One of the four volumes of De Soldanis dictionary, most probably the first dictionary in Maltese, was published for the first time in 250 years as a result of research and transcription from the original manuscript archived at the National Library. ‘Id-Damma’, as the dictionary is entitled, sheds light on the social life of the Maltese in the middle of the 18 Century.
Id-Damma, the work of Canon Ġan Piet Franġisk Agius de Soldanis, started being written around the year 1750 and is thought to have been completed 17 years later. However, he did not publish the dictionary and it remained as a manuscript for more then two centuries.
Eight years ago, two Maltese University students – Rosabelle Carabott and Joanne Trevesin – chose as part of their thesis to faithfully transcribe the first of four volumes of id-Damma.
The editor of the modern version, Rosabelle Carabott, said that the work uncovers subjects that are not presently found in a dictionary.
“The dictionary sheds light on the social life; farmers who had not much income did not afford to buy pepper; so they used to buy it fresh, bake it and then grind it”.
Id-Damma has many words and traditions that are lost, and information on food, sweets, farmers and townspeople clothes, musical instruments, legends and children’s games.
“He left it as a manuscript, that is in handwritten form, corrected the wording……….We wanted to present the text in a way that reflects what De Soldanis had in mind 250 years ago”, photographer-designer Daniel Cilia said.
Agius De Soldanis was a good writer and left his own description when photographs did not exist. Historian William Zammit says: “During one of my research, I found two documents which I describe as passports – certificates that this man could travel with. In one of them we have a physical description of the person. It says that this person was somewhat short, of mediocre stature, with chestnut hair and clear eyes”.
Agius De Soldanis left the manuscripts to the National Library because as a librarian he knew his work will not be lost.