1.2. Latin Lexica - Second Century B.C. to Tenth Century A.D.

The Greek grammarian Crates of Mallus, founder of a renowned school at Pergamos, is credited with introducing Stoicism into Roman philosophy and literature during his visit to Rome in 168 B.C. (Amsler 1989: 24; Sandys 1921: I, 173). However, Roman study of grammar and etymology truly began with the work of the philologist Lucius Aelius Stilo (c.152-74 B.C.). Stilo, who spent two years at Rhodes and was probably acquainted with Dionysius Thrax (see 1.1.), wrote on grammar and etymology, and also produced a glossary (Collison 1982: 27).

Among Stilo's pupils was Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 B.C.), the first important Roman grammarian and a proponent of Roman Stoic grammar (Amsler 1989: 24). Varro was a prolific author, particularly in the area of language study, but only a small portion of his prodigious output (74 works, comprising 620 books) is still extant. Of his vast treatise De lingua latina, only six (V to X) of the original twenty-five books have come down to us. This comprehensive work on the Latin language owes much to the Stoic teaching of Aelius Stilo, and to the grammar of Dionysius Thrax (Sandys 1921: I, 179). It included "discussions on etymology, gender, case-formation, comparison of adjectives, conjugation of verbs, and the collocation of words in forming sentences" (Nettleship 1895: 147). The first three of the surviving books De lingua latina deal with etymology, and Amsler (1989: 25) notes that Varro developed "the first comprehensive etymological model for the study of the Latin or Greek language", which would greatly influence medieval grammar and lexicography.

Varro was also the author of the first encyclopaedic Latin work on the 'liberal arts', entitled Disciplinarum libri novem. It comprised grammar, logic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music, medicine and architecture. The first seven topics were the seven liberal arts of St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), who substituted philosophy for astronomy, and of Martianus Capella (fl.410), who wrote an encyclopaedia on the seven liberal arts. These seven subjects later became the trivium and quadrivium of the medieval educational system (Sandys 1921: I, 178).

Holtz (1981: 10) observes that in the history of Latin grammar Varro's name stands out; he typifies Latin grammar in Antiquity and inspires it until the fifth century A.D.

Other works dating from the last years of the Republic which are sources for later grammarians include the Synonyma and the incomplete De inventione of Cicero (106-43 B.C.), the Commentarii grammatici of Nigidius Figulus (c.98-45 B.C.), which deals especially with orthography, synonyms and etymology, and the De analogia of Julius Caesar (c.102-44 B.C.) (Nettleship 1895: 147f.; Sandys 1921: I, 180, 194).

In the Augustan age the first important treatise on language is De verborum significatu, written by M. Verrius Flaccus (fl.10 B.C.) (Collison 1982: 30f.; Sandys 1921: I, 200). Nettleship (1895: 158) concludes that two of Varro's lost works, De sermone latino and De antiquitate litterarum, were among the sources of Verrius's vast work, of which he remarks (1885: 205): "Its title, De verborum significatu, gives but an inadequate idea of its contents, which embrace not only lexicographical matter, but much information on points of history, antiquities, and grammar...". It survives only in a fragment of an abridgement created by the grammarian Sextus Pompeius Festus in the second century A.D., which was further abridged by Paulus Diaconus in the eighth century (Collison 1982: 34; Engels 1961: 2; Sandys 1921: I, 200).

Latin grammarians of the first century A.D. whose writings were frequently cited by medieval authors are Remmius Palaemon (Sandys 1921: I, 200f.). A lost work of Suetonius Tranquillus (c.75-160), an encyclopaedia of at least ten books entitled Prata, is also a source for later writers, including Saint Jerome and Isidore of Seville (Nettleship 1885: 248). Suetonius's other writings include a grammatical treatise entitled De grammaticis et rhetoribus, which is frequently cited by later authors.

Grammar was among the many topics which interested Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), and his writings include eight books entitled Dubius sermo. The work is based chiefly on Varro, on the lexicon and grammatical treatises of Verrius Flaccus, and on Julius Caesar's De analogia (Nettleship 1895: 161). It is almost certain that Pliny's treatise is an important source for Quintilian, Nonius Marcellus (id. 1895: 163), and later grammarians including Donatus. The many wordlists contained in the elder Pliny's monumental Historia naturalis were equally important sources for medieval lexicographers.

Aulus Gellius (born c.130 A.D.), a leading scholar of the second century, wrote Noctes Atticae during a stay in Athens. It is a compilation of earlier scholarship on Latin language and literature, and on law and philosophy. About a quarter of the treatise (more than one hundred chapters) concerns Latin lexicography, ten chapters deal with etymology, and more than thirty chapters discuss the finer points of Latin grammar (Nettleship 1885: 268f.). Other second-century writers on orthography and grammar are Terentius Scaurus, Velius Longus and Flavius Caper.

The study of grammar in the fourth century begins with the encyclopaedic De compendiosa doctrina written by the North African Nonius Marcellus (fl. 323 A.D.). It is divided into three parts: lexicographical, grammatical and antiquarian. Sources for the large lexicographical portion include Verrius Flaccus, and for the grammatical part, Probus and Pliny (id. 1885: 228f.), as well as Gellius, who is not named (Sandys 1921: I, 220). Saint Jerome (c.346-420), best known for his translation of the Bible, also produced a variety of grammatical texts, including glosses of hard words, and text commentary and exegesis (Amsler 1989: 109). Jerome's sources include the work of Suetonius Tranquillus.

Jerome's tutor during his time in Rome was the grammarian and rhetorician Aelius Donatus, whom Collison (1982: 36) describes as "the most eminent teacher of his age". Hunt (1991: I, 83) remarks that Donatus's "reputation rests largely on his two grammars which were almost entirely lacking in originality but proved to be of great practical utility." The grammars are the shorter (Ars minor), which deals only with the parts of speech, and the longer (Ars maior or Ars secunda). Holtz (1981: xi) [6] notes that the Ars Donati was the indirect heir of the language studies of Varro and Pliny, and that the text survived until the Renaissance because it represented access to the science of grammar and to written language. He explains (1981: 237) that contemporary grammarians, by imprecisely attributing to Donatus everything which deals with grammar, are responsible for the first identification of Donatus with his art. "The name of the grammarian thus becomes the symbol of grammar...".

The Roman grammarian, Servius Honoratus (born c.370) is chiefly known for his commentary on Virgil, but his other works include treatises on prosody and metre and a commentary on the Ars Donati. Holtz (1981: 224) notes that three grammatical texts of the fifth and sixth centuries (those of Cledonius, Pompeius and Cassiodorus), [7] while revealing wide distribution of Donatus's manual, owe an equal debt to Servius; the fortune of the manual seems linked to that of its commentator.

About 510 A.D. Priscianus, or Priscian, a native of Caesarea who taught at Constantinople during the time of the Emperor Anastasius (491518) (Hunt 1991: I, 84), wrote, among other treatises, a comprehensive grammar entitled Institutiones grammaticae. Its popularity is evidenced by the fact that more than one thousand manuscripts of it still exist (Sandys 1921: I, 274). The grammar is divided into eighteen books, the first sixteen on accidence, and the remaining two on syntax. From the latter, Priscian may be considered the creator of Latin syntax (Holtz 1981: 239). His Latin grammatical sources include Caper, Charisius, Diomedes, Probus and Donatus (with Servius on Donatus) (Sandys 1921: I, 273). Priscian did not in any way repudiate the work of his predecessors and exhibited only deference towards Donatus, whose material he used frequently in his text (Holtz 1981: 244). However, given their conceptual differences, competition between Priscian and Donatus was inevitable, although it did not really appear until the ninth century and it was only at the end of the eleventh century that Donatus's reputation was overshadowed by that of Priscian (id. 1981: 240).

In addition to Donatus and Priscian, the chief authors of grammatical texts in the late Empire were Victorinus, Diomedes, and Charisius in the fourth century; Martianus Capella, Consentius and Phocas in the fifth; and Cassiodorus in the sixth (Brehaut 1912: 91). These writers contributed little that was original; in the main, their works were copies of earlier grammars (id. 1912: 91). The De orthographia of Cassiodorus, for example, borrowed from the works of twelve grammarians, beginning with Donatus and ending with Priscian (Sandys 1921: I, 260).

Probably about the fifth century, notations of the contents which were written in the margins of Nonius Marcellus's work were collected and put into alphabetical order. As the glossae Nonianae they were used in many later compilations. The glossae Eucherii, extracted from the Formulae spiritalis intelligentiae of Saint Eucherius, bishop of Lyons in the fifth century, arose in much the same way (Hessels 1910: 126).

The only glossographers of the sixth century whose names are known today are the North Africans, Fabius Planciades Fulgentius (c.468-533 A.D.), who wrote Expositio sermonum antiquorum, and Placidus, who compiled one of the best-known and most influential medieval Latin glossaries (id. 1910: 126). Speaking of the glossae Placidi, Nettleship (1885: 245) notes that "the book is not merely a glossary, but a badly compiled handbook of general instruction, containing, besides the glosses, notes on antiquities, mythology, rhetoric, grammar, and matters of general information." It is not possible to identify all the sources, but Placidus includes glosses from Festus (Della Casa 1981: 38), and from Plautus and Lucilius (Hessels 1910: 126; Sandys 1921: I, 248).

Evidence confirms that the Ars Donati were known and used in Roman Gaul in the fifth century (Holtz 1981: 232) and that commentaries on Donatus, notably that of Pompeius, made their way to Visigothic Spain and to Ireland in the sixth century (id. 1981: 233). In the seventh century, the Auricept (the poet's primer) was compiled in Ireland. Collison (1982: 40) notes that this is the oldest treatise of any language of Western Europe and that it relies heavily on Donatus in discussing the origins of the Irish language.

The many writings of Isidore of Seville (c.570-636), bishop and scholar, "are among the most important sources for the history of intellectual culture in the middle ages" (Brehaut 1912: 16). Isidore's most influential works for the future of language study are the Differentiae and the encyclopaedic Etymologiae sive Origines. The Differentiae are divided into two books, of which the first, De differentia verborum, contains 610 articles in first-letter alphabetical order, with words arranged in pairs and distinguished from each other. Many words are synonyms, and directions are given for their use. The second book, De differentiis rerum, explains, in forty articles, various terms of a theological and spiritual nature (id. 1912: 26; Lindemann 1994: 96).

Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, the friend for whom Isidore compiled the Etymologiae, divided them into twenty books, "describing the whole as a vast volume of 'etymologies' including everything that ought to be known" (Sandys 1921: I, 456). Brehaut (1912: 33f.) details Isidore's philosophy in using an etymological approach to compiling his encyclopaedia:

Book I, De grammatica, is a lengthy treatise on grammar (that is, the study of literature at large). The following extract [8] illustrates the place of glossography and etymology in Isidore's conception of grammar: [9] Book X of the Etymologiae, De vocabulis, is a short glossary arranged alphabetically to the first letter, which deals with the origin of certain words, [11] predominantly substantives which describe mankind, and adjectives which describe human qualities (Lindemann 1994: 96).

The content and method of the Etymologiae show considerable similarity with the succession of Roman encyclopaedists: Varro, Verrius Flaccus, Pliny the Elder, Suetonius Tranquillus and Nonius Marcellus. Through a comparison of outlines of their contents, Brehaut (1912: 41 n.1) illustrates Isidore's indebtedness to these works. Other identified sources of the Etymologiae include Cicero, Quintilian and Boethius (Fontaine 1981: 98f.), and the commentaries of Servius on Virgil, Gregory and Donatus. Nettleship (1885: 245) maintains that although some notes in Isidore coincide with Placidus, there are sufficient differences in others to show that Isidore did not borrow directly from Placidus; rather, they probably used the same handbooks.

Isidore was cited in grammars and lexica until the end of the Middle Ages, and the Etymologiae became "the standard book of reference on all matters connected with the arts and sciences" (Laistner 1931: 176). Hrabanus Maurus (c.776856), who became archbishop of Mainz, copied the Etymologiae and reissued them in a somewhat altered version under the title De rerum naturis, also later called De universo (id. 1931: 176). Maurus's encyclopaedia contained twenty-two books rather than twenty, the contents were reordered, some sections were omitted, and other material was added. Maurus wrote several educational texts as well, and was the first to introduce Priscian into German schools (Sandys 1921: I, 483). Also in the ninth century, a pupil of Maurus, Walafrid Strabo (c.809-849), abbot of Reichenau, was the author of the original form of the Glossa ordinaria on the Vulgate, which was subsequently revised by Gilbert de la Porree and Anselm of Laon (id. 1921: I, 485).

At the beginning of the eighth century, the Anglo-Saxon monk and historian, Bede or Baeda (673735), gathered together all existing knowledge of physics, music, philosophy, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic and medicine in forty-five works, which may be classified as grammatical, scientific, historical and biographical, and theological. Commenting on the close relationship between grammar and glossography, Della Casa (1981: 38) points out that a tenth-century manuscript (Vat. 1469) of Bede's De Orthographia is "contaminated" by glosses from Placidus and other glossaries.

Another Anglo-Saxon churchman and scholar, Alcuin of York (c.735-804), met Charlemagne while on a mission to Rome in 781 and was persuaded by him to settle in France, where he initiated monastic and educational reforms. His extensive writings include treatises on grammar, orthography, rhetoric and dialectic (Sandys 1921: I, 474 f.).

Paulus Diaconus, or Paul the Deacon (c.720-c.799), entered the Benedictine order at Monte Cassino in 774, and in 782 went to the court of Charlemagne, where he remained until 786. During his stay in France he wrote a Commentarius de arte Donati, and after his return to Monte Cassino, he sent to Charlemagne an epitome of the abridgement made by Sextus Pompeius Festus of Verrius Flaccus's De verborum significatu (Engels 1961: 2) (see 1.1.).

As we have seen, lexicographical activity in the Latin West in the classical and early Christian eras was largely the province of grammarians and encyclopaedists, although by no means exclusively; orators, historians and other writers enthusiastically addressed the topics of glossography, synonymy, orthography and grammar. At the same time, the 'glossing' of texts continued; sacred Scripture and works by Christian writers were added to those of classical authors, and new glossaries were compiled from the glossed manuscripts. Glossography began to change during the period from the sixth to the eighth centuries: large compilations were made from several small ones, old glossaries were amalgamated with more recent ones (Hessels 1910: 126), and the resulting compilations were sorted alphabetically.

Glossaries whose authors are unknown are often designated by the first word they contain, for example, Abba, Abolita, Abstrusa, AA, Abavus, Affatim, and so on. The Abolita Glossary, which dates to the beginning of the eighth century, is described as a Spanish compilation (CGL IV: 4). Its principal source is Festus, with additional material from Virgil, Terence, Apuleius, etc. (Laistner 1931: 178; Lindsay 1917: 120). In existing manuscripts the Abolita is frequently associated (though not mixed) with the Abstrusa Glossary, which dates from the beginning of the seventh century and which Lindsay (1917: 121) believes to be a French compilation. Festus is the Abstrusa's main source; others include Isidore, and Servius's commentaries on Donatus and Virgil (id. 1917: 122). The Abavus Glossary (which includes Abavus maior and Abavus minor) was compiled in the eighth or ninth century. Its sources include Abstrusa, Abolita, Affatim, AA, Abba, scholia on Virgil, Philoxenus, Isidore, and the Vulgate (GL II: 25f.).

The compilation which dominated the field of glossography in the early Middle Ages is the Liber glossarum, also known as Glossarium Ansileubi, written in France [12] in the latter part of the eighth century (McGeachy 1938: 309). Lindsay (1917: 126) states, "The Etymologiae of Isidore, snipped into paragraphs, is the groundwork of the whole". However, it also draws on Abstrusa, Abolita, Placidus, on Paulus's epitome of Festus, and on the medical glossaries of Galen, Hippocrates and Pandectus. And it includes material from Virgil, Terentius and Cicero, as well as from the Church Fathers, Eucherius, Fulgentius, and others (GL I: 2f.; McGeachy 1938: 309).

The Liber glossarum was a major source for the Reichenau Glossary (see 2.1.) and for the Elementarium doctrinae erudimentum of Papias (see 1.3.1.), and was copied and abstracted for many other glossaries and epitomes. It also survives in rearranged form as the principal source for the vast Glossarium Salomonis, attributed to Salomo III, abbot of St. Gall and bishop of Constance (d.919) (McGeachy 1938: 310f.). And in the seventeenth century it was the chief source for Du Cange's Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis (id. 1938: 312f.).

Hessels (1910: 127) observes that the number of glossed manuscripts diminished toward the eleventh century, and that new grammatical treatises began to appear. The principal grammatical authorities followed in the Latin West up to the eleventh century were the manuals of Priscian and Donatus with Servius on Donatus, and the grammatical treatises of Cassiodorus, Isidore and Bede, as well as the commentary on Donatus by Remigius of Auxerre (d.908) (Sandys 1921: I, 665). In the twelfth century new works began to supplement the standard texts. Peter Helias, one of the best-known medieval grammarians, wrote a commentary on Priscian, Summa super Priscianum, c.1150. Alexander of Villedieu completed the Doctrinale, a hexameter poem in 2645 lines, c.1199, and Eberhard of Bethune wrote the Graecismus in hexameters interspersed with elegiacs, in the late twelfth century (Hunt 1991: I, 84, 94; Sandys 1921: I, 667). Thirteenth-century authorities on grammar include two Englishmen, John of Garland (fl.12041252), who taught at Paris, and Roger Kilwardby, archbishop of Canterbury from 12711279.

In surveys of medieval Latin lexicography the large compilations tend to overshadow the smaller ones. However, small lexica continued to appear in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as the treatises of Adam of Petit Pont, Alexander Nequam and John of Garland (see 2.4.). Many thematic glossaries, particularly in the areas of law, medicine and theology, were written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. One example is the Expositiones vocabulorum biblie, compiled between c.1248 and c.1267 by William Brito (see 1.3.4.), which deals with difficult words in the Bible. Another is Reductorium, repertorium et dictionarium morale utriusque testamenti, an encyclopaedia written by Pierre Bersuire (1290-1362), of which Part 3 is an alphabetically-arranged glossary of words from the Bible, with moral expositions (Collison 1982: 48).

The Mammotrectus super bibliam of Johannes Marchesinus (fl. c.1300), a manual for the clergy, also falls under the heading of thematic lexica. It contains etymological explanations of the difficult words in the Bible and in the liturgical Hours (Sandys 1921: I, 667).

Early printers quickly exploited the rich resource offered by Greek and Roman lexicographers and grammarians. Editions of Aulus Gellius, Varro, Verrius Flaccus, Nonius Marcellus, Donatus, and many others, number among the first printed books. There are also a large number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions, from original manuscripts, of Greek and Latin grammars and glossaries.

[Next] -- [Table of Contents]