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entry Oct 2013              

ichele Kerbaker, linguist and translator

Michele Kerbaker (also spelled Kerbàker) (Torino, 1835 – Naples, 1914) was an Italian linguist and translator. He completed his studies in Torino and then moved to Naples in the 1860s, after the unification of Italy. He taught Latin and classical Greek at the Umberto I liceo (high school), then became professor of Comparative Languages and Literature at the University of Naples and then director of the Collegio Asiatico (now the Oriental Institute of Naples). In 1907 he was admitted to the prestigious Lincean Academic Society in Rome.

Kerbaker had a profound knowledge of classical literature with a special interest in the poetry and religion of India, for which he taught himself classical Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. He was a rough contemporary of the German scholar, Max Müller, and others in the mid-1800s, all of whom were influenced by the recent revelation of comparative philology that there were language “families” one of them being our own large Indo-European family with its relationship of Latin and Greek to Sanskrit. Such a realization fostered the study of language development in relation to general cultural development and, more specifically, to the development of religions. Thus, Kerbaker was one of the early specialists in comparative mythology with a particular interest in the natural origins of Indo-European religions. He was responsible for making known for the first time in Italy, through his translations from Sanskrit, a vast amount of classical Indian literature.

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