2.06 Beyond the Donat

Considering that the genuine text of Aelius Donatus was well known and understood in Italian scholarly circles from the early sixteenth century onward, it is perhaps surprising to discover that the Ianua continued to appear in print for elementary school use into the seventeenth century. Clearly, it was ingrained in the practice of schoolmasters, and its packaging remained traditionalizing. (25) It may even have become a trademark of sorts for self-consciously old-fashioned pedagogues. A copy printed at Milan in 1611, for example, survives in the same binding as the comparably old-fashioned intermediate grammar by Gian Alberto Bossi (ca. 1450-ca. 1512) also printed in 1611. (26) This context is interesting since Bossi's grammar was largely forgotten until the middle of the sixteenth century, but then it was repeatedly published at Milan for the use of students not enrolled in the fashionable Jesuit college of the Brera.

The publisher of the 1611 Ianua was copying a pretty, medievalizing package that had originated a few years earlier in Milan. (27) The style marks it as elementary material by contrast to slightly more advanced grammar book of Bossi. This Donat has no title page. Instead, a caption title in red appears on the first page, which is also adorned with bold black borders. The title announced that the booklet (of forty leaves in a single gathering, the cheapest possible format) contained the Donat and the Cato for school use recently and punctiliously corrected for students of all sorts. The remainder of the book was similarly ornamented, and it contained some additional texts not announced in the title. There was a second set of catechetical grammar drills, a list of vocabulary words, an alphabet table with a few phrases to be read in Italian, and on the back cover, lists of things to do at morning and evening devotions. This 1611 booklet is the exact typographical and ornamental equivalent of the red-and-black Jenson Donat of 1478, proving that in some circles tastes in layout and design were almost as conservative as pedagogical practices.

Although the Donat or Ianua clearly dominated the elementary teaching of grammar in Italy, the advent of printing made other texts easily available both at this exact, very basic level and for the next, intermediate steps in learning Latin. Some succeeded in rivaling the traditional Donat while others did not. The Ars minor of Aelius Donatus -- the real Donatus -- was never a contender on the Italian market. It was printed frequently in Northern Europe, where it was a standard elementary classroom text. Over three hundred editions dating before 1501 are known but only four were printed in Italy, and it is possible that some of these were intended for use in Germany. (28) An edition printed at Venice in 1495 combined the Ars minor catechetical text with the prologue usual on the Italian Pseudo-Donatus, that is, the twelve-line poem beginning Ianua sum rudibus.... If this odd combination was an experiment in introducing the genuine Donatus text to the Italian school market, it failed. Neither in manuscript nor in print did the genuine Ars minor ever have much influence on Italian pedagogy. (29) There are very few later editions of the Ars minor in Italy and most of those that appeared in the sixteenth century were scholarly ones aimed at humanists with a philological interest in ancient grammar. (30)

The fifteenth century, moreover, saw the invention of humanist Latin grammars which, though not revolutionary in theoretical terms, were well tailored to fit the needs of classrooms where classical norms of Latin style and vocabulary were taught. The pedagogy of these texts will concern us only slightly (and has been extensively treated by others). (31) But the place these humanist alternatives held in the market is worth consideration here. Most fifteenth-century grammatical authors in Italy began with the desire to replace the text most often taught in medieval schoolrooms just after the Donat, namely the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villa Dei. This verse grammar composed in 1199 was popular both north and south of the Alps. Although the book was admired for its coverage and considered useful because its verses were easily memorized, humanists criticized its vocabulary and style, which seemed to them perniciously medieval. They even portrayed Alexander as a living enemy, so entrenched was the habit of teaching from this text and so strongly did they feel that it delivered the wrong message. As Giovanni Francesco Boccardo Pilade (d. 1505) put it, Alexander made a good humanist want to vomit. (32)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (25) Highly conservative formatting characterizes Pseudo-Donat 1525, 1548, 1570a and b, and 1597a.
  • (26) Milan, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, A. B. XI. 73.
  • (27) Pseudo-Donatus 1597b and c and 1611.
  • (28) Donatus 1465, 1473, 1475 and 1495; Henkel 1995, 212-218; Jensen 2001, 105-106, 118-123.
  • (29) Ising, 31-33.
  • (30) An exception is Bonfini 1533 (originally published in 1515), a thorough reworking of the Ars minor which takes into account a great deal of material from the larger Ars maior and links it to a new set of Regulae of Bonfini's own devising. It seems to have been the basis of a further revision undertaken at Modena in the fifteen fifties by Giovanni Briani, Donatus 1555 and 1585.
  • (31) See the works of Percival, Rizzo, Worstbrock, Jensen, Black listed in the bibliogrpahy.
  • (32) Pilade 1508b, fol. 1v. Further on Alexander, Rico 1978, 14-27; Grendler 1989, 139, 236; Jensen 1996b, 32-36; Jensen 2001, 109-111; Black 2001, 87-90,129-133; Worstbrock 2001, 60-63; Crane 2005, 76-87; see also the opinions of Antonio Mancinelli and Josse Bade, discussed in chaptrs 3 and 4.
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