Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.06.21 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.06.21

Marc Baratin (ed.), Priscien. Grammaire, Livres XIV-XV-XVI: Les invariables. Texte latin, traduction introduite et annotée par le Groupe Ars Grammatica. Histoire des doctrines de l’Antiquité classique, 44.   Paris:  Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2013.  Pp. 328.  ISBN 9782711625000.  €19.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by William P. Sullivan, University of Chicago (

[A Table of Contents appears at the conclusion of this review.]

France is home to many of the leading names in the study of the ancient grammarians. Ten of them, working under the name “groupe Ars grammatica,” have collaborated to produce this useful text and facing French translation, with introduction and notes, of books 14, 15, and 16 of Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae. The result of their efforts is the second in a series of annotated translations projected eventually to cover the entire corpus, in large part still untranslated, of Latin grammatical texts.1

Written sometime around the turn of the 6th century A.D., the Institutiones grammaticae is by far the longest and most complex Latin grammar from antiquity. Of its eighteen books, the first sixteen deal mostly with the different parts of speech; books 17 and 18 provide the only ancient exposition of Latin syntax. Books 14, 15, and 16, presented here, round out Priscian’s treatment of the parts of speech, discussing prepositions, adverbs and interjections, and conjunctions, respectively. In collecting these three books in a single volume the editors are following Priscian’s own classification scheme, which groups parts of speech that do not decline or conjugate under the common heading of invariabilia.

The Latin text used here is not new. The translators follow Martin Hertz’s 1859 edition (volume 3 of the Heinrich Keil Grammatici Latini) in all but a few minor points. This is not inappropriate. The Hertz edition remains serviceable, and in any case the task of reediting a text that checks in at almost a thousand printed pages is beyond the scope of the Ars grammatica group’s project. The editors do make some formatting changes to aid legibility—adding paragraph sectioning and italics, removing a few commas, and providing a layout for the text that is much easier on the eye than the densely printed format of the Grammatici Latini volumes. Since this is not a new critical edition, the translators not unreasonably omit Hertz’s hefty apparatus criticus. They also make a few minor substantive changes to the text, mostly restorations of words and phrases that Hertz had bracketed as later interpolations. All of these emendations are reasonable, if not entirely beyond debate.

What is really new is the translation. Although books 14 and 16 of the Institutiones are now also available in German, the French translations of books 14, 15, and 16 are the first of their kind; the translation of book 15 is the first rendering into any modern language.2 The Ars grammatica group’s translation accurately captures the simple, paratactic style of the original Latin. The translation may be helpful for scholars of non-classical fields who have an interest in Priscian but who lack the Latin reading fluency required to make headway in the original. There might also be the rare advanced undergraduate for whom a modern-language version is necessary; Axel Schönberger’s German translations are aimed at students in Romance philology who lack good Latin. But readers with interests sufficiently specialized to make them want to peruse Priscian in the first place will likely find the translation most useful as a finding aid. For this purpose the editors’ decision to break up the French text into sections, separated by headings identifying the content of each section, is a great help.

Also new are the accompanying introduction, notes, indices, and bibliography. Although linguistically straightforward, Priscian’s text is intellectually and organizationally complex. The editors’ eight-part introduction places books 14, 15, and 16 within a wider intellectual context and sketches the most important points of Priscian’s argument. The first part, “Premiers repères,” explains the complicated but essential intellectual background behind Priscian’s decisions to treat prepositions, adverbs, and conjunctions (the exact status of the interjection is ambiguous) as distinct parts of speech and to group them together as invariabilia. Subsequent sections of the introduction discuss Priscian’s sources for books 14, 15, and 16 (“Le détail des sources”); the criteria Priscian uses to define prepositions, adverbs, interjections, and conjunctions (“Les critères de définition et de différenciation”); the role of Greek within the text (“Place et rôle de la langue grecque”); the organization of books 14, 15, and 16 (“Les plans d’ensemble et le détail de l’exposé”); Priscian’s use of literary examples in his argument (“La langue décrite et les exemples”); the medieval and early modern afterlife of the text (“La postérité des invariables de l’Ars Prisciani: l’exemple du classement des conjonctions”); and the changes the editors have made to the Hertz edition (“Modifications apportées au texte de Hertz”).

In addition to the introduction, footnotes within the text provide quite helpful guidance on the meaning of obscure passages, with pertinent references to other grammarians and cross-references to other parts of the Institutiones. Axel Schönberger’s German translations of books 14 and 16 also include explanatory notes; but the notes here, which go into much greater depth and offer better references to the literature, are much more useful for a broad scholarly audience. A comprehensive bibliography provides both further references and a synoptic view of the field of ancient linguistic sciences. The indices (indexing citations of Greek and Latin authors; forms that are objects of grammatical discussion; forms that Priscian cites as examples of prepositions, adverbs, interjections, and conjunctions, respectively; and grammatical terminology in both Latin and French) may be somewhat less useful, given the existence of a fully searchable version of the Grammatici Latini online3 and of concordances to all eighteen books of the Institutiones.4

This explanatory material is generally useful, though not always as accessible to the non-specialist reader as it could be. One problem is the occasional abstruseness of the editors’ discussion in the introduction. In charting out the philosophical influences on Priscian’s way of categorizing the parts of speech, for example, the editors distinguish between two different Peripatetic theories by asserting that one applied to the “niveau du logos, au sens logique,” the other to the level of the “expression (lexis)”—a distinction that will likely mean little to readers not already well acquainted with ancient philosophy or grammar. Technical linguistic terminology also at times impedes understanding without adding precision. Use of the term “classes morpho-lexicales” instead of the more familiar “parts of speech” is apt to befuddle non-specialists (11), as is the apparently metaphorical description of Priscian’s treatment of Latin accentuation as “plus phonologique que phonétique” (27).

More broadly, the explanatory material represents a missed opportunity to show scholars of other subdisciplines how the study of the ancient grammarians might be relevant to their own fields of research. Priscian’s extensive use of Greek is one topic on which the editors might have tried to engage intellectual and social historians by discussing what is known about Priscian’s intellectual background, his likely readership, and the cultural milieu in which he worked. Instead, all we get are the passing remarks that Priscian addresses his text “à un public d’hellénophones” and “à destination de futurs hauts fonctionnaires de bureaux impériaux bilingues” (40). Similarly, the editors’ treatment of Priscian’s use of Greek accentual terms (acute, grave, circumflex) to describe Latin word accent might have benefited from more attention to historical linguistic scholarship on how Latin was actually pronounced. Was Priscian using Greek terminology to describe real linguistic phenomena or merely as an abstract classification scheme for Latin? How the question is answered bears on the reader’s understanding of the text.5

Finally, aside from a few typographical errors,6 one misstatement of fact mars the editors’ introduction. The assertion that “une majorité de spécialistes considèrent comme plausible l’existence d’un accent à dominante de hauteur ayant évolué (à partir du IIe-IIIe siècle ?) vers un accent à dominante d’intensité” (26n2) is erroneous. It would be more accurate to say that most historical linguists believe Latin never used a pitch-based accentual system.7

Overall, the Ars grammatica group has produced a useful tool for students and scholars needing to work with this important grammatical text. One only wishes that the editors could have appealed to a somewhat broader readership.

Table of Contents

Présentation 7
Introduction 11
1. Premiers repères 11
2. Le détail des sources 16
3. Les critères de définition et de différenciation 21
Un critère commun: l’accent 25
Les critères et le cas des conjonctions 28
Des corpus ou des emplois ? Catégorisations et recatégorisations 34
Une catégorie à part: l’interjection 36
4. Place et rôle de la langue grecque 37
5. Les plans d’ensemble et le détail de l’exposé 41
Composition par glissements et “effet de fiches” 45
Profusion, confusion et ordre caché 46
6. La langue décrite et les exemples 47
Les exemples d’auteurs 47
Les exemples forgés 49
Rapports entre exemples d’auteurs et exemples forgés 50
Le cas particulier des adverbes condamnés: Priscien et la ratio de la langue 52
7. La postérité des invariables de l’Ars Prisciani: l’exemple du classement des conjonctions 54
8. Modifications apportées au texte de Hertz 60
Modifications sérielles 60
Modifications ponctuelles 61
Livre 14: La préposition
Plan du livre 14 67
Introduction aux invariables et préséance de la préposition 69
Définition 71
Préposition et conjonction 71
Préposition et adverbe 75
Accentuation des prépositions 77
Propriétés combinatoires de la préposition 79
Nombre des prépositions en latin et en grec 83
Délimitation formelle des prépositions 85
Variabilité ou unicité de signification des prépositions 87
Spécificités de la composition et de la juxtaposition 91
Particularités accentuelles 93
Retour à la catégorisation des invariables 97
Potentialité des prépositions 97
Les prépositions suivies de l’accusatif 101
Les monosyllabiques 103
Formes à problèmes 107
Les dissyllabiques 109
Prépositions qui sont associées à l’ablatif 119
Prépositions et adverbes: la transitivité 119
Le témoignage de Censorinus 121
Les monosyllabiques 125
Les dissyllabiques 133
Prépositions suivies de l’accusatif ou de l’ablatif 137
Juxtaposition et composition: les prépositions non juxtaposables 141
Livre 15: L’adverbe
Plan du livre 15 145
Définition 147
Association avec les temps et modes verbaux 147
Absence d’autonomie de l’adverbe 151
Adverbe et participe 153
Accidents de l’adverbe 153
L’espèce: primaire ou dérivée 153
L’espèce: classement par origines 155
L’espèce: classement par finales. Les finales vocaliques 159
Excursus sur les noms de villes 161
Retour au classement vocalique 163
Exceptions aux formations en -e long 167
Autonomie sémantique de certains adverbes par rapport à leur base 171
Retour au classement vocalique 173
Les finales en diphthongue ; extension vers les interjections 177
Les finales consonantiques 177
Adverbes de formation variée 187
L’espèce: classement par degrés 189
La figure 191
La signification 193
Temps 193
Lieu 199
Dissuasion, négation, affirmation ; phénomènes de substitution 201
Serment, souhait, exhortation, modération 205
Qualité, quantité, doute 207
Association, dissociation, assimilation, succession 209
Intensité, comparatifs, superlatifs, numéraux, diminutifs 209
Significations multiples 213
Place des adverbes 215
L’interjection 215
Livre 16: La conjonction
Plan du livre 16 221
Définition et accidents 223
La figure 225
L’espèce 225
Les coordinatives ; polyvalence de certaines conjonctions 227
Le groupe des causales, des implicatives aux adjonctives 227
Recatégorisations 233
Retour aux causales ; les confirmatives 235
Les disjonctives et paradisjonctives 237
Les explicatives, ou électives 241
Les adversatives 243
Les annulatives 243
Les syllogistiques, ou argumentatives 247
Les dubitatives, et leur emploi interrogatif 249
Les explétives 253
La place 257
Bibliographie 261
Index 1: Auteurs 273
Index 2: Formes en mention 279
Index 3: Récapitulatif complémentaire des formes par catégories 289
Index 4: Terminologie grammaticale latine 311
Index 5: Notions grammaticales 323
Tables des matières 327


1.   The first in the series is a translation of book 17 of the Institutiones grammaticae: Marc Baratin et al., eds. and trans., Priscien. Grammaire. Livre XVII – Syntaxe I (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2010).
2.   Translations of books 14 and 16 of the Institutiones grammaticae have recently appeared in German: Axel Schönberger, Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Präpositionen. Lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 14. Buches der “Institutiones Grammaticae” (Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2008); Axel Schönberger, Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Konjunktionen. Lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 16. Buches der “Institutiones Grammaticae” (Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2010).
3.   Available through the “Corpus grammaticorum Latinorum,” UFR de Linguistique, Université Paris Diderot Paris 7, accessed April 29, 2014,
4.   See Cirilo García Román and Marco A. Gutiérrez Galindo, Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum I-XVI, indices et concordantiae, 4 vols. (Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 2001); Cirilo García Román, Marco A. Gutiérrez Galindo, and María del Carmen Díaz de Alda Carlos, Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum XVII et XVIII indices et concordantiae, 2 vols. (Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 1999).
5.   For an incorporation of the evidence of the ancient grammarians into a linguistic discussion of Latin accentuation, see for example W. Sidney Allen, Accent and Rhythm: Prosodic Features of Latin and Greek; A Study in Theory and Reconstruction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 151-52.
6.   There is an unfortunate missing comma after “XIV” on the book cover; the name of the Spanish classicist José Manuel Santiago Ángel is misspelled in note 1 on page 16 and again in the bibliography on page 269; “dissyllabiques” is misspelled on page 25; the reference to 94.22 on page 62 should read “94.23”; διαρρήσσει is misspelled on page 114.
7.   For the majority view see for example Michael Weiss, Outline of the Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Beech Stave Press, 2009), 106-13 (contrasting the Proto-Indo-European pitch-based accentual system with the stress-based system found already in the prehistory of Latin).

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