3.06 Elementary Schoolbooks

What then do we know of the very first works Mancinelli composed? What were the Regulae constructionis and Summa declinationis of the mid-1470's, which Mancinelli described as distinct works in his 1477 preface? The first surviving edition of the Regulae is that of 1490, which included the material from the 1477 Regimen. It was printed in such a way as to imply that Regulae and Summa were conceived together and indeed they are treated as a single work in Mancinelli's 1493 autobiography. In 1490, one preface addressed to Battista Gorio (quoted in section 3.01)) stands before the two works, which are also linked on the title page. In effect we have lost the first version of these works entirely, the one that Mancinelli tested in manuscript form in his Velletri classroom and sent to print in Rome about 1475.

The content of the two treatises probably was roughly similar to that of the later, expanded versions. They treat, respectively, verb and noun inflectional paradigms. The originals may have been somewhat shorter than the earliest surviving versions, which occupy forty and sixteen leaves respectively, since Mancinelli said:

This second version of these Epitomata [i.e. the Regulae] and Summa Declinationis is better than the first, for I have added examples of verbs which have difficult participles and supines. Often certain things were changed, for corruption occurs through the carelessness of the printers, as can be seen here and there in various places. Many things defended by the authority of the ancients in that edition are explained more briefly here. (22)

Again, Mancinelli was matter-of-fact about the need for corrections to printed texts. He repeatedly tinkered with his textbooks to make them more useful in class. And useful they continued to be; there are recorded editions as late as 1563. (23)

The next prefaces date from 1487 and 1488 (though they survive only in editions from 1491 and later) and concern works of an even more elementary character than the Regulae and Summa. The Donatus melior (Better Donat, or Improved Donat if you will), was Mancinelli's title for an anthology that he proposed as a universal first Latin textbook. It includes three short works, two of them so traditional in Italian classrooms that the practical Mancinelli knew they could not be supplanted. The anthology begins with the elementary rulebook ascribed to Donatus (the Ianua or Donat) emended by Mancinelli. There follow the Distichs of Cato, similarly corrected and provided with a short commentary by Mancinelli on the first sixteen proverbs. Finally, the Better Donat includes Mancinelli's own versified set of elementary grammatical rules for memorization, called Little Book on Grammar (De arte libellus). The earliest surviving edition already claimed to be a second edition with additions. (24)

Mancinelli, like most pedagogues of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, used "Donatus" in two ways. The term referred specifically to the text of the rulebook ascribed to Donatus, and also to the physical grammar book, in this case the group of texts that make up the Better Donat. As usual, Mancinelli's preface is enlightening:

DONATVS MELIOR. ¶ Antonio Mancinelli of Velletri to his dear sons Pindar, Quintus, and Festus. Greetings. I have decided to polish up for you the little book of Donatus on grammar, put out in the past disfigured in many places by the carelessness of scribes. For it is difficult to change habits of mind once they are established. ... It was hardly less troublesome to correct the little book of Cato, rich in wisdom and wise sayings but almost everywhere corrupt. ... After you have studied this Donat well, and once you memorize the summary of declensions and the booklet on constructions, which were published two years ago, you will easily understand the basics of all Grammar. (25)

The teacherly father emerges clearly here. The Latin master uses a strictly classical form to address his sons, whom he had named for Roman martyrs and classical figures.

More importantly for our purposes in studying educational publishing, Mancinelli clearly ascribed the poor state of the text of Ianua and the Distichs of Cato to the long tradition of scribal copies. Teachers in the past had been content with the poor text because they themselves learned from such defective copies, memorizing even the errors. Mancinelli's claim is demonstrably true in that many surviving manuscripts and early editons contain egregious errors of sense. The modern editor of the Distichs, Marcus Boas, points out how early and persistent these errors could be. (26) So Mancinelli did not merely parrot a humanist commonplace. His claim was phrased to frame a printed textbook. In the Better Donat, his labor of correcting will have a better chance to survive into many copies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Mancinelli's improved text met with some resistance. The earliest surviving edition already included an afterward labeled "Mancinelli to the Reader," which is an apology for revisions he has made. It is an impassioned complaint against those teachers who criticized his textbook out of ignorance. Mancinelli ascribed their critique first to malice and secondly to their having been ill trained in their own childhoods, meaning that they had learned from a faulty text of the Donat and so would not accept his corrections to it. The remainder of the afterward is a list of authorities for a few changes he has made, clearly in response to specific complaints. He replied at length, for example, to the "wicked men" who criticized his phrasing of the rules for future imperatives. He also vindicated his favoring one ancient grammarian over another on the correct second person present indicative of fero, which is ferris and not fereris. These points may seem rather minor; but Mancinelli's highly colored rhetoric makes clear that such details represented more than the specifics at issue. The "wicked men" who complained about changing the traditional Donat stand in for all those who accepted unclassical Latin uncritically and even vaunted their ignorance of humanist Latin. (27) That this was not a one-time battle for Mancinelli and other humanist pedagogues can be deduced from the fact that this afterward to the reader was included in every subsequent edition of the Better Donat for fifty years and more. Publishers were also quick to claim to be using Mancinelli's improved texts. In Northern Europe, Mancinelli's much-improved Cato text and commentary had considerable success, especially when the Paris printer Josse Bade Ascensius promoted it. (28)


  • Open Bibliography
  • (22) Mancinelli 1490b: Caeterum secunda haec Epitomatis huiusce et Summae Declinationis editio priore melior: adiecta enim sunt verba quorum sane praeterita et supina videbantur obscuriora. Sunt et mutata quaedam saepe; nanque impressorum incuria depravatio accidit, ut passim videre licet in quibuscunque. Multa etiam illic priscorum auctoritate munita hic brevius explicantur.
  • (23) Further on their content, Mellidi, 2002, 101-112.
  • (24) Mancinelli 1491b; GW 9019, one copy extant. See also Mellidi 2002, 55-57, 93-101.
  • (25) Preface of 1489, here translated from Mancinelli 1519: Antonius Man. Veli. Pindaro Quinto & Sexto filiolis suis. S. Donati libellum grammatice editum pluribus quidem locis scriptorum incuria depravatum vobis elimare constitui. Est enim difficile mutare animi habitum semel constitutum. ... Catonis quoque cuiusdam ousculum doctrina refertum optimisque sententiis ubique pene corruptum haud piguit emendare ... Postquam vero Donatum hunc recte edidiceritis summam declinationis et constructionis libellum quos anno superiori edidimus memorie conmmendantes, facile totius Grammatice summam scietis. The Sexto in this late edition is an error for the actual name of his youngest son, Festus; on Mancinelli's eight children, see Mellidi 2002, 45-46.
  • (26) Catonis disticha 1952, vii, xxxvi-xl.
  • (27) Mancinelli 1500b, fol. c5v-6v. Mellidi 2002, 95-97 has carefully identified the sources for Mancinelli's arguments. A similar, near contemporary complaint against critics of an elementary grammar, that of Giovanni Britannico (ca. 1450-ca. 1520), is documented in Quirini 1739, part II, pp. 10-15. Britannico, like Mancinelli, defends a specific point of doctrine. Further on this controversy, Signaroli 2003, 81-93.
  • (28) Desmet-Goethals, 74-78; on unthinking educational conservatism at this period, Rummel 1995, 15-17. Further on the tensions implicit in humanism between grammatical niggling and fruitful philology, Godman, 80-83, 89-90, 295-299.
Switch to Dark Mode
Show Comments