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(Ignazio di Gesù, 1596-1667), an Italian missionary in Persia and a scholar of the Persian language, renowned mainly for his studies on religion and on the customs of the Mandaeans.

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Volume XII, Fascicle 6, pp. 619-620

IGNATIUS OF JESUS (Ignazio di Gesù). An Italian missionary in Persia and a scholar of the Persian language. Carlo Leonelli was born near Pesaro in Italy in 1596 and died in Rome in 1667. He entered the Discalced Carmelite Order (see CARMELITES) taking the name Ignatius of Jesus, and was sent as a missionary to the East. He lived in Persia (Isfahan, 1629-34; Shiraz, 1634-41), and in Mesopotamia and Syria from 1629 to 1663 (Ambrosius à Sancta Teresia, 1944, pp. 182-83; Chick, A Chronicle II, pp. 898-900; Orsatti, 1981). In Isfahan he resided in the country’s oldest Carmelite mission (founded in 1608), where Pietro Della Valle (q.v.) had sojourned before him (1617-21) and learnt the rudiments of Persian under the guidance of the Carmelites. Ignatius also began to study Persian, Arabic, and probably Turkish there (Orsatti, 1981, pp. 57-58).

Ignatius is renowned mainly for his studies on religion and on the customs of the Mandaeans or Christians of St. John, a Gnostic sect speaking an Aramaic language and settled at that time near Basra (Orsatti, 1981, p. 61). His work is also very important in the history of the study of Oriental languages and cultures in Europe. He mastered Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Mandaean to perfection. He wrote a series of works in Latin devoted to the study of these languages for Europeans (not only for missionaries), some of which either remained in manuscript form or were lost (Ambrosius à S. Teresia, 1940). He was among the first to promote the tradition of Persian studies in Europe. He wrote a Grammatica Linguae Persicae (Rome, 1661) printed by the Propaganda Fide, the third Persian grammar to be published in Europe, following that of the Dutch scholar Ludwijk de Dieu (Leiden, 1639), and that of the Oxford grammarian John Greaves (London, 1649). He was also the author of a Latin-Persian dictionary, which remained in manuscript form (Vatican Library, ms. Borg. pers. 15; cf. Rossi, pp. 170-71; Orsatti, 1981, pp. 74-83). Ignatius’s grammar was conceived as part of a more extensive work to be used in the teaching of Persian and Arabic: Scrinium Duarum Linguarum Orientalium, which remained in manuscript form (Rome, National Library, MS Fondi Minori 69 [S. Maria della Scala 42]; cf. Piemontese, no. 268). He also made a Persian translation, and both a literal and a free retroversion into Latin, of the Dottrina Cristiana by Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621; Rome, National Library, ms. Fondi Minori 67 [S. Maria della Scala 27]; cf. Piemontese, no. 270), which is different from that made by the Jesuits of Lahore a few years earlier (Camps, p. 175). It is said that during the last years of his stay in the East, Ignatius devoted his time to composing a Scrinium Quatuor Linguarum Orientalium, i.e., Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Mandaean, now lost (Orsatti, 1981, p. 63).

Ignatius’s linguistic works are characterized by their strong practical purpose: to teach people to speak languages well and in a short time. Although his Persian grammar was influenced by the Latin grammatical tradition, it is more concise and effective than that by L. de Dieu, which was mainly intended for erudite European scholars, and was strongly influenced by the Hebrew linguistic tradition (Jeremiás). In his Dictionarium the Persian equivalents in the original Arabic script are always preceded by a transcription of their pronunciation in Latin characters (for a historical-linguistic study of the transcription of Persian words, cf. Orsatti, 1984); and much space is devoted to phraseology and examples of usage. The layout of his Scrinium Duarum Linguarum is also worthy of note. It includes, not only Persian and Arabic grammar, but also a Latin-Persian and Latin-Arabic dictionary arranged by subject and, for each language, lists of words by grammatical category (pronouns, adverbs, verbs), ways of greeting people, and examples of dialogue, indicating when and to whom they should be addressed. With his linguistic and religious works, Ignatius is one of the most typical representatives of the Oriental missionary tradition.


Ambrosius à S. Teresia, Bio-bibliographia missionaria ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum (1584-1940), Rome, 1940, nn. 202, 228, 230, 261, 288, 289, 290, 291, 423.

Idem, Nomenclator Missionariorum Ordinis Carmelitarum Discalceatorum, Rome, 1944.

Arnulf Camps, “Persian Works of Jerome Xavier, a Jesuit at the Mogul Court,” Islamic Culture 35, 1961, pp. 166-76.

Herbert Chick, A Chronicle of the Carmelites in Persia and the Papal Mission of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, 2 vols., London, 1939 (based on documents from the Archivio di Propaganda Fide and Casa Generalizia dei Carmelitani Scalzi in Rome).

Éva M. Jeremiás, “Grammatical Rule and Standard in the First Persian Grammars Written in Latin (XVIIth century),” in Mirko Tavoni, ed., Italia ed Europa nella linguistica del Rinascimento: confronti e relazioni/Italy and Europe in Renaissance Linguistics: Comparisons and Relations, Proceedings of the International Conference, Ferrara, 20-24 March 1991, 2 vols., Modena, 1996, II, pp. 569-80.

Idem, “The Impact of the Semitic Linguistics on the First Persian Grammars Written in Europe,” in Shaul Shaked and Amnon Netzer, eds., Irano-Judaica IV. Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 159-71.

Paola Orsatti, “Grammatica e lessicografia persiana nell’opera di P. Ignazio di Gesù,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 55, 1981, pp. 55-85.

Idem, “Sistema di trascrizione e fonetica neopersiana nel Dictionarium Latino-Persicum di P. Ignazio di Gesù,” AIUON 44, 1984, pp. 41-81.

Angelo Michele Piemontese, Catalogo dei manoscritti persiani conservati nelle biblioteche d’Italia, Rome, 1989.

Ettore Rossi, Elenco dei manoscritti persiani della Biblioteca Vaticana: Vaticani, Barberiniani, Borgiani, Rossiani, Studi e Testi 136, Vatican City, 1948.

Cite this page
Orsatti, Paola, “IGNATIUS OF JESUS”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 22 February 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_3312>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20041215

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