Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.10.34

Giuseppe Flammini (ed.), Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana Leidensia. Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana.   München-Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2004.  Pp. xxx, 125.  ISBN 3-598-71253-7.  €68.00.  

Reviewed by Federica Ciccolella, Texas A & M University (
Word count: 1790 words

Giuseppe Flammini's (hereafter: F.) edition of the Hermeneumata Leidensia (hereafter: HL) suitably replaces the edition included in the third volume of Georg Goetz's monumental Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum (CGL 3, Lipsiae 1892, pp. 3-72). One hopes that all the other texts of the same collection will soon be the objects of similar endeavors. HL were named after the most important exemplar of their manuscript tradition, the ninth-century MS Leidensis Vossianus gr. Q. 7. Like the other hermeneumata found in papyri and medieval manuscripts, HL are a bilingual (Greek-Latin) schoolbook that combines word lists with short readings in prose. Part of this grammatical material was attributed to Dositheus, who supposedly lived in the third or fourth century. Dositheus' Ars grammatica, a Latin grammar for Greeks, represents an interesting example of comparative grammar. Thus, many late-antique and medieval bilingual schoolbooks have been handed down under his name. Origin and purpose of the extant hermeneumata are still being debated: they were either compiled by Greek teachers in the West and used for the simultaneous teaching of Latin and Greek, or composed in the East and later imported to the West.1 In any case, during the Middle Ages, hermeneumata were used by isolated scholars interested in Greek to acquire at least a partial knowledge of that language.

Unlike Goetz, F. presents HL divided into three books. Book one contains a Greek-Latin glossary with 355 entries -- adverbs, nouns, adjectives, and verbs -- listed in approximate alphabetical order, corresponding partly to the Latin alphabet (29-87) and partly to the Greek one (88-355). In the beginning of the second book, the anonymous grammarian states that this glossary is also meant to impart some notions of verbal inflection, "so that it may be easily useful to the language of men" (375-378, pp. 13-14). In fact, some verbs appear in several tenses of the indicative and in the imperative; the first, second, and third persons singular and the third plural of each tense are usually given, and other forms also appear here and there in the glossary. Book two consists of a lexicon ordered by topics covering various aspects of human life and nature; each of its thirty-eight chapters is introduced by a title. Topics such as pagan religion (nos. 1, 3, 4) and ancient theatrical representations (no. 5), obsolete and perhaps incomprehensible to medieval readers, show that this lexicon was originally composed to help late-antique pupils read and understand classical texts. The Latin glosses, on the other hand, come from an amazing variety of linguistic strata. Book three contains six Greek texts of different age and author and of moral, juridical, and antiquarian content: the sayings and letters of the emperor Hadrian; eighteen of Aesop's fables; a treatise on manumission; Hyginus' Genealogy; a fragmentary prose summary of the Iliad; and a short conversation manual. All are equipped with a literal Latin translation.

Each section of HL can be understood only within a more general context and in relation to the other sections. The fact that HL appear together with Dositheus' grammar in part of the manuscript tradition suggests that the glossary, the lexicon, and the texts were originally conceived as support material for the study of Latin grammar. As stated in the preface to book three (1717-24 = 1733-39, pp. 67-68), with HL students first improved their knowledge of the lexicon, and then practiced the grammatical rules and the words that they had learned by reading short and instructive texts. They learned by comparing the words and forms of their language with those of the target language, Latin.

F. begins his introduction with a brief account of the complex questions of HL's authorship and date (pp. V-VII). F. rightly follows Keil and modern scholarship in rejecting the attribution of the whole schoolbook to Dositheus, proposed by Cuiacius in the sixteenth century and accepted by other scholars of old: the texts contained in HL do not necessarily belong to the same author. Dositheus' dates are not certain, and the fourth century is a terminus post quem for at least part of the third book; for example, the introduction to Hyginus' Genealogy posits 207 as the year of composition (2587-90 = 2612-13, pp. 103-104), but this date conflicts with the evidence that the fourth-century grammarian M. Plotius Sacerdos was a source for the same text.

F. spends much of the introduction explaining the relationship between HL and the other medieval hermeneumata, as well as the method he followed in editing the text. In F.'s (as in Goetz's) opinion, all hermeneumata have been handed down heavily corrupted, because of the "various and manifold" uses by school teachers from antiquity to the Middle Ages (p. VIII). Therefore, it is extremely difficult to establish a stemma codicum that can account for all variants and to reconstruct an archetype from which all the extant examples can be derived. This argument justifies F.'s (and Goetz's) choice of editing HL independently: whereas earlier editors used the other hermeneumata "indiscriminately and at random" to correct or complete HL's text (pp. IX, XVII), F. refers to these texts mostly as loci similes.

A description of MS Leidensis Vossianus gr. Q. 7 (L) appears on pages X-XVII. This manuscript contains the full text of HL (together with a poem, a medical treatise, and an excerpt from a work by Isidore, not mentioned by F.). L respects the typology of Greek-Latin manuscripts produced in the West: the text of HL is written in parallel columns, with the Greek words in capital script and their Latin equivalents in minuscule, side-by-side. Three more manuscripts are examined in relation to L (pp. XVIII-XXIII): Sangallensis 902 (S), Harleianus 5642 (H), and Monacensis 601 (M). These manuscripts, copied at St. Gall, belong to the same age as L and contain a reduced version of HL, together with Dositheus' grammar. A comparative examination leads F. to accept Krumbacher's and Goetz's theory of a common origin for all four manuscripts (A), an "archetype" that may have contained Dositheus' grammar as well as HL. The Leiden manuscript descends from a sub-archetype that lacked Dositheus' work, whereas the ancestor of the other three manuscripts contained HL in a more corrupted form. All of this justifies F.'s preference for L's readings in his editing of the text.

Grammatical texts, and particularly schoolbooks, present an editor with many challenges. Schoolbooks like hermeneumata often have been handed down under the names of well-known grammarians; however, unlike literary texts or works of famous writers, they have never been objects of veneration. Since the time of their composition, schoolbooks have been subjected to all sorts of modifications and insertions: for example, teachers modified them according to their teaching methodology and to the demands and expectations of their classes. It is often impossible to distinguish between layers of interpolations, to reconstruct an "original" form, and to establish a relationship between several copies of the same text. F. has accomplished his task sensibly: he presents the many problems that HL imply (authorship, date, completeness, etc.), but he does not venture any striking theory or any daring solution. A "suspension of judgement" is perhaps the best sign of common sense in such cases.

If, in the introduction, F.'s conclusions do not substantially diverge from those reached by the previous editors and scholars, his presentation of the text significantly improves Goetz's bare transcription of the manuscript. By separating words, inserting breathings and accents in Greek, filling gaps, correcting wherever necessary, and adding an apparatus of references and parallel passages, F. makes HL more easily accessible to modern scholars. A remarkable change is in book three, where F. presents the texts divided into paragraphs instead of parallel columns (whereas Goetz had preserved the layout of the manuscript). In this way, a reader can immediately perceive the difference between the isolated glosses of the first two parts and the coherent texts of the third. In general, however, F. tries to balance between a faithful respect of the transmitted text and the effort to provide an easy-to-read text. For example, in his attempt to avoid every classical standardization, he preserves forms like ages, aget (30, 31) and bibes, bibet, bibent (54,55, 68), etc., as present indicative and writes Hadrian's name Ἀδριανός and Adrianus (1727, 1742, etc.). On the other hand, in editing Hadrian's sentences, Aesop's fables, and the treatise on manumission, F. accepts several readings from other hermeneumata (Fragmentum Parisinum, Hermeneumata Stephani: see CGL 3, 94-108 and 347-390), incorporated into HL by earlier editors, "so that the Greek or Latin texts, sometimes quite deficient, may be understood in the best way" (p. IX; see also XXIV). To signal these insertions, F. uses round brackets: this uncommon sign in textual criticism makes them more visible.

F.'s negative critical apparatus is very clear and provides readers with interesting clues about the transmission of Greek texts in Western manuscripts: F. indicates all the wrong readings resulting from the copyist's misunderstanding of Greek capital script. On the other hand, he omits all the incorrect readings caused by common phenomena in late Greek, such as iotacism and confusion between long and short vowels. Therefore, I wonder why he also did not omit those "copyist's mistakes" in Latin that may be attributed to changes in orthography or pronunciation and usually are not relevant to a critical edition, such as the exchanges b/v, i/e, and i/u (pp. XXIV-XXV). In any case, both the Latin and the Greek texts are printed very accurately, and the number of inevitable errors, misspellings, and typos is insignificant compared to the complexity of the text.

Teubner editions are aimed mainly at making ancient texts available to scholars. In his introduction, in fact, F. concentrates on the status of the text and its manuscript tradition and leaves some fundamental questions open to further study: for example, HL's place of origin, their possible relationship to ancient glossaries, and, more importantly, the reason for the presence of Greek-Latin manuscripts at St. Gall and the causes and consequences of an apparently lively interest in Greek language in that environment. Medievalists, linguists, and scholars interested in the history of classical languages and in the survival of Greek in the West will certainly find this an interesting starting point for research. One more consideration arises from F.'s Conspectus librorum (pp. XXVI-XXVIII). F. lists the previous critical editions of HL along with the most important scholarly works that concern hermeneumata. It is interesting to note that works written in the eighteenth century and before still hold a relevant place in the study of hermeneumata; conversely, the number of contributions from twentieth-century scholarship is very limited. One hopes that, in the course of time, scholarship will discover the value of these humble grammatical texts for the history of ancient culture and the survival of the study of the classical languages.


1.   On the origin of erotemata and their use in the West see A. C. Dionisotti, "From Ausonius' Schooldays? A Schoolbook and Its Relatives," Journal of Roman Studies 72 (1982), 83-125: 87-92. See also Raffaella Cribiore's discussion in her review of J. Cramer, Glossaria bilinguia altera, München-Leipzig: Saur 2001 (BMCR 2002.05.08).

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