Giuseppe Mezzofanti was an Italian cardinal who was said to have developed proficiency in more than 30 languages. Whether it involved giving confessionals or writing letter correspondences, this vast mental bibliography proved to be beneficial to him. The question of this article is not: Is it possible to learn those languages; rather it asks: How did he learn all of those languages?

Much of the information about Mezzofanti–specifically the archives of his works and notes–were stored in the Archiginnasio Public Library in Italy. It is there that author Michael Erard did his research on this legendary linguistic figure.

While fluency might be subjective at worst, it can be safe to say that Mezzofanti left behind evidence that he did in fact diligently study more than 30 languages. These are the methods that Erard pointed out in his book about polyglots, in this case about Mezzofanti specifically:

Through Education

The first languages that Mezzofanti learned besides his original Italian is Latin and Greek when he was attending school.

Through Notecards

Upon doing research about Mezzofanti, Erard was given access to the notecards that Mezzofanti used when learning languages.

Through Recitation

Mezzofanti was recorded to have had a speaker recite the Lord’s Prayer translated into any of the languages that he was studying. This allowed him to be able to pinpoint the sounds and rhythm within each line.

Through Dictionary

This was done with his study of the Algonquian language, based on the information that he was given by a missionary in America.


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