Martinho Hara, Japanese Latinist.

Stuart M McManus writes at Psyche about yet another of those remarkable cosmopolites who have been largely forgotten:

[…] I bet you’ve never heard of the Japanese-born Martinho Hara (原) (c1568-1629). This is a pity because not only did Hara’s life overlap with better-known Renaissance scholars such as Montaigne in France and Giordano Bruno in Italy, but he also shared many of their humanistic interests and standards. Perhaps the most surprising of these was that this Japanese Renaissance humanist was an accomplished Latin public speaker (or ‘orator’ to use the contemporary term). In other words, he was a Japanese echo of the Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), the Renaissance’s ‘poster boy’ whose speeches were widely imitated by diplomats, preachers and professors from the late 14th century onwards.

How did this happen? Born close to the thriving Luso-Japanese port of Nagasaki in Southern Japan, Hara studied with the Jesuits who had founded colleges across Asia and Latin America. This was facilitated by Iberian (ie, Spanish and Portuguese) mercantile and imperial expansion, which simultaneously ravaged the world’s coastlines and created new opportunities for cultural interactions on a global scale. In the Jesuit college in Nagasaki (as well as in the colleges of Mexico City, Puebla, Guadalajara, Lima, Manila, Goa, Macau, etc), students followed a typical Renaissance curriculum, including classical rhetoric: the rules for structuring and ornamenting speeches that had been key to elite education at Athens and Rome and were later revived in the Renaissance. […]

Hara delivered his Latin oration in 1588 in the chapel of St Paul’s College in Goa during a stop-off in India on his return journey from the Tensho Embassy to Rome. In his speech, which was pronounced in a space that evoked antiquity with its Corinthian columns and gate reminiscent of a Roman triumphal arch, this Japanese Cicero thanked the head of the Jesuit mission in Asia, Alessandro Valignano, praising him as a new Alexander the Great, conquering Asia for Christ. As an epideictic oration (ie, a speech focused on either praise or blame, and commonly used in Roman imperial rituals), this was meant not just to celebrate its subject. Rather, it aimed to exhort its listeners to follow in Hara’s footsteps in spreading Christianity and countering its ‘enemies’ in Japan: Buddhism and Shintoism. […]

After its delivery, Hara’s rousing speech was printed by another Japanese student on a press brought from Europe. This was later taken to Macau and Nagasaki, where it was used to print Latin textbooks for use by aspiring Chinese and Japanese priests. Clearly then, the Latin books, Ciceronian orations and classicising architecture that we associate with the Renaissance were found not just in famous European centres, such as Florence, Venice and Paris. Rather, the Renaissance was a widespread, almost global movement initially carried beyond Europe by Spanish and Portuguese expansion in Asia and the Americas.

There’s much more at the link, e.g. Jesuit sermons in Chinese and Manuel Micheltorena’s 1844 oration to celebrate Mexican Independence; you can see McManus give a 20-minute talk about Hara at Gakushuin Women’s College here. (I assumed Hara must have had a Japanese given name besides the Portuguese Martinho, but if he did, Japanese Wikipedia doesn’t know it.) Thanks, Jack!


  1. “I assumed Hara must have had a Japanese given name besides the Portuguese Martinho”

    For commoners, there were no surnames as such until the Meiji period, so Martinho Hara would have been his name (原) plus his Christian name (マルティノ).

  2. Ah, that makes sense, thanks.

  3. Hara’s speeches were widely imitated since the 14th century!?!

  4. David Marjanović says


  5. A blueprint for a world-spanning civilization that did come to pass in some ways in Central/South America and the Philippines. But their footprints in Macau and Goa remained just footprints, and Nagasaki was totally lost. It’s an audacious plan, and we can kind of see how it might possibly have worked. But multiple factors caused it to fail.

  6. Hara was Martinho’s family name, not a given name. For Japanese Christians of that period, it is quite common that we know only the family name and Christian name. AFAIK, this is the case for all of the Japanese members of the Tenshō embassy, as well as Fabian Fucan (the author of Feiqe no monogatari).

    McManus’ article may be exaggerating Hara’s abilities as a Latinist. It is difficult to know how much of his published speech was his own work and how much was written or polished by his European teachers.

  7. David L. Gold says

    The presence of the Dutch in Japan also brought certain Japanese into contact with Latin — see Christopher Joby’s The Dutch Language in Japan (1600-1900): A Cultural and Sociolinguistic Study of Dutch as a Contact Language in Tokugawa and Meiji Japan — and resulted in the translation of certain works in Latin into Japanese — see Grant Kohn Goodman’s Japan: The Dutch Experience.

  8. @David L. Gold:
    The “Dutch Studies” (rangaku) translations were much later than the period McManus is talking about here, and I don’t know of any that were translated directly from Latin into Japanese. Many rangaku translations included transcriptions and/or transliterations of Latin medical or botanical terms, but rangaku scholars usually worked from Dutch versions, even for books that were originally composed in Latin. (e.g. Sugita Genpaku’s Kaitai shinsho 解体新書 was a translation of the Dutch Ontleedkundige tafelen, not Kulmus’ original Tabulae Anatomicae.)

    After the earlier period discussed by Kulmus, the serious study of Latin language (as opposed to Latin terminology) didn’t get started until the Meiji period. The first Japanese textbook of Latin was apparently this one, published in 1888. (Discussion)

  9. Amusing note: The view of Rome appearing at the top of McManus’ article is labeled “Illustration of the temples of Furansukano in Holland” 阿蘭陀フランスカノ伽藍之図.
    I’m not sure what Furansukano is supposed to be. Perhaps “Franciscan”?

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    On a recent visit to Maidstone Museum, Dr Ellis Tinios of Leeds University noted the similarity between Toyoharu’s print and the two oil paintings of the Roman Forum, “Pair of Roman Capriccios” by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765), hanging in the Museum’s Sculpture Gallery.

    Panini was a celebrated painter known for his fictional combinations of architectural wonders. For example, in Panini’s painting of Rome’s tourist attractions, the artist combines the Coliseum, Trajan’s Column, and other elements of the Roman Forum in one imaginary scene.

    The main difference between Panini and Toyoharu’s depiction of the Roman Forum is that the stone pillars in Toyoharu’s prints are a bright orange colour. Orange is used in Japan to paint the torii gates at shrine entrances and is considered sacred, which may explain its generous use in this depiction of a monastery in Toyoharu’s print. Unlike the Panini painting, the print shows the same pictorial elements in reverse.

    The artist’s woodblock print was inspired by the European copperplate etchings that entered Japan through the Dutch trading port of Dejima. The original copperplate print was probably traced before being stuck to a woodblock and carved, resulting in a reversed printed image. Toyoharu has also added a Japanese title that runs from right to left across the top of the print; this horizontal script (instead of vertical Japanese script) only adds to the exoticism of the design.


  11. PlasticPaddy says

    The artist has another woodcut entitled
    浮絵紅毛フランカイノ湊万里鐘響図 うきえこうもうふらんかいのみなとばんりしょうけいのず

    …furankai… = “The Bell which Resounds for Ten Thousand Leagues in the Dutch Port of Frankai” (actually a view of Venice after Canaletto)

    is it possible that furanskano and furankai are makey-uppy words meaning “appertaining to/ somewhere in Frank land” and not Franciscan, French or whatever translations can be found for them?

  12. I don’t think Edo-period Japanese had a concept of “Franks”, but apart from that it’s hard to know exactly what those words were supposed to mean.

    The term translated as “Dutch” in the Canaletto caption is kōmō 紅毛, lit “red hairs”, a description that could conceivably apply to Venetians as well, even if in practice it usually meant “Dutch”.

  13. There’s lots of interesting linguistic commentary in A.Z. Foreman’s Twitter feed, but this:

    seems pertinent here.

  14. Very interesting, thanks for that. Some excerpts:

    Neither Dante nor anybody else in the Late Middle Ages seems to have had any idea that the Romance languages were the descendants of Latin. … For speakers in the Late Middle Ages, then, Romance had no necessary connection to Latin apart from sharing a lot of stuff with it. … Many, if not most, seem to have simply taken it for granted that the Ancient Romans wrote Latin but spoke Vernacular, just like they themselves did. … It is only in the early 15th century that some men like Poggio Bracciolini and Leonardo Bruni came to understand that Italian and other Romance varieties were what Latin had now become as a result of linguistic change. … Not till the 1700s was there was anything approaching a “scholarly consensus” that Spoken Latin had turned into Romance.

    A.Z. Foreman seems to spend all his time posting (and arguing) on FB and Twitter; when does he get anything else done?

  15. And recording texts in old languages.

  16. Well, that’s sort of the thing he does. You mean he does still more stuff? Eat, sleep, stuff like that?

  17. Grad students drink coffee. That takes care of both those other peculiar activities you mention.

  18. Bathrobe says

    Re the quote from Foreman:

    Foreman’s is the modern take.

    The postmodern take probably accords more with mediaeval perceptions. I’m no expert on Latin, but it’s probably a bit more complicated than “the modern Romance languages are descended from Latin”.

    Sure, they are… or rather, Vulgar Latin, which was the “vernacular” form of Latin (just as the mediaevals suspected), and Vulgar Latin was probably descended from “Classical Latin” — but was Classical Latin actually a spoken language?

    The strong tendency to accord high status to formal, standardised languages (present in modern national languages but also evident in the prestige of Classical languages), the bias in linguistics towards describing the written language, which is still evident in Chomskyan linguistics (What do you get if you decide to describe the competence of an ideal native speaker in an ideal community [please forgive the rough paraphrase]? You get people describing English according to the rules of correct written English, as introspected by the armchair linguist), and of course the general inaccessibility of the spoken word before modern times, all conspire to justify that simple formulation, “the modern Romance languages are descended from Latin”.

  19. John Emerson says

    Foreman isn’t a true graduate student. It’s more like he’s deigned to drop down to grad school, where he can launder the things he’s taught himself and give them official status.

  20. John Emerson says

    He’s especially doing dialect study and historical linguistics these days, reconstructing the pronunciation of English, Arabic, and Hebrew at various times and places.

  21. Bathrobe says

    he can launder the things he’s taught himself and give them official status.

    But that’s what I want to do!

  22. He translates poetry, too.

    (He reads out loud a poem by Natan Alterman, with a very Mizrahi pronunciation, which is kind of hilarious. Like reading Robert Frost in a deep Southern accent.)

  23. Bathrobe says

    His “Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, read in 17th century pronunciation, is interesting…. Not sure how accurate it is.

    John Donne’s “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” read in 17th century phonology

  24. John Emerson says

    I’m sure that a lot of his stuff will require revision / further development. I suspect that he knows this, because that’s generally true of scholarly work. But I am in awe of his project.

  25. Bathrobe says

    Incidentally, I’m a little ambivalent about calling Hara a “remarkable cosmopolite”. He was brought up in an alien system, was indoctrinated in it, and embraced it entirely, right down to a call to “rip our oppressed homeland from the hands of the savage enemy and restore it to true liberty!”

    I’m sure there are many “remarkable cosmopolites” in the ranks of major international corporations, where people from different national and ethnic backgrounds have had the language and thinking of international business inculcated into them. Some of these are people with two cultures: their native culture and the culture they have embraced to achieve worldly wealth. It’s not always easy to talk to such Janus-like people if you are steeped in their native culture — you might be talking to them as (say) a Japanese, while they are talking to you as a gaijin.

    Perhaps such people are admirable. Perhaps they are highly adept. But “cosmopolite”? I’m in two minds about that.

    A person who has completely embraced a totally new culture and (in this case, I suspect) largely abandoned his old one isn’t what I would call “cosmopolite”. Any first-generation immigrant who has made a serious attempt to integrate into his/her new society is a “cosmopolite” by this definition.

    A “cosmopolite” should be a person who has transcended the limits of his own culture (without abandoning it) to deal with multiple cultures in the wider world. Or do I have the wrong idea about cosmopolitanism?

  26. Hmm, good point. I was focusing too much on the “embracing a new culture” part and not paying attention to the “abandoned his old one” part. I withdraw the classification!

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    I think one can create another portrait of Hara as someone who was forced to choose between his homeland and his religious convictions, and who may have felt, at times, anger and bitterness as a result of being forced to make this choice. He may even have had regrets at having “dodged” martyrdom or “abandoned his flock” by going in to exile. I would have thought that referring to pagans or animists as savages incapable of appreciating Liberty would be a commonplace in religious polemic for missionary or proselytising contexts (also political polemic to justify military or political actions that would be judged unfair if applied to a civilised opponent).

  28. Bathrobe says

    @ PlasticPaddy

    Yes, I am sure that is another possible way of seeing Martinho. And yes, it isn’t totally clear that he abandoned his own culture — although the signs do point to this. And yes, it may have been a choice he was forced to make, although the famous practice of fumi-e, whereby people were required to prove they weren’t Christians by trampling on a likeness of Jesus or Mary, apparently didn’t start till 1629, the year of Martinho’s death.

    But he still doesn’t strike me as a “cosmopolite”. It depends on how you define a “cosmopolite”, of course. I vaguely remember there was a Scythian who became a philosopher in ancient Greece and lived out his days there. Compared to the barbarians of the steppes, I guess you would call him “cosmopolitan”, in a way that you probably wouldn’t call a Greek who lived among the Scythians till his death. One culture is backward and parochial; the other is broad and enlightened. So I guess that is one way of looking at “cosmopolitanism” — the state of not being trapped in a backward, narrow culture. Perhaps this applies to Martinho, perhaps not…

  29. but was Classical Latin actually a spoken language?

    Seems to me the language of Plautus and Terence was a spoken language, and that is clearly the ancestor of “Classical” and probably most Vulgar Latin dialects and their descendents.

  30. Lars Mathiesen says

    I would guess that at even in the late Republic there was a small class of people (lawyers, senators) who could orate at will in the “Classical” register, but they probably didn’t sustain it during coffee breaks. Does that make it a spoken language?

    Is Church Latin a spoken language now? I’m told there is a handful of Vatican functionaries and scholars able to converse in it.

    Writing is of course different, probably more people could construct “proper” prose when given time to edit, but IIRC even Cicero turned it down a notch when writing to his family.

  31. I suspect that in the late Republic a typical Roman citizen spoke a language that was still far closer to “Classical Latin” than it was to the Italian of Dante. That is to say it was still a highly synthetic language and the daily vocabulary also probably didn’t differ that much from what we find in Catullus or Cicero. Certainly the syntax was simpler than we find in Livy, and people in taverns probably didn’t throw in an ablative absolute construction every four sentences. The spoken language no doubt included topicalization and fairly free word order but a lot less hyperbaton than we meet in Latin prose. (although an utterance like duas a te accepi epistulas heri doesn’t seem at all implausible, since you can still run into hyperbaton in colloquial BCSM). I would guess the gap between Cicero’s writing and what you would have heard at a Roman dinner party is probably similar to the gap between overwrought 19th century German prose and modern educated German colloquial speech.

  32. Lars Mathiesen says

    Or maybe no greater than that between German Wikipedia and the spoken language. Them Germans for sure likes their nominalized subclauses.

  33. PlasticPaddy says

    I think the question has different answers, depending on what is meant by “typical Roman citizen”. For Western Europe I would guess something like
    Latium/Sabine–rural Latin dialect
    Roman colonies in Italy–plebeian/Army Latin, Classical Latin or Latin-Italic mesolect, depending on date, historical and economic developments
    Sardinia/Sicily–this is complicated now and was probably also then
    Italy other-Greek, Italic, Celtic or Latin mesolect
    Roman colonies outside Italy–Classical Latin or mesolect
    Provinces-local language or Latin mesolect
    The Classical language would be taught in schools and used for official purposes (and for Church ceremonies and certain “fixed” parts of the Mass) and clearly exerted a strong pressure in Western Europe.
    Note Cicero was not a Roman by birth and was very sensitive about this.

  34. I was wondering when Oscan died out, and apparently it’s complicated:

    In coastal zones of Southern Italy, Oscan is thought to have survived 3 centuries of bilingualism with Greek between 400 and 100 BCE, making it “an unusual case of stable societal bilingualism” wherein neither language became dominant or caused the death of the other; however, over the course of the Roman period both Oscan and Greek would be progressively effaced from Southern Italy, excepting the controversial possibility of Griko representing a continuation of ancient dialects of Greek.

    Oscan was likely banned from official usage after 80 BCE. Its usage declined following the Social War. However, graffiti in towns across the Oscan speech area indicate it remained in good health after this. A very strong piece of evidence is the presence of Oscan graffiti on walls of Pompeii that were reconstructed after the earthquake of CE 62, and must therefore have been written between CE 62 and 79.

  35. The thing to keep in mind is that the graffiti in Pompeii are a unique piece of linguistic evidence: without them we would have much less evidence that Oscan survived into the first century AD. And if Oscan was a living, actively used language within Pompeii on the eve of its destruction, it must have been alive and kicking in much of rural Southern Italy at the time. And in turn, if a pre-Roman language of the Italian peninsula was still alive at the time, after centuries of Roman rule + contact with Latin, it makes it likely that many pre-Roman languages outside the Italian peninsula (apart from the ones which survived to the present day: Welsh, Basque, or Albanian for example) must have still been alive at the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

    I have sometimes wondered, in fact, whether some of the sharper dialect divisions within the Romance continuum might not be due to late linguistic Romanization: the sharp dividing line between langue d’oïl and langue d’oc, for instance, might be due to early (pre-ninth century AD, roughly) proto-langue d’oïl and proto-langue d’oc being separated by Gaulish speakers in Central France, with Proto-oïl spreading at the expense of Gaulish from the North southwards, and Proto-oc from the South Northwards, both ultimately meeting where each had just recently replaced Gaulish.

  36. Lars Mathiesen says

    Are we completely restricted to that sort of “internal” inferences, using the distribution of rural dialects in the 19th (or “vernacular” writers from the 15th) to reason about the developments in the former Roman empire since the 5th (or even, apart from Pompeiian graffiti and the Appendix Probi, from the 2nd BCE or whenever the form of written Latin was frozen?)

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