3.18 Grammatical Publishing at the Turn of the Century

In cases like this, a modern reader might suspect that the editor is just not being very scrupulous about the original. But this would miss an essential aspect of Latin grammatical writing and publishing. There are really only two cases in which much originality is to be expected in grammar and therefore in which a new grammatical text does not merely rewrite traditional teachings. There is the rare transformative moment when a pedagogical genius succeeds in radically reforming a curriculum. And there is the slower and more archaeological process by which the grammatical usage of a particular past age is reconstructed and reclaimed. The humanist endeavor of the fifteenth century claimed to be both of these things; but in fact it was original only in the second, archaeological sense of identifying a coherent period of great Latin and recreating it for contemporary use. (101)

The fruits of such philological work necessarily invited rethinking and rewriting the basic textbooks, and the extraordinary productivity of Mancinelli was occasioned by this need. But the force of classroom tradition meant that teaching methods did not change much in the first age of print. Indeed, the inertia of the old manuscript culture meant that Mancinelli met opposition even on the level of reforming the most basic classroom texts, the demonstrably faulty Donat and Cato. His enemies, whom he described as ignorant men who knew how to teach only the faulty Latin they themselves had learned, were teachers at the most basic level with careers like his own. For some such elementary teachers, rote memory was not only a fundamental teaching technique, it was also the limit of their own learning and intellectual ambition. Their discipline was a grammatical fundamentalism with an inviolable scripture, the poor medieval Donat.

When Mancinelli turned to original literary and philological work, he had to tackle the weighty reputation of Lorenzo Valla, the first great archaeologist of classical Latin. Here he met resistance not from fundamentalist grammar masters but from a considerable cadre of followers and other admirers of the justly famous philologist. These were learned men, comparatively speaking, and Mancinelli probably found their opposition baffling. They were willing to accept Valla's conclusions and to adopt the taste for classical usage he propounded, but without understanding or actively taking up the critical methods that got Valla to those conclusions. Mancinelli excused himself to this audience with an explanation that his own methods were just an extension of those pioneered by Valla. But Mancinelli eventually placed these men in the same category of intellectual sinners -- the stubbornly ignorant who have learned something one way and do not intend to un-learn it. The true humanist, for Mancinelli, was one who had internalized not only the classicizing taste but also the methods of Valla and who was willing to carry on his critical work.

Josse Bade, then, and other editors of grammatical texts at the turn of the century were continuing two strands of editorial work-in-progress, work well begun by Valla, Mancinelli, and their contemporaries. Both traditions conduced to instability for grammatical textbooks. First, like grammatical writers for centuries before and after, the humanists worked ongoing transformations on the texts used in the classroom to make them more useful for students. They were limited in what they could do with some of the most widely used elementary texts, but even those were not absolutely fixed. Other propaedeutic texts were understood to be mere sketches of what a good grammar master might want to use in class. Textbooks of this sort, including much of the mnemonic verse Mancinelli devised, had a high degree of fluidity. They were subject to change and addition at any time. When Bade substituted his own mnemonic verses for Mancinelli's at the start of the Carmen de figuris, he was indulging in this sort of pedagogical license.

Secondly, even normative texts -- reference grammars, dictionaries, commentaries on the major school authors, and the classical authors themselves -- were subject to continuous revision, not because they were inherently unstable like class texts but because of the ongoing progress of humanist research. The example of Josse Bade is again instructive. Whether editing Mancinelli's commentary on the Ad Herennium, incorporating Mancinelli's notes on Virgil into his own editions, or adding a second layer of commentary to Mancinelli's Lima in Vallam, Bade was playing the humanist philologist. The professional conventions in this case were the same that Mancinelli had observed in his own scholarly editing -- to reproduce and label what came from earlier philologists, to argue with it openly when it seemed wrong or misleading, or else to omit it selectively. By the 1490's it was essential in advertising such editions to claim that they incorporated the opinions of many scholars. The public for classical editions wanted as much of the scholarly apparatus as they could get.

Aldo Manuzio, already within Mancinelli's lifetime, would offer a completely different publishing model. The Aldine editions were not just handsome new packages. They succeeded because they were careful, scholarly editions of the classics that presented only text and no commentary at all. It was a daring experiment, made possible only because Aldus's reputation and that of the editors he employed was already well recognized. Only well into the next century would the pedagogical potential of such editions be fully realized.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (101) Percival 1988a. One of the more radical grammatical reforms, that of Pomponio Leto, was largely unsuccessful. His philological results were accepted by many other scholars, but his attempts to reform teaching were ignored; on him, see Zabughin 1910, 216-223.
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