Maffeius on the effect of incendiary weapons (1546)

Maffeius,telling the story of the Second Siege of Diu (1546), describes the effects of the thrown incendiary weapons (ardentia iacula) used by both sides. They did less damage to the Portuguese than to the Gujarati soldiers, he says, because of the cotton clothing they wore, and the closeness of their formations (Historiae Indicae [1588] 13.45):

Quos autem flamma comprehendisset, ii, abiectis armis, cum simul vestimenta proiicere non valerent, ceterosque ab iis adiuvandis exuendisve sui quemque periculi metus averteret, caeci amentesque crebro cum gemitu incerto vestigio extra ordines ferebantur. Hinc deformatos vultus, exusta lumina, pendentem e nudatis artubus cutem ac velut in lora dissectam horrendo spectaculo cerneres.


Moreover, those whom the flame had engulfed threw away their weapons and, as they could not remove their clothing and fear of the danger kept the rest of their comrades from helping to strip them, they ran blind and mad beyond their ranks in uncertain wandering, screaming all the while. It was a horrific spectacle: disfigured faces, burned out eyes, skin hanging from naked limbs as if flayed to ribbons.

Maffei had various written sources, and also a live informant who was present. His Latin can be ornate and periodic when discussing complex matters, but also intensely vivid in story telling. Note how he

  • spotlights the unfortunate men (quos … ii),
  • focuses on the emotions and desperation of the Gujaratis (non valerent … metus … caeci amentes)
  • employs the vivid 2nd person singular cerneres, used also  by his beloved Livy, and in a similar context in Apuleius (Met. 4.14, looking at destruction:  passim per plateas plurimas c e r n e r e s iacere semiuiuorum corporum ferina naufragia).

The scene is focalized through the eyes of the Portuguese within the walls, but Maffei takes us close enough to see the haunting, burned out eyes (exusta lumina) of the victims. This phrase might be borrowed from Plautus, Men. 842, minatur mihi oculos exurere, but notice the substitution of the more poetic lumina for oculos. The equally poetic incerto vestigio (as opposed to something like errantes or palantes) is full of pathos. Maffei’s rhetorical virtuosity shows in the climax of the last sentence quoted, with its inconspicuous simile, in the balanced phrasing and the interlaced and chiastic word order throughout.

Maffei uses the grotesque rarely, but in a fuller narration such as this it helps him convey some of the horror of (for him and his readers) modern warfare.


Filipe Binh: Latin from 19th century Vietnam

A catechism in Latin and Vietnamese by Alexandre de Rhodes  (1591-1660)

A catechism in Latin and Vietnamese by Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660)

In The Portuguese Seaborne Empire 1415-1825 (New York: Knopf, 1969), Charles Boxer mentions the Vietnamese priest Filipe Binh, alias Filipe do Rosario, who wrote extensively in Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Latin. Boxer is discussing the institution of the Portuguese Padroado, by which the Portuguese monarchs exerted direct control over the missions in the Portuguese imperial sphere, and excluded missionaries from Spain, France, Italy, and other countries. The Padroado was initially granted willingly by the Vatican in the 16th century, when Rome was not primarily interested in missionary activity in the new overseas empires. But later competition from other countries and lack of attention by the monarchy led to all kinds of problems, political, financial, and religious. By the late 18th century it was essentially moribund, a liability rather than an asset to the Church, and the Portuguese were having severe trouble staffing the missions.

This peculiar institution [the Padroado] was, moreover, capable of inspiring a devoted loyalty in some of the native clergy who served it, even in its darkest days. Among them is the rather pathetic figure of the Vietnamese priest Filipe Binh, alias Filipe do Rosario. Born and bred in the Jesuits’ Tongking mission, he arrived at Lisbon with three companions in 1796, as an envoy from his people to ask for some Portuguese missionaries under the auspices of the Padroado. The times of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars were singularly unpropitious for any such project, and he died in 1833 without seeing his native land again. He was the last defender of the Padroado in Indochina, and he left twenty-three volumes of manuscript works in Vietnamese, Portuguese and Latin as proof of his attachment to this lost cause. (p. 247)

Now, where could one find father Binh’s Latin writings? The only evidence of Binh’s work in Worldcat is a microfilm of manuscripts in the Bibliotheca Vaticana, of which Cornell University owns a copy. The catalogue entry mentions Orationes (reel 5), Historica chronolologica dos Pontifices (reel 4). Reel 2 has an intriguing entry for a Dictionarium Annamiticum, seu Tunkinese Lusitana, & Latina declaratione,  evidently a Vietnamese dictionary with Portuguese and Latin definitions. It is unclear how that would relate to Dictionarium Annamiticum Lusitanum et Latinum by Alexandre de Rhodes (1591-1660), which appeared in 1651.

I would be most curious to know if anybody has more information about Binh and his Latin writings. He sounds like an interesting figure, and his works seem never to have been printed.