BESCHI, Constantino Gioseffo Eusebio (Constanzo B., Constantinus Beschius, Vîra-mâmunivar)

BESCHI, Constantino Gioseffo Eusebio (Constanzo B., Constantinus Beschius, Vîra-mâmunivar). Castiglione delle Stiviere near Mantua 8.11.1680 — Ambalakat near Cranganore 4.2.1747. S.J. Italian Jesuit missionary and Tamil scholar. Nearly 40 years in India. Novice of S.J. 1698, then studies in Ravenna and in 1701-10 in Bologna. Ordained as priest in 1709. After further studies (?) in a Roman Collegium he came to India in 1710, travelling from Lisbon to Goa. Joined the Madurai Mission on 8.5.1711. Like —> De Nobili he adopted the robe and habits of an Indian Sanyasi. Settled down in Tirunelveli, and worked in other Tamil towns, too. In the end of the 1730s he probably was the Divan of the local Mughal commander Chanda Sahib. His last years he spent as visitor to the Ambalakat Jesuit College (in 1746) and died there.

In addition to Italian and Tamil, in which he had perfect command, CB is said to have known ten languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Persian, Urdu, Telugu, and Sanskrit. He was a grammarian and a Tamil poet, a pioneer of Tamil prose. He developed the orthography making difference between short and long e and o. His three grammars, one in Tamil and two in Latin (of vulgar and high dialect, the latter completed in 1730) were important pioneer works. His Tamil epic Tēmpāvaṇi (completed c. 1727) in 36 cantos and 3615 verses tells the story of Joseph and the birth of Jesus purely with means of traditional Tamil poetry. In Tamil he also wrote Christian prose works, the lexicographical work Caturakarāti, and the famous tales of Paramārthan.

Publications: Grammatica latino-tamulica ubi de vulgari tamulicae linguae idiomate Kotun Tamil dicto tractatur. Tragambariae 1728, 2nd ed. 1739, new eds. Madras 1813, Pudicherii 1843; English transl. by C. H. Horst: Grammar of the Common Dialect of the Tamulian Language. Vepery 1806, 2nd ed. Madras 1881; English transl. by G. W. Mahon, with the same name, 156 p. Madras 1848.

Clavis humaniorum litterarum sublimioris Tamulici idiomatis. Edited by K. Ihlefeld & A. Burnell. Trankebar 1876, new ed. as Grammatica latino-tamulica ubi de elegantiori Tamulicae dialecto centamil dicta, cui adduntur Tamulicae poeseos Rudimenta. Edited together with B. G. Babington’s English tr. by L. Besse. Trich. 1917; English transl. by B. G. Babington: Beschi Shen-Tamizh. A Grammar of the High Dialect of the Tamil Language, termed Shen Tamil, to which is added an Introduction to Tamil Poetry. Madras 1822.

Vulgaris Tamulicae linguae dictionarium Tamulico-latinum. Madras 1844, new ed. Trichinopoly 1882 (with suppl. by Ford, ib. 1884).

Tonnūl. Grammar in Tamil. 1891; Caturakarāti. A lexicographical work in Tamil.

Tēmpāvaṇi. First published 1-3. Pondichery 1853, then 1891 and often.

Paramārtta kuruvin katai. English transl. by B. G. Babington: 1822; French by abbé Dubois 182?; German by Grässe 1860.

Sources: *L. Besse, Father B. and the Society of Jesus: his time and his writings. Trichinopoly 1918; P. Ceyrac, “Father B., Vīra-Māmunivar”, Indica. IHRI Silver Jub. Comm. Vol. Bombay 1953, 53-60; Dahlmann 1891, 12ff.; A. Gaur, Br. Mus. Quart. 32, 1968, 103-108; *A. Muttusami Pillai, “Sketch of the Life of Father B.”, JMLS April 1840 (*originally in Tamil, Madras 1822); L. Petech, D.B.I. 9, 1967, 663-665; A. Sorrentino, “Nota su una grammatica del sec. xviii”, AION 40, 1980, 313-318; Wikiåpedia (with portrait).

Grammatical works and their editions listed in the LSI; *Bibliography by J. Vinson, RLing. 33, 1900, 1ff.


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