Carin Ruff

title.none: Lanham, ed., Latin Grammar and Rhetoric (Carin Ruff)

identifier.other: baj9928.0403.003 04.03.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Carin Ruff, John Carroll University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Lanham, Carol Dana, ed. Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: From Classical Theory to Medieval Practice. London: Continuum, 2003. Pp. xiii, 304. $155.00 0-8264-5708-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.03.03

Lanham, Carol Dana, ed. Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: From Classical Theory to Medieval Practice. London: Continuum, 2003. Pp. xiii, 304. $155.00 0-8264-5708-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Carin Ruff
John Carroll University

Latin Grammar and Rhetoric: From Classical Theory to Medieval Practice is an index of how far research in the medieval curriculum has come in the last quarter century. The book's title and subtitle encapsulate that progress: the time is past when modern scholars felt themselves constrained by the notional distinction between grammar and rhetoric, which was more a matter of ancient theory than of medieval practice. The ancient professional distinction between the grammaticus and the rhetor was a construct that tended to govern late-twentieth-century research in both fields: the burgeoning interest in the medieval curriculum was led by historians of rhetoric who didn't "do" grammar and historians of grammar who didn't "do" rhetoric, and sometimes didn't even "do" the more obscure parts of grammar. Thanks in part to a number of pioneering scholars (some of whom are contributors to this volume) and in part to a certain maturity in the field--more texts available, more researchers with varied disciplinary backgrounds--the contributors to this volume are able to explore the integrity of the curriculum in its various social settings without being prompted by its fuzzy boundaries into polemics on behalf of one sub-discipline or another. As Lanham notes in her preface, "the border between grammar and rhetoric was highly permeable." (ix) The essays collected here negotiate that border in a dozen diverse and fascinating ways.

Latin Grammar and Rhetoric ranges from late antiquity into the thirteenth century, with a significant concentration in the early Middle Ages and some excurses backward and forward into antiquity and the Renaissance. As Lanham notes, she originally planned on a cutoff date of 1100; the volume as published benefits from allowing that border to become permeable, too. Because of the withdrawal of two contributors, the Carolingian era per se is omitted, but there is, perhaps, a silver lining in this situation: because of its extraordinary wealth in doctrinal developments and text transmission and redaction, the Carolingian period has a tendency to suck the air out of adjacent periods in surveys of early medieval grammar. The richness of the present volume particularly in treatments of the early eighth and eleventh centuries might prompt us to think about continuities that would otherwise be obscured by the monumentality of the pre-Alcuin/post-Alcuin divide.

Paul Gehl's opening, scene-setting chapter, "Latin orthopraxes", frames the collection of practices that constitute Latin study and textual work in the Middle Ages as "an evolving series of orthopraxes", comparable to religious orthopraxes. (1) A Latin orthopraxis in this model means not just doing Latin correctly, but engaging in a regimen of study, practice, and performance that opens the way not only to the language itself but to spiritual and ethical growth. Gehl offers a useful model for theorizing the gap between theory and practice, or between the experience of language in the classroom and in the liturgy. In the monastic world of the sixth to the twelfth centuries, Gehl says, "The more discursive grammar was, the more useful it was for monks as a moral discipline." (12) This characterization sets the scene particularly aptly for the essays on Cassiodorus' and Bede's practice in the first half of the volume. [[1]]

Space does not allow a detailed treatment of each of the eleven essays that follow, so let me mention just a few that strike me as methodologically significant and highlight important themes that run through more than one of the essays.

In Chapter 2, "Tales out of school: grammatical culture in Fulgentius the Mythographer," Gregory Hays offers a concise summary of the late antique curriculum, which serves as an orientation to the volume as a whole. In his discussion of Fulgentius's works, Hays lists and exemplifies grammarian-like characteristics of Fulgentius's discourse, including the use of scholiastic tags to signal etymologies, allegories, the author's techniques or intentions. I was glad to see this language highlighted, since (as far as I know) the buzzwords and idioms of this kind of grammatical meta-discourse are not catalogued anywhere. The metadiscourse of the schools quickly becomes familiar to those who immerse themselves in commentaries, but vocabulary that does not quite rise to the standard of technical terminology usually escapes direct treatment in modern studies of the ancient and medieval curriculum. Many medieval Latinists who are not specialists in grammar or rhetoric will have occasion to consult commentaries on occasion and may find themselves wishing for an orientation to the scholiasts' shorthand. Hays' work is an excellent, concise starting point.

However much Fulgentius is steeped in the habits of mind and turns of phrase of grammatical criticism, he was not, Hays convincingly argues, a grammaticus himself. His Latin wasn't up to standard. Fulgentius, says Hays, was "capable of the kind of solecisms that made ancient grammarians tear their hair out." (22) The important distinction between a work that is a product of grammatical culture and one that is the product of a professional grammarian (or, for the Middle Ages, as schoolmaster) is also at issue in Scott Gwara's "The Hermeneumata pseudositheana, Latin oral fluency, and the social function of the Cambro-Latin dialogues called De raris fabulis (Chapter 6). The ninth-century Welsh compiler(s) of the De raris fabulis (DRF) drew on the classroom dialogues known as the Hermeneumata pseudositheana but, Gwara argues, DRF's "fragile Latinity" and its unsystematic presentation of forms, constructions, and vocabulary mark it as intended for other purposes-- perhaps as a handbook for pilgrims. Gwara includes an edition of the DRF in his essay. On the evidence of the sole manuscript, MS Bodley 572, the Latinity of the DRF may be even more fragile than Gwara's text would suggest. His apparatus criticus shows that he has corrected a couple of dozen instances of the nominative where the accusative is wanted, along with many other morphological errors. The language of the manuscript certainly strengthens Gwara's argument that we should be more circumspect in our assumptions about what constitutes a classroom text and who might be interested in or qualified for the copying of such a text.

The latter point--that the scribes who copied grammatical texts may not always have learned the lessons taught by the authors they copied--is also raised in Luciana Cuppo Csaki's essay on the copy of Bede's De schematibus et tropis in Bamberg Msc. Class. 43. The essay is primarily concerned with ascribing the manuscript to Rome on grounds of paleography and decoration, but Csaki notes in passing that the language of Bamberg 43 is replete both with vulgarisms and with hypercorrect forms, like the unassimilated prefixes against which Bede specifically cautioned in his De orthographia.[[2]] The cases of Fulgentius, Bamberg 43, and the De raris fabulis all raise the question of the reception of grammatical works and grammatical training in times and places outside the reach of the various early medieval movements for educational standardization: where late Latin as vernacular or lingua franca was in competition with book-Latin, or where educational standards were in decline.

Another virtue of Hays' essay on Fulgentius, the close reading of grammatical criticism to elucidate its vocabulary and methodology, is also a feature of Carmela Vircillo Franklin's "Grammar and Exegesis: Bede's Liber de schematibus et tropis (DST). Franklin argues persuasively for that DST is a mature work, "the fullest presentation of Bede's theory of the different levels of biblical meaning and its connection to the grammatical categories." (64) Scholars of Bede will want to take into account her new conclusions on Bede's sources, but Franklin's methodology is as important as her findings. She offers a model of how to do source criticism for texts of this type. It is a notorious problem of grammars and other curricular text that their intense conservatism can make difficult to identify both their proximate sources and their original contributions. Franklin walks us through Bede's method of choosing and adapting his source material, much in the way that Carlotta Dionisotti has done for the De orthographia.[[3]] Franklin's essay is a case study in the relationship between grammar and exegesis, an improvement on previous studies of Bede as a Christian pedagogue because it trivializes neither the grammatical nor the exegetical in his work.

Kenneth Mayer's work with metrical terminology in "The golden line: ancient and medieval lists of special hexameters and modern scholarship" likewise provides a model of how to reason through the slippage that occurs over the centuries between terms and their definitions and between definitions and their examples. His edition with translations and commentary of Diomedes' list of good and bad hexameters models a fruitful approach to teasing out the meanings of grammatical terms, which are rarely defined according to consistent criteria in the ancient and medieval souces. Mayer demonstrates that the notion of the "golden line" is a largely a modern construct, derived from Renaissance readings of comments in Bede's De arte metrica. Mayer offers salutary reminders that translation and distance in time tend to make faux amis of apparently-familiar grammatical terms, and that medieval or modern notions of "best practice" may not bear much relationship to ancient standards of composition.

Besides the chapters mentioned above, Latin Grammar and Rhetoric includes the following. James W. Halporn discusses Cassiodorus's visual presentation of grammar and rhetoric in his Institutiones and psalm commentary. A stimulating essay by Diane Warne Anderson on medieval teaching texts on syllable quantities, despite its intimidatingly specialized title, has much to interest the non-metricist, including observations on the interplay among advances in linguistic description, the compilation of reference books, and innovations in pedagogy. Ralph Hexter looks at the ways high-medieval commentators grappled with the tension between unity and multiplicity in Ovid's Heroides both by using the concept of the intentiones of the author and his characters, or by re-weaving a Metamorphoses-like narrative around the letters. Like the two essays on metrics that precede it, Hexter's ("An absolutely fabulous commentary on Ovid's Heroides") shows what happens when inherited conventions of interpretation meet pedagogical problems. The rhetorical criticism of the Ovid commentaries marks the transition in Lanham's collection from the tradition of grammatical criticism of the early Middle Ages to the inventional rhetoric of the schools of the later Middle Ages. Mary Carruthers' "Late antique rhetoric, early monasticism, and the revival of school rhetoric" explores how Geoffrey of Vinsauf and Boncompango da Signa situate themselves with respect to ancient rhetoric and early medieval monastic practice and reframe the connections between a rhetoric of reading and a rhetoric of composition in ways profoundly influenced by monastic meditational practice. In "Ancient sophistic and medieval rhetoric," Rita Copeland argues that the First Sophistic had an unexpected medieval reception in twelfth-century logical studies, via Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations. Finally, in "Weeping for Dido: epilogue on a premodern rhetorical exercise in the postmodern classroom," Marjorie Curry Woods describes her experiments with assigning the ancient exercise ethopoeia in its medieval variant, "the display of figures," to her own students. The combination of formal strictures and imaginitive leaps inherent in this very old exercise seems to have been productive for her students. Curry's essay might prompt the reader to review Lanham's volume with an eye to other pre-modern pedagogies that would lend themselves to adaptation in the twenty-first classroom.

Amid this wealth and variety of topics, readers might be tempted to go straight to one or two essays on their period or a favorite author, which is what I did when I first saw Lanham's book, but the volume repays reading right through in order. Lanham and her contributors have put together a collection of unusual coherence, given the temporal, geographical, and disciplinary diversity of the subjects covered. Besides being well thought out, the volume is very cleanly edited and presented (which goes a little way towards tempering the blow of its exorbitant price). A readable typeface, separate notes and works cited lists after each essay, an index of manuscripts, and an appropriately-detailed general index make the book user-friendly. I was particularly pleased to find that the general index offers good access to the technical and quasi-technical terms discussed in the various essays. Even better, many of the authors in the volume share a grace and wit that is particularly refreshing (not to say necessary) in a field that tends towards the very technical. This is the book that I will be recommending to friends who want to know what's happening in the world of grammar and rhetoric studies.


[1] Gehl's argument that "getting the use of language right meant getting it morally right" (12) would be strengthened by reference to the centrality of language-education reform in church and monastic reform movements of the period. It is here, perhaps, that some coverage of the Carolingian period would best have lent support to volume.

[2] On the relationship between Bede's recommendations on usage and the practice of scribes of his works, see for example Michael Lapidge, "Prolegomena to an Edition of Bede's Metrical 'Vita Sancti Cuthberti'", Filologia Mediolatina 2 (1995): 127-63.

[3] Anna Carlotta Dionisotti, "On Bede, Grammars and Greek." Revue Benedictine 92 (1982): 111-141.