Manuscripts

Leading Textbook of Latin Grammar in the Middle Ages

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Priscian, Institutiones grammaticae. Single folio on vellum. Italy, second half of the thirteenth century: 200 mm x 144 mm (justification, 148 mm x 94 mm). Lightly ruled in plummet. Single column, 31 lines. The recto bears a curious annotation of one letter g above another in the upper left-hand corner. Decoration: capitals touched in red, rubricated pilcrows. The copyist seemsĀ  to have been unable to understand the Greek, or else it was omitted from his exemplar, for he used a series of minims where many Greek words should have been. In other instances he provided transliterated Greek phrases. Text: Born around 500 AD inĀ  Caesarea, Priscian taught Latin in Constantinople. Years of experience enabled him to compose the Institutiones grammaticae, which became the leading textbook of Latin grammar in the medieval world. Every school had a copy, for which reason some 527 manuscripts are recorded today (M. Gibson, “Institutiones grammaticae: a Handlist of Manuscripts,” Scriptorium 26 (1972), 105-24). Surprisingly, fragments are uncommon, as are fragments of most secular texts. One imagines that the books were simply read to pieces. Contents: parts of book 17, ch. 19 (“De constructione”). Provenance: acquired by Roger Martin from a European collector in 2011. The folio comes with a UK export license allowing permanent export. Condition: used as a pastedown, hence the verso is scuffed and illegible in places; cockled, with small stains, holes and spoiling.

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