BMCR 2002.05.08

Glossaria bilinguia altera (C. Gloss. Biling. II). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete, Beiheft 8

, Glossaria bilinguia altera : (C. Gloss. Biling. II). Archiv für Papyrusforschung und verwandte Gebiete. Beiheft. ; 8. München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2001. viii, 128 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3598775423 EUR 78.00.

In this book Kramer collects ten texts of Egyptian provenance, all from the Roman period, that contain bilingual glossaries, that is texts in which the Latin words and their Greek equivalents appear side by side. These texts partly correspond to those found in medieval manuscripts and published by G. Goetz in 1888 and 1892 in the second and third volumes of the Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum. Glossaria bilinguia altera complements a similar collection that K. published in 1983, Glossaria bilinguia in papyris et membranis reperta, in which he assembled sixteen texts, all but one of which were found in Egypt. In claiming as he does at the beginning of the present book that he is writing for papyrologists, K. is perhaps overly modest. This book and his earlier one improve our understanding of the history of ancient lexicography and of the strategies used in antiquity for learning a foreign language (Latin or Greek).

Glossaria bilinguia altera is a work in two parts: an introduction and the edition of the ten texts. The presentation of each text follows a standardized format. K. gives bibliographical information (including previous editions and published plates), briefly describes the text, and examines the palaeographical characteristics that form a basis for dating it. He then turns to the content, pointing out the similarities of each text to, and its differences from, the medieval glossaries. A transcription of the text follows with a German translation and copious and exhaustive notes, which emphasize parallels with the medieval manuscripts and contain linguistic observations. Two indexes, of Greek and Latin terms, complete the work.

The introduction of Glossaria bilinguia altera embraces all the fragments of ancient glossaries from the first century BC to the sixth century AD and therefore includes the material that K. published in 1983. Such a presentation of the evidence was much needed because the introduction to the first collection was very cursory and dealt mostly with the evolution of Greek and Latin phonology. In this book, K. starts by sketching the complicated interaction of Greeks and Egyptians in Egypt in the Ptolemaic period. His aim is to show the cultural arrogance of the Greeks, who were not prone to learning foreign languages but demanded that the “barbarians” learn theirs.

K. divides the ancient glossaries into two main categories: Gebrauchsglossare and Schulglossare. The first were popular glossaries that catered to people who needed some Latin for daily use. They are not numerous: only three examples survive, none of which is in the present collection. The school glossaries, however, which to some degree depended on a scholarly tradition of lexicography, are well represented. K. reviews the meaning and usage of the term “gloss” and shows that the teaching of Aristotle, who called a gloss a word that was an archaism or a local peculiarity, was applied by the Alexandrian lexicographers. Another section of the introduction examines the question of the limited use of Latin in Egypt. Latin always occupied a marginal position compared to Greek, and knowledge of it was confined to the military and to those seeking important positions in the imperial civil service. The Constitutio Antoniniana of 212 did not alter the situation fundamentally, and even the effects of the reforms of Diocletian, who insisted on the maintenance of Latin as the language of administration, were not long lasting. It is significant, in any case, that a third of the ancient glossaries date from the end of the third century to the beginning of the fourth. Only a few Greek intellectuals felt it necessary to study Latin language and literature. K. could have improved the treatment of this question by broadening its scope and by inquiring more deeply into the identity of the students of Latin. One thinks, for example, of those students of Libanius in Syria who needed to learn Latin in order to attend the law school of Berytus, where much of the instruction was in that language. Greeks in Egypt who had the same ambitions could go to Berytus or to Alexandria, where a prominent school of Roman law existed until the sixth century. It is in Alexandria that K. supposes that the glossaries originated. The Latinless students who aspired to go to law school needed to start with relatively easy material.

In the medieval school glossaries there is a clear distinction between Idiomata and Hermeneumata. The first, which always regarded Greek as the norm, listed grammatical differences between the two languages. Hermeneumata had a primarily lexical interest and contained lists of words (such as no. 5 in K.’s collection) and short texts with a literal translation. The glossaries assembled by K. are of both types, but the distinction between them is not as evident as in the medieval examples. K. regards only no. 3 in this collection as a representative of the Idiomata but shows that this list had a more practical value. The text contains Greek and Latin verbs, all in the Greek script. Each verb appears in the third, second, and first person, in that order (which Dionysius Thrax would have found very unusual). This order was eminently practical because it gave priority to the most frequently used third person. Some verbs, however, shows the grammarians’ usual disregard for reality in the name of order and symmetry: the impersonal verbs, in fact, are conjugated in the same three persons (he/she/it rains, you rain, I rain). I think that another text, no. 4, which consists of a list of nouns (with very few adjectives), has similarities to the Idiomata. K. has a hard time finding a common topic among these words, but the compiler’s concern is grammatical, not thematic: he attempts to show whether the neuter gender of the Latin nouns is maintained or changed in Greek.

Two more texts in this collection (6 and 7 in addition to 3) are transliterated Greek-Latin vocabularies written entirely in Greek script. K. also included ten texts of the same kind in his previous book. The use of the Greek script for Latin does not per se indicate the audience targeted by these glossaries. For K. points out that in some of the medieval glossaries the Greek text is written in Latin letters. Whereas Romans (e.g., Cicero or Gellius) included some Greek in their writings, cultivated Greeks (e.g., Plutarch) often transliterated Latin. Of course at an initial stage of learning a transliterated text was easier to memorize, but the content and format of these glossaries do not imply such a stage. No. 6 consists of a page from a parchment codex written in a fine bookhand. It contains words listed by topic (goods, spices, and military terms) that occur in the Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana. No. 7, which shows words arranged alphabetically, is a much less formal text. The reuse of the back of the papyrus, the irregular hand, the crosses indicating mistakes, and the many checkmarks in the shape of diagonal strokes point to a personal copy that functioned as a linguistic aid.

Texts no. 8 and 9 (plus another in the 1983 collection) preserve conversational phrases and vignettes ( colloquia). No. 8, a page from a papyrus codex from the fifth century AD, stands out for its many points of contact with the medieval Colloquium Harleianum from the tenth century. K. tries to reconstruct the original text, the ancient predecessor of the Hermeneumata, but recognizes that it is impossible to produce a critical edition. No. 9 shows the continuous transition from lists to colloquies, which is also typical of the medieval glossaries. All the glossaries appearing in both collections can be dated only on a palaeographical basis, but in this case one more element confirms the dating. A list of official titles includes some (e.g., curator, magistrianus, rationalis) that originated in the period after Diocletian.

The collection of texts in Glossaria bilinguia altera is not as homogeneous as in K.’s previous volume, which contained only glossaries. K. justifies the inclusion of three texts (1, 2, and 10) by saying that they stand at opposite poles of the learning progression and are useful in showing the gradual steps covered in acquiring a foreign language. According to him, two of these texts (1 and 2, with alphabets) pertain to the initial stage of learning, whereas no. 10 (fables of Aesop) belongs to the stage when a student was exposed to literary texts. This progression according to level of difficulty is a bit illusory, however, and by this standard more texts could have been included. No. 1, which contains Latin alphabets with the names of the letters written in Greek characters over them, is a page from a shorthand manual. These alphabets served as models of formal Latin handwriting for professional scribes who were already familiar with Greek. It is unnecessary to assume, as K. does, that the names of the letters were introduced as a help to dictation. This was the ordinary practice of teaching the alphabet, as Quintilian 1.1.24-25 shows. The level of text 10, moreover, is not necessarily higher that that of the lists preceding it. It should be underlined that other papyri preserve fables in Greek and Latin. K. includes only this text because it is the only one with parallel columns, but one wonders whether he misses some useful evidence because of his strict adherence to this criterion.

The important conclusion that K. reaches in Glossaria bilinguia altera is that all the fragments of ancient school glossaries from the Roman period were part of a large bilingual work, which was the predecessor of the medieval Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana. The fragmentary nature of the evidence makes it impossible to define the precise extent and characteristics of this work, which now appears to have been in existence already in the first century AD. The evidence assembled by K. strongly suggests that these bilingual handbooks originated in the East, challenging the conclusions (until now generally accepted) of A.C. Dionisotti that Greek teachers may have compiled the school glossaries but that they became bilingual in the West.1 One should add to K.’s argument against Dionisotti that while it is true that the simultaneous teaching of Greek and Latin was usual in the West, the ancient glossaries do not really imply a simultaneous teaching of the two languages: in them Greek is usually considered the point of departure and the norm.

K. presents intriguing evidence that is part of a larger picture, which unfortunately remains largely in the dark. He assembles the disiecta membra of the glossaries, a type of evidence that remains always elusive, and focuses his attention exclusively on them. In this he does a masterful job. Subliterary papyri attract far less careful attention than literary ones, even though they preserve precious evidence of educational, scientific, encyclopedic, or mythographical works. A project to group and reedit texts that were published in scattered editions and to review all the evidence comprehensibly can only be lauded.

But the evidence provided by the Greek-Latin glossaries can illuminate more than the texts themselves. For example, a recently published Greek papyrus found in Egypt contains the same material found in the Greek-Latin glossaries but in it the Greek text is entirely transliterated into the Armenian script.2

It is probably unfair to take an author to task for what he did not intend to write, but more thorough attention to the whole picture, in the introductory part, would have been welcome. K. examines the evidence from the perspective of the medieval examples, but since the glossaries originated in antiquity they must have displayed many similarities to analogous cultural products. Lists and catalogues were present in Greek literature from the very beginning and were part of scholarly and didactic works. Whereas lists in poetic works have attracted considerable attention, lists in prose works have been neglected. Comparing the lists of words in the glossaries with other lists that were used in education and elsewhere would have further illuminated their function. The evidence that K. presents, moreover, would have gained a better perspective if he had dedicated a bit more attention to the Homeric Scholia Minora and to other Latin school exercises, which he barely mentions. Homeric vocabularies, where epic words are glossed with easier and more current terms, follow the same principles and arrangement as the bilingual glossaries. They can almost be considered bilingual in the sense that they targeted people who had trouble understanding epic Greek and needed some sort of “translation”. Likewise, the word-lists for Vergil and Cicero, which are arranged in parallel columns, are strikingly similar to the glossaries studied by K. They are not particularly learned and must have addressed ( mutatis mutandis) the same audience.

This book does not contain photos but only partial drawings of each text. As K. makes clear, these sketches are not intended to take the place of photos or digitized images, but to give an idea of the handwriting, showing at the same time whether some restorations are possible or likely. Considering the small compass of this work, it is a pity that the necessary photos were not included. Some of these texts first appeared in obscure publications that are difficult to locate. For instance, I did not succeed in finding the first editions of texts 3 and 6. The sketches give an incomplete idea of the handwriting, as one can see by comparing them with published plates. It is also unfortunate that a book of such a high level shows some signs of hasty execution, such as typographical mistakes, instances of imprecision, and formatting errors. Text no. 5, for instance, is described as a leaf from a parchment codex, whereas the editio princeps done by Kramer himself shows that it was a papyrus. But these errors do not fundamentally detract from the excellent quality of the whole work.

The new study by K. is a welcome addition not only to his previous volume but also to other collections of subliterary papyri that have appeared in the last few years. Papyrologists, medievalists, and classical scholars interested in education and in the interaction of Greek and Latin in antiquity will profit a great deal from it. The book offers a new perspective on the evidence of the glossaries in antiquity and in the Middle Ages. One hopes that books like this one will stimulate other scholars to produce similar studies that complement our knowledge of the ancient world.


1. A.C. Dionisotti, “From Ausonius’ Schooldays? A Schoolbook and its Relatives,” JRS 72 (1982) 83-125.

2. J. Clackson, “A Greek Papyrus in Armenian Script,” ZPE 129 (2000) 223-58.