2.04 Printing the Donat

Like the manuscript tradition, the print history of the Ianua is largely an Italian phenomenon. Of thirty-one recorded editions before 1500, only six were made outside Italy, including two in England and one in Barcelona, both places with significant Italian communities and active Italian teachers. Almost all of these small printed books (they usually consist of thirty-six or forty pages including both the Donat and the Cato) come down to us in single copies, so it is certain that there were many other editions that do not survive. The Donat in this form was printed in all major printing centers (Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan), but also in smaller towns like L'Aquila and Pescia. It was a staple of printers, a booklet with an assured market that could easily be printed up in small numbers and could therefore be used to keep presses and pressmen busy when larger projects languished. Totally unlike the printed Ars minor of Aelius Donatus in Northern Europe, which usually stood alone, the Italian Donat was usually found with the Cato in the same little booklet. (14) Italian printers were selling what modern educational publishers would call a package, neatly designed to fit the basic reading course common in Italy.

We have evidence of three attempts to modernize the text of the Donat before the end of the fifteenth century. About 1487 the first edition of Antonio Mancinelli's Better Donat (Donatus melior) appeared, largely just a corrected basic text arranged in an attractive quarto pamphlet for student use. Mancinelli (1452-1506) was a renowned teacher; his works were widely adopted in humanist classrooms. Like many of Mancinelli's other textbooks, his new and improved Donat lasted as long as his personal reputation as a teacher did; it was printed repeatedly for about thirty years in Venice and Milan and reprinted in France. After the fifteen twenties it went out of use almost entirely in the booklet form Mancinelli had given it, though his corrected text was incorporated into most later editions. (15)

In the fourteen nineties, Venetian printers and teachers made another attempt to dress the Donat in new clothes, in this case in bilingual editions with interlinear Italian text sometimes called a *Donat Understood *(Donato al senno). (16) Editions of this sort also give Italian equivalents for most or all of the Distichs of Cato. It had four printings at Venice before 1500, but it is difficult to trace this version of the text beyond that date because catalogers do not always distinguish it from the Latin-only editions. It was in print as late as 1670. At Milan in 1570 it was still a common classroom text, because printer Vincenzo Girardone had it on press at the time of his death that year. Apparently he was attempting to make some quick cash at a moment when he could not undertake more ambitious projects because he was gravely ill. He must have anticipated a ready market. (17) Still, it is not very clear what audience the authors and publishers had in mind for this book during its long life. The text could not have been intended for students learning to read in the vernacular, since the subject of the book is Latin grammar only. For Latin students the bilingual text must have been intended as an aid to comprehending the rules, so it was probably a response to the difficulty presented by the Donat as a diagnostic text. Students using the bilingual Donat were simply being given a crib for their promotion exams. (18)

In 1500 a third reworking of the Ianua with Cato appeared, also at Venice, edited by (or at least under the name of) the renowned humanist Pomponio Leto. The title of the only surviving copy says it was "ornamented in new order" by Leto (per Pomponium letum novo ordine decorata). But Leto had died in 1498, and so it is unclear how many of the book's innovations in layout and design are to be attributed to him and which are the work of the printers, the De Gregori brothers, well known for the originality of their woodcut illustrations. Whoever they were, the author and designers of this Donat proceeded by presenting the grammatical doctrines as much as possible in diagram form, expressly so as to facilitate memorization. (19) The front cover of the book offers a tree-form diagram of the parts of grammar, the parts of speech, and the verb constructions (tied to the moods of the verb) -- an outline of sorts of the contents of the book as a whole. On later pages the printers arranged the paradigms in clear, chart-like columns (perhaps imitating the 1468 grammar of Niccolò Perotti); and they dressed the text in unusually complex typography, using no fewer than four different gothic types and several woodcuts. These woodcuts are for the most part simple brackets taken over from the scientific and legal books the De Gregori brothers had been publishing for some years. Here they serve to break down a given doctrinal statement into its two, three, or four parts. (20)


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  • (14) Henkel 1995, 213-218, 221-223; Jensen 2001, 104, 109.
  • (15) It is treated further in section 3.06.
  • (16)  Literally, "Donat for sense," a wording that derives from the medieval practice of teaching the book twice, once per litteram, literally, and again sensualiter, for sense; Grendler 1989, 184-186, 416-417; Gehl 1993, 86. It is not to be confused with the Donato construtto (Pseudo-Donatus 1532) which contained vernacular equivalents for examples in parsing paradigms but not a word-for-word paraphrase of the entire Donatus. Similar treatments of the Ars minor of Aelius Donatus were produced in Northern Europe well before the practice was adopted in Italy; see Henkel 1995, 213-215.
  • (17)  Jacopo Girardone finished and signed the edition after Vincenzo's death; Stevens 1995, 645.
  • (18)  Cribs of the sort for Latin students had existed in Italy for centuries, De Blasi 1993, 383-384.
  • (19) The fragmentary colophon in the only surviving copy makes reference to this, fol. 32v: figuras distincte tibi ostendentes earumdem partium ... memoria deficientibus memorandi viam tribuunt. On the printers, Servolini 1979, 124-25.
  • (20) Pseudo-Donatus 1500a, GW9029; I have been able to study photographs of the unique surviving copy of this edition through the courtesy of the Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Wroc?aw, where it bears the call number XV.Q.511 and microfilm call number MF 11935. On Leto, the most useful discussions are D'Amico 1983, 91-102; Blasio 1986, 485-490; D'Amico 1988, 274-277; Rowland 1998, 10-22; Farenga 1994, 59-64 and Farenga 2003, 1-5; and Bober 2004, 456-460. On Leto and his printers, Scapecchi 2005, esp. 123-124, and Scapecchi 2007, 42-45. On design as reflection of classroom practice, Puff 1996, esp. 421-425. About the time of Leto's death, Iohannes Policarpus Severitanus composed an extensive commentary on the Donat which claimed Leto and others of his circle as inspiration. The book (Severitanus 1517 was apparently the first edition) was expressly intended as a teacher's manual. See Elie 1950, 191-192.
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