5.08 In the Classroom

Many of the criticisms of Alvares, and most of the revisions therefore, were based on practical pedagogical concerns. Clearly the agreement to add more mnemonic verses was of this order, and most of the other changes can likewise be attributed to classroom needs. From the start, however, Jesuit teachers had found the book as Alvares composed it difficult to use, or at least difficult to conform to the actual day-to-day and year-to-year course of study.

A variety of curriculum documents from several Jesuit schools and provinces evidence the need to use Alvares out of order. To some degree, this just reproduced the catch-as-catch-can situation of teachers in the preceding period who could not find a good comprehensive textbook. In 1574 in Sardinia, for example, editions of the full Libri Tres were not yet available, and one teacher therefore recommended using the Rudimenta of Codret, "supplemented for the genitives and past tense from the book of De Spauter," next the Syntaxis of Alvares, and finally the prosody manual of De Spauter. (41)

This confusing situation would be corrected, the Jesuits had thought, when the new grammar "by one of our own" became available. But the new Alvares also had to be parceled out between classes. The 1578 curriculum rules for the province of Rome suggest that considerable confusion reigned. They offered two different ways of dividing the Alvares text between classes, depending how large the school was and how many graded classrooms were involved. One of the divisions follows the three books of the published grammar closely and without much comment. The other division envisions using the first few chapters of Book One in the first class; another group of chapters from Book One and the first chapters of Book Two in the next class; the last part of Book One and the middle part of Book Two in the third class; the remainder of Book Two and the "appendices" (special rules and exceptions to rules) in the fourth class. Every other year students were to study prosody using Book Three. Clearly some rearrangement of the text was called for, but subsequent revised editions respected Alvares's original order rather more than classroom experience suggested they might better have done. (42)

The most important revisions were those undertaken by the teachers in the Collegio Romano, originally with an eye to circulating them with the 1586 draft of the Ratio Studiorum. These are incorporated into Italian editions of the student text from 1584 forward. In general, the revisers found the erudition of the author an impediment to beginning students. Even the shorter student versions, they thought, were overloaded with examples and exceptions that could better be left to advanced grammar students. Indeed, the full account of Alvares's learning was best suited to advanced studies. Decisions about using such material in the classroom could be left to the discretion of teachers and to their sense of what individual students could usefully digest. That the text was actually used this way is clear from surviving copies in which teachers have added their own notes from additional reading. (43)

The nature of the Collegio Romano revisions will be clearer if we examine a few examples, comparing the student versions of the fifteen seventies to those of the fifteen eighties. The Roman editors claimed on their 1584 title page to have concerned themselves particularly with Book Two, on syntax. Alvarez himself revised the rather abrupt beginning of the Syntaxis, which originally leapt right into a discussion of the necessary agreement of intransitive verbs with their subjects. His revision included a definition of syntax. In the later Roman editions, this introduction was further enlarged so that the student started not only with a basic notion of syntax but also the general precept that certain words within sentences must agree. This simple change made it possible to proceed from the understanding that the first principle of Latin syntax is agreement to specific rules for verbs and subjects, for nouns and modifying adjectives, for prepositions and antecedents, and so forth.

While the rules in Book Two were enlarged and clarified throughout in this manner by the Roman editors, the numerous examples offered for each rule were typically left standing. Despite complaints from teachers that the text was overloaded with examples, the editors abbreviated only sporadically, and even then the process was selective and favored certain authors, above all Cicero. For example, concerning the agreement of relative pronouns with their antecedents, one rule in the fifteen seventies was illustrated by four passages from Cicero, one from Seneca, and another from Quintus Curtius Rufus. In the edition of 1588, the exemplary material for this rule has been reduced to three quotations from Cicero. It is significant that the Silver Age authors disappear, especially the obscure Curtius, who was not much read in Jesuit classrooms. Cicero is rarely slighted, however. The very next rule was originally adorned with three quotations from Cicero which grew to five in the later edition; while in a later section, still on relative pronouns, three Ciceronian passages increased to seven. In general, the tendency was to multiply the passages from Cicero and to reduce in importance or even eliminate other prose authors. (44)

Book Two on syntax, then, was somewhat rearranged and the examples were revised. Changes to the other books were less systematic, perhaps also less urgent. In Book One on morphology, which rehearses the declensions and conjugations in a traditional order, the Roman revisers followed exactly the sequence of rules and examples prescribed by Alvares for the first editions. The Roman editors claimed that they had eliminated some of Alvares's mnemonic verses, which they in fact did, to the dismay of Jesuits elsewhere. More constructively, the editors added more vocabulary words in each section, some of which had appeared in earlier editions as marginal notes. (45) In Book Three on prosody, by contrast, the principal change made by the Roman editors was to supply new mnemonic verses. They did not explain why the verses seemed useful in the one case and not so in the other.


  • Open Bibliography
  • (41) MPSI 4:524.
  • (42) MPSI 4:17-18.
  • (43) See copies at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Roma: 204.23.D.13 is the 1583 Libri Tres used at Rome with many additional classical examples; and 6.3.B.24 is a copy of the Venice 1570-71 Syntaxis with epigraphic notes on the flyleaves by Fra Tomaso Inglese, presumably an English Franciscan schoolmaster in Rome.
  • (44) Comparison based on 1570 Venice fols. 2r-v and 1583 Lisbon, 85r-v, with 1588 Rome, pp. 173-174.
  • (45) Compare Alvares 1588 Rome with Alvares 1583 Lisbon.
Switch to Dark Mode
Show Comments