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The contentious Main Guard inscription

The Main Guard inscription and Royal Arms as they are today.

The Main Guard inscription and Royal Arms as they are today.

I refer to Albert Ganado’s learned letter (‘The mystifying Latin on the Main Guard inscription’, The Sunday Times of Malta, February 4) in response to Giovanni Bonello’s earlier article ‘Mysteries of the Main Guard inscription’.

Dr Ganado mentioned my contribution in the Times of Malta of June 22, 2010, in which I had stated that the grammatically correct plural confirmant had been transcribed in two pre-1851 publications.

This may have given the impression that the excerpts from the two works in question (Addison’s Damascus and Palmyra – A Journey to the East and the English translation of Constantin Tischendorff’s Travels in the East) lent credence to the idea that the inscription was grammatically correct prior to its replacement in 1851.

However, I have since come across at least eight pre-1851 publications in which the erroneous confirmat appears; since it is unlikely that all these authors made the same mistake in transcription, it is clear that the error must have been present in the original inscription put up by Maitland and that, as Dr Ganado surmised, Addison and Tischendorff “had given the correct version as it should have been”.

Another instance of a similar correction is found in a Colonial Office publication Malta: Further Correspondence Respecting the Constitution and Administration of Malta (H.M. Stationery Office, 1888).

While surfing the internet for early citations to the Main Guard inscription, resulting in the above-mentioned references, I chanced upon a Czech journal Česka Wcelá, published in Prague in 1838, which featured an article entitled ‘Melita (Malta)’. The author of this article, which appears to be a description of Malta, (my Czech is non-existent) ‘reproduced’ the inscription and not only changed the verb from singular to plural but decided that it should be in the past tense: confirmaverunt! The writer probably figured that in 1838 the love of the Maltese (melitensium amor) and Europe’s endorsement (vox Europae) were already a thing of the past!

Another interesting detail about this contentious inscription appears in the above-quoted Travels in the East in which Tischendorff refers to the “inscription glittering in gold”. If the lettering truly was gilt, then the plaque would certainly have attracted more attention than the present lacklustre slab. A pre-1851 illustration showing the Main Guard portico with its inscription would resolve all the mysteries associated with it.

Can it be hoped that such an image is included in the hoard of Melitensia documents that was recently discovered by Arnold Cassola and referred to by Dr Bonello?

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