Bucks Professor Teaches, Translates on Two Continents

Matthew Rusnak has translated the work of a 16th-century Italian poet and lectured in Milan.

Any college professor might lecture his students on the rules of polite behavior. But how many can do so in the language and style of a 16th-century Italian poet and diplomat? 

At Bucks County Community College, Matthew (M.F.) Rusnak can do just that. He’s translated and edited Galateo: Or, the Rules of Polite Behavior by Giovanni Della Casa, published by the University of Chicago Press.  

Rusnak (pictured), who teaches Italian, English composition, and world literature at the Newtown campus and online, translated Della Casa’s sage, witty advice to questions such as –

  • How does a gentlemen speak? 
    • You must speak slowly, like the person without will or appetite, nor hungrily as if you were starving; but you must speak as a moderate man should.
  • How does a gentleman avoid a drinking contest?
    • If one should invite you to a drinking contest, you can easily refuse the invitation, saying you give up, thanking him or tasting the wine out of courtesy, without guzzling.
  • When shouldn’t a gentleman take off his clothes?
    • One should not take off his clothes, and especially not his stockings, in public, that is, where decent people would be found; … it could happen that those body parts which we cover would embarrass him and those who might see him.

Rusnak, who holds a Ph.D. in Italian from Rutgers University and won the 2010 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching at Bucks, has also translated Italian literary criticism and poetry. He’s given talks on Italian and English literary history at Harvard University and the University of Milan, as well as other institutions, and was awarded an NEH Fellowship in 2005 for the study of manuscripts at the Folger Institute.   

He says his work as a translator aids his classroom technique.

“Translators must be very attentive and patient readers, and composition teachers learn to be so as well,” said Rusnak, who has been teaching at Bucks since 1993.  “We have the gift of looking at student pieces in the spirit in which they were written.  Similarly, I’ve tried to capture in Galateo the original gusto and gravity, too, perhaps lost over the centuries.  It’s a tough book to read today even for Italians, but I’ve always enjoyed reading, whether classic literature or freshman papers.  I like them both very much.”

Rusnak is teaching Elementary and Advanced Italian, World Literature, and Intro to Rhetorical Skills in the spring semester at Bucks.  To learn more about the Department of Language and Literature, call 215-968-8150.  

Jean Dolan
Assistant Director, Public Relations