Wednesday, October 24, 2012


The Petronian College

Dear Mike,
I rather doubt that Hamerton had ever heard of it, but his Utopian Dream of a Latin Island of studious monoglot seven-year-olds off the coast of Italy was anticipated (in several senses) by Girolamo Gigli in his delightful hoax on Latin wet-nurses. The title of his book is Del Collegio Petroniano e delle balie latine e del solonne suo aprimento in quest'anno 1719 in Siena per dote e istituto del Cardinale Riccardo Petroni a benifizio di tutta la Naziona Italiana ad effetto di rendere naturale la lingua latina quale fu presso i Romani (Siena, 1719), which translates as Concerning the Petronian College and its Latin wet-nurses, and its official opening this year (1719) in Siena, as founded and endowed by Cardinal Riccardo Petroni for the benefit of the entire Italian nation with the goal of producing native speakers of the Latin language such as it was under the Romans.

The frontispiece depicts two of the wet-nurses (one in her official uniform and the other in her private garb), from which the infant is expected to imbibe the rudiments of Latin along with his milk. (The caption reads: Balie latine petroniane in abito collegiale e da camera). By ordinary standards of Italian art, the suckling wet-nurse is remarkably modest, with only one breast barely peeking out of the drapery:

As ever,

Ian Jackson

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