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Nicholas Vacante

An Undiscovered Life

By: Nicholas Vacante
College Now Course - BSS 1

Many years ago, my grandfather took a trip to Italy in order to trace the Baffi lineage. His parents once told him that there is a street named after his great grandfather and amazingly, a bust of him in the museum of Naples. His curiosity to learn more about his ancestors brought him to Naples. He was excited to learn that there was indeed a deeper story about his great grandfather. Upon further inquiry, he learned much about this man not only from his trip but from his family who was delighted to tell what they knew about Pasquale Baffi.

To get the whole story, he made his way to the National Library of Naples. There he found all the information he needed that told the compelling story of Pasquale Baffi. He was a philologist, a man of great knowledge, and was one of the most important scholars of literature in Naples. Born in 1749, he was very poor growing up and had lost his parents early forcing him to have to find work for himself. He slaved doing small jobs but exemplified his talents everywhere he could before he finally got a break. Baffi got his job in the Royal Academy in 1787 when Ferdinando IV chose four personal translators for their excellent skills translating Greek and Latin papyrus. He was even known to take part in a particular way in the transcription and interpretation of the Phecc.1497 and the edition of the first volume of the "'Prior Collection" from G. Castaldi. On April 15, 1787, Pasquale was awarded with the nomination of member of Academy of Ercolano. His knowledge of the classical languages and the skill to be an expert interpreter in antique writings gave him all the references and characteristics to be a famous person in the literature world. He was associated with many other great translators of the time like Daniele, Rosini, Ignarra, and Carcani. His two closest friends, Daniele and Rosini, considered his contribution to the translation of papyrus indispensable and unchangeable. Through the letters written back and forth between Baffi and his acquaintances, it's clear that he was a highly respected translator that was incredibly valuable to the time period.

The period between 1787 and 1792 is the most documented period of Baffi's career for the activity of the time. He was asked by the Royal Academy to operate at the maximum level and to be exclusively committed to whatever works he was asked to work on. Numerous letters have shown evidence that he was called from his vacations, social gatherings, and events of all kinds to return immediately because the Academy had too much work to do and they were going to be crippled without Baffi. In 1793, Baffi, together with the other colleagues of the Royal Academy of Naples, finished the 1st volume of the Collecto Prior - a volume of complete Greek letters translated in Italian and Latin. The group felt obligated to congratulate the one person who did the most work on the volume and that was Baffi. He translated a key document containing a collection of brief statements of mathematicians and musicians of the time and people flocked to obtain a copy of Baffi's work. This was just the first of many useful works of Baffi's as he contributed to the publishing of numerous unknown authors of music, songs, and theorems exposing Italy to more and more information that previously could not be shared.

Unfortunately, Baffi was accused of espionage numerous times being the one with custody to documents given to him by the secretaries of the Real House of Italy. And in 1799 when three volumes went missing given to Pasquale, his decapitation was ordered. His decapitation was performed in the public square of the market in Naples. Few believed he was truly guilty because of his personality and great patriotism toward Italy. But it didn't matter. Because of these circumstances, his future works were considered in an unfair way. His death was a loss for Naples' culture and for the Academy which was forced to slow down and change its own projects. All the texts Baffi worked on have never been printed except two of them, under a different name. It was later discovered the espionage he was accused of doing did not happen at all

My grandfather by the end of his trip was astonished that this was the story of his great grandfather. He found out more than he ever thought he would and was certainly more than satisfied after seeing a bust of him in a Naples museum and walking down the street which was named after him. It is called via Pasquale Baffi. I can only imagine how he felt when he saw this. This man was a part of his family. When he returned home and spoke to his family about this, they were eager to even embellish on the information. They all had stories that were told to them by their parents about Baffi. They even had copies stored of letters which were written by Pasquale. His aunts and uncles saw Pasquale as a role model. They had always been inspired by the fact that he was so poor early on and persevered through all those years, nearly 40 of them, before he finally got the job he desired and it was far greater than he ever would have expected.

As my grandfather read these letters, he quickly found out even more. His translations were superb and meticulous, hailed by the critics as brilliant. Not only that, but he was frequently asked suggestions regarding bibliography information and for a best way to collect good poems. Pasquale had friends all over. His international friendships gave him the chance to exchange culture ideas and experiences with letters going to Lipsia, Stratsburg, Copenaghen, Paris, and Venice. All of this was to get the right inspiration for his own studies and papers. Pasquale loved to be involved in international trade because he thought that all kinds of trade could bring positive inputs and encourage people to think with new ideas in the society where they live. Apart from his interests in paleography and diplomacy, he was curious about antiques, dedicating much of his time in an antique store near his house in Naples. In my grandfather's readings, he saw a kind, helpful, brilliant, dedicated, and patriotic man despite his tragic end and the accusations brought upon him.

At this time, of course, my grandfather was younger and wasn't quite sure of what he wanted to do. After learning about this part of his history, he decided to take a gamble and follow his dreams opening a store and pizzeria in Brooklyn. It became a success for him and his family. The business grew and all of my uncles, including my mother worked at the pizzeria. It is something they talk about all the time and take much pride in their success.

I am very proud of my grandfather and my ancestors as well. My grandfather went to great lengths to learn about his ancestors and all of his family members appreciated it and marveled at it. I too am grateful because it gives me an insight to where a part of me came from and what I am made of.