places in New Spain, and fixed the true geographical position of various places upon its shores. The Cav. Portelli also by his astronomical skill became Chief
of the Engineers and Professor of Mathematics in the College of Nobles at Lisbon.
Gio-Andrea Gatt, Bishop of Cefalu’ an eminent author and orator, many of whose MSS. are in the Dominican library at Palermo. He was professor of theology at Bologna,
Florence, and Ferrara, maintained an argument before Pope Nicholas V. in a general Council of his order assembled at Rome, and was twice appointed ambassador to
Pope Sixtus IV, by Ferdinand King of Naples, 1484, a. d.
The learned Alberto de Nasis was Bishop of Naples and Vicar General at Palermo about 1527 a. d., Francesco Gatt, the Maltese noble was the trusty councillor of
King Martin of Sicily. Tommaso Barbaro saw much active service about the close of 16th century, and Pietro Rossel was a brave leader of infantry in France in 1632.
Giovanni Battista Zghara was sailing the seas with some renown about the same time, and the Jesuit Ignazio Cagliares, who was known in Sicily as the "Maltese Phoenix,
and in Naples as the Wonder of Europe" was an historian, mathematician and philosopher about 1638 a. d.
Lodovico Bonello, a Jesuit and a very learned man, occupied a chair of philosophy at Paris and a chair of theology in Padua, Messina and Palermo, about 1664 a. d.
and Carlo Magri wrote learned dissertations about the same period. Andrea Baydani, Archbishop of Acreta and Scopia, a distinguished theologian flourished about a
Malta falls not behind any nation that boasts of its celebrated doctors. In the middle ages a famous name was that of Domestico, surnamed the Venerable, who died
at the commencement of the Arab rule. After the expulsion of the Arabs the Hospital of St. Francis was founded. This was a pious foundation, the medical staff of
which seems to have been trained by the Arabs, amongst whom the healing art was held in high esteem.
Numerous students filled our ancient medical School, who after a while took charge also of another hospital dedicated to St. Peter, which was situated within the
circuit of Citta Vecchia. It received women only and existed until the year 1418, when it was converted into the actually existing monastery.
The doctors who succeeded Domestico, were not unworthy of his fame, and have still the reputation of being learned professors. The hapless Callus, the philanthropic
Nicola Saura, who founded a hospital in the suburbs of Citta Vecchia, the two Ghaxak, the biographer Zammit, the founder of the Botanic Garden and of the Medical
Academy, Azzopardi the leading physician, the learned Locano, the erudite Demarco, Grillet, Professor of Obstetrics at Palermo, Grima who first taught his pupils
how to sew up the intestines, the two Rizzo father and son, the one a Professor of Surgery, and the other a Professor of Anatomy at Catania, Creni, and others too
numerous to name. I will mention one, who is worth a thousand others, viz. Dr. Giuseppe Barth, a man of European fame. He was the principal physician of the Emperor
Joseph II, and the instructor of the celebrated oculists of this century. He was a lover of the fine arts, and formed a valuable collection of cameos, which he left
by will to the Emperor of Austria.
Dr. Bonamico devoted himself to the study of Maltese Paleontology. He collected a large number of pupils, and sent them together with a long learned letter to
Scilla. Bonamico was in the galleys of the Order of St. John, and was an astronomer, geographer, antiquarian, mathematician, natural philosopher, poet, and orator.
Scilla thereupon wrote a book describing fossils, without mentioning the source from whence he had derived his information. His work was translated into Latin and
printed at Rome with the title De corporibus marinis Lapidiscentibus. Dr. Bonamico also described many Maltese plants, and his labours were appropriated by Cavallini
in ** Pugillus Melitens." Dr. Bonamici resembled a bird of fine plumage, plucked bare for the adornment of other birds of dingy hue. Lugusi wrote an account of the
flora of Malta, and A. Naudi made a large collection of plants, which were briefly described by P. Carlo Giacinto.
Zoology has also been studied in Malta. Count Ciantar drew up a long list of birds, which alight in Malta during their annual migrations. Trapani deserves credit
for his Catalogue of Fishes which are found in our seas. Giovanni Piazza Cutajar has left us a list of the mollusca found in the Bay of Catania, and has had numerous
followers in the zoological field. The study of Natural History has been much neglected, but Ecclesiastical History has received more attention.
Theology and Church History have been deeply studied by Magri, Bencini, P. Manduca, and many others. Fenech the Parish Priest, Francesco Sammut, and Bishop Psaila
have given proofs of their theological wisdom. The Rev. De Marco and Mr. Gaetano Rebonl wrote works on the Liturgy.
Another Manduca who belonged to the suite of the Marshal Duke De Biron in France, was deeply versed in secular history to which P. Pace and Abela also devoted attention.
The books of these latter authors were translated into Latin, and inserted in the great work of Burmanno. Bondino was a student of the History of Naples.
Canon Panzavecchia and Baron Vincenzo Azopardi have thrown light upon the History of Malta.
Heraldry has not been forgotten. Abela published a list of ancient Maltese families, together with their armorial bearing. Count Ciantar in his Malta Illustrata has
engraved numerous escutcheons and coats of arms from certain tombstones in the Augustinian cemetery at Gozo. He considers that they are the arms of native families,
but Agius a native of Gozo is of opinion that they are the arms of certain commanders, who were driven hither by the storm, which in 1270 scattered and dispersed the
fleet of the crusaders who, on their voyage from Tunis were attacked by the plague, to which many fell victims, and found graves in Gozo. The tombstones with arms of
Knights of St. John were lithographed and published by the artist Caruana, whilst other authors have published lists of the escutcheons found in other churches.
Famous preachers were Fra Mauro Cali’ Bishop of Catania, Bishop P. Ambrosio Buttigieg, P. Antonio Zahra, Bishop of Vice, Andrea Bogdoino, Archbishop of Ocrida.
Archdeacon Faustino Xara frequently preached in Latin in the Pontifical Chapel before the Sacred College, and Pope Innocent X. P. Fontano was a preacher of note
amongst his contemporaries, P. Inglott was much applauded in Rome, and Ros, Reynaud, Berti, Tolossenti and others are too well known to need eulogium from me.
Music the sister art of Poetry, must not be omitted and has also had its votaries. Bertezen published in Rome an elaborate musical treatise, and Azopardi's work
on counter-point was translated into French and used in various French colleges. The works of Isouard were deservedly applauded in the Theatres of Paris, Vienna,
and Berlin. The sacred music of P. P. Bugeja is remarkable for expressive and graceful snatches of song.
Others of our learned countrymen have not published the results of their investigations. We may name: Judge V. Bonavita, a learned archeologist, the Magistrate
Massimiliano Debono, who discovered the original position of the inscription in punic characters, which is now in the Public Library, Fra Gioacchino Corogna,
who was beloved by Frederik II King of Prussia, P Godar, and many others mentioned by Abela.
In the Middle Ages St. Gregory the Great in a letter addressed by him to Lucilio Bishop of Malta, speaks with respect of the learning of the Maltese clergy,
who also found employment in agricultural pursuits. Vestiges of frescoes upon the plaster of the walls of grottos in which Christian Worship was with difficulty
kept up, attest the skill of native artists under the Arab rule.
In Norman times our ancestors distinguished themselves at sea, and in the study of Navigation and Hydrography. The Maltese under the command of Arrigo Pistore
gave important aid to the Genoese at the capture of Messina and Syracuse of which their enemies the inhabitants of Pisa had taken possession. The Genoese appointed
as commander-in-chief of the combined forces Arrigo himself, whom Caffari declared to be the most skilful naval commander.
Arrigo was afterwards sent as an Ambassador to Pope Gregory by the Emperor Frederick. Nava and Armenia each in turn ploughed the Mediterranean waves in command of
ships of war, and whether victors or vanquished, were a source of terror to the Mahometan. Captain Michele of Malta, with letters of marque from the Knights of Rhodes
scoured the shores of the Archipelago, The bold and valiant Giuseppe Brunelli performed unheard of exploits at sea.
Tommaso Cassia was highly esteemed by the Grand Master La Vallette, on account of his great experience at sea. He was the best and boldest pilot of the fleet
which sailed to Gerbes in 1560. Narduccio di Maria, who fell at the capture of the Great Galleons, enjoyed the ownership of the islets of Selmun, which had been
assigned to his ancestors by the government as the reward of bravery and nautical skill.
Bernardo Calafato and Gio. Domenico Lorito were both on account of merit promoted to the command of galleys, the former in one of the squadrons of Sicily, and
the latter in the fleet of the Kingdom of Naples. Zaccaria Hispolo was the Royal pilot of the squadron of the galleys of Sicily. Pagnini Professor of Hydrography
in the University of Malta published a Treatise on Navigation and other works, which are lasting memorials of his skill in this science. He also published a work,
now exceedingly rare, to prove that St. Paul was actually shipwrecked in Malta. Vella, another Professor of Navigation trained many an excellent captain. He united
to the study of Mathematics those of History and Numismatics, and left a valuable collection of coins. The order of Jerusalem established in Senglea a College for
the instruction of students in Navigation, and other kindred sciences.
Nor did Maltese captains confine their voyages to the shores of the Mediterranean.
Captain Gio. Battista Zahra in the service of the King of Spain made four voyages to India, and even reached Canton the only Chinese port then opened to European
In the modern days P. P. Caruana and Giuseppe Hyzler whose pictures adorn our churches, have gained distinction as artists. The much admired picture in Gozo of St.
Gregory is the work of Salvatore Busuttil who died in Rome.
The Maltese, being in constant intercourse with foreigners have -distinguished themselves as linguists. Teodosio wrote in Greek, Vassalli in Latin, Cristoforo D'Avolas
in French, Bogdano in Sclavonian, Barth in German, P. Rispolo in Spanish, whilst others have published works in Portughese. Demarco made translations from Latin into
English: Magri from Arabic into Italian, whilst Frendo and many others have rendered Spanish into Italian, Giorgio of Malta interpreter to the King of Spain was held
in high repute on account of his vast linguistic attainments, which were more especially Oriental. Abela Bishop of Sidonia also spoke several languages. Fra Michele
Olivieri was an able reasoner in French, Spanish, Latin, Italian, Greek, German, Turkish, Arabic, and Ethiopic; and Gio. Batta Zahra was a dragoman in Constantinople,
speaking twelve languages in addition to Maltese.
G. Bosio and Bodoino both record that the Grand Master Lisle Adam found on his arrival in Malta native students of literature and archaeology, as well as skilful
engineers, who did the Order good service in the construction of fortifications to repel the attacks of the foes who had driven the Knights from Rhodes.