BMCR 2005.09.55

Sergius (Ps.-Cassiodorus) Commentarium de oratione et de octo partibus orationis Artis Secundae Donati. Überlieferung, Text und Kommentar. Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare

, , Commentarium de oratione et de octo partibus orationis artis secundae Donati. Sammlung wissenschaftlicher Commentare. München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2005. 439 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3598730233 €110.00.

Donatus’ Artes were the standard textbooks in the grammar schools during Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Their popularity is demonstrated by the large number of commentaries written on them by school teachers in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.1 Foremost among them was Servius’ commentary, which is now preserved only in an abridgment (GL IV 405-448). As has been acknowledged by many scholars, all successive commentaries on Donatus, like the Explanationes in artem Donati I (GL IV 486-534) and the Explanationes in Artem Donati II (GL IV 534-565), which were attributed to Servius or Sergius,2 Pompeius’ commentary on Donatus’ Ars Maior (GL V 95-312), and Cledonius’ grammar, probably composed at the end of the fifth century A.D. (GL V 9-79),3 were hugely indebted to their main source, Servius. This series of the Donatus-commentaries also includes a commentary on Donatus’ Ars Maior II, more precisely on the section of Donatus’ grammar devoted to the eight parts of the speech (Noun, Pronoun, Verb, Adverb, Participle, Conjunction, Preposition, and Interjection).

The text, which is preserved in the manuscript, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale lat. 7530 (for the chapters ‘De oratione’ and ‘De nomine’ only), travelled under the name of Sergius and was ascribed to Cassiodorus by its first editor, J. Garet, in 1679,4 who claimed to have used a now lost manuscript from Mt. Saint-Michel, which must have contained all the remaining parts of the commentary (the text was reprinted in Migne, Patrologia Latina 70, 1219-1240 but was not included in the collection of the Grammatici Latini, edited by Keil). Now, after more than three centuries, Stock (hereafter S.) provides a new critical edition of this text, with a full and thorough commentary. S.’s work, which is a revision of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Göttingen, is to be welcomed, not only because it replaces Garet’s outmoded edition, but also, more importantly, because S. addresses the issue of the authorship and time of composition, completely revising the complex question of the author’s relationship with Servius and the wide tradition of commentaries on Donatus and providing substantial discussions of the interpretative issues in the line-by-line commentary. As I will point out below, although S.’s interpretation is not totally convincing on some points, this volume contributes greatly to our knowledge of the tradition of the Donatus-commentaries in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

After a brief Introduction (1-7), the book includes the critical edition of the text (37-108; the critical apparatus is divided into four parts, the first of which contains the quotations from classical authors, the second the ‘loci paralleli’, the third the testimonia, the last the manuscripts variants), preceded by a close examination of the manuscripts (“Hauptüberlieferung” 8-21) and of the testimonia (“Nebenüberlieferung” 21-32) and by a short explanation of the criteria on which the edition is based (“Editionsprinzipien” 33-36). The line-by-line commentary constitutes the largest part of the book (109-384) and it is followed by two sections in which the author, on the basis of what he has previously stated in the commentary, a) focuses on the structure of the work, its composition, its sources, the examples and the doctrine used by the grammarian, his language and the style (“Ergebnisse” 384-412, divided as follows: “Aufbau” 384-387; “Material” 387-405; “Lehre” 405-406; “Sprache” 407-412), and b) examines the issues of the chronology and place of composition, the role of the text in the tradition of the Donatus-commentaries, and authorship and the history of the text (“Neueinordnung des Texts” 413-424, divided into five parts: “Datierung” 413-415; “Einordnung in die Donattradition” 415-418; “Verfasser” 418-421; “Lokalisierung” 421-422; “Textgeschichte” 422-424). The book ends with a bibliography (425-433), an Index auctorum (434-435), and an Index grammaticus (436-439).

In the Introduction S. sets out the main goals of his work. A new edition of the text (hereafter Ps. Cass.), based on the above-mentioned manuscript from Paris, is a desideratum, as Garet’s edition is not completely comprehensible; moreover, an important role is to be attributed to the testimonia, as Ps. Cass. was largely used in late and medieval grammars. S.’s main purpose is to address the issues of authorship, the date and place of composition of the commentary (with regard to the chronology, opinions vary from somewhere between 400 A.D. and 600 A.D., that is, between Servius’ commentary and Isidorus’ Etymologiae), and, at the same time, to recognize the role played by Ps. Cass. within the broader historical-literary context of ancient grammar studies, focusing on the links between Ps.Cass. and the other grammatical and etymological commentaries on Donatus’ Artes (S. rightly points out the importance of a precise interpretation of the relationship with the commentary on Donatus’ Ars Maior I – GL IV 475-485, which has come down to us with the title ‘De littera’ and was known by the late grammarians under the name of Sergius). Ps. Cass. is an important document for the history of education and studies on grammar in Late Antiquity and a new, more detailed, analysis of this text allows us to better understand some hitherto unexplained mechanisms of the tradition of the so-called “Donat Kommentierung” (4-5).

The text as presented by S. is based on the miscellaneous Ms. Par. Lat. 7530 (= π probably written in Monte Cassino between 779 and 796 A.D. (previously described by Holtz5), and the now lost manuscript from Mt. Saint-Michel (= μ whose readings must be derived from Garet’s edition (this too is a miscellaneous manuscript, defined by Garet as a ‘vetustissimus codex’, probably of Irish origin). S. carefully describes the contents and material of each of these two manuscripts, especially comparing the significant errors as well as the separative errors (8-20). As a result, it may be stated that the two manuscripts’ traditions were independent of each other and that the archetype already preserved a corrupt text (21). S.’s analysis of the testimonia is of great importance for the history of the text (as S. correctly states, this is particularly evident for those chapters of the text known only thanks to Garet’s edition). Ps. Cass. was largely cited by the late grammarians (though there are some second-hand quotations); S. briefly discusses the relationship between Ps.Cass. and Isidorus’ Etymologiae, the Ars Ambrosiana, the Ars Malsachiani, the Ars Bonifatii, the so-called Donatus ortigraphus, the Ars Bernensis, Clemens Scotus, and other less known handbooks, finally concluding that “Ps.Cass. left its mark on most of the grammar textbooks written in the Early Middle Ages” and that “apart from Pompeius and Sergius’ De littera, there was no commentary on Donatus more popular than Ps.Cass” (32).

The line-by-line commentary encompasses a broad range of textual and linguistic problems. In spite of the difficulties faced in writing a commentary on a work like Ps.Cass., which is no more than a collection of ‘topoi’ and ‘loci communes’ (109), S.’s attempt to shed light on many textual problems is generally successful. The main passages of the text are always explained with reference to other commentaries on Donatus (at the beginning of each chapter S. usefully compares Ps.Cass. with the rest of the tradition): this procedure appears particularly valuable in some points, like the discussion of the ‘nomina specialia’ at 175-176 or the concise summary of Probus’ work at 223-227 or, finally, the explanatory assessment of the differences between Ps.Cass. and Donatus on the declension of the nouns at 250-253. The explanation of technical terms is supported by a thorough comparison with the rhetorical and grammar tradition as well (for instance, see 137 on the word ‘monoptoton’ or 183 for the definition of the word ‘comparatio’). Furthermore, S. fully illustrates the cultural background of the grammarian and describes some aspects of the ancient educational system. A good example is in the chapter ‘De Pronomine’ (295-296), where the use of Ciceronian examples (from the Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino and the Pro Sulla) and the reference to Cicero as advocate are correctly regarded as evidence for the importance of juridical competence as a necessary requirement for either grammar or rhetoric teaching. As a consequence, S. clearly reasserts the value of Ciceronian oratory in grammar and rhetorical studies in Late Antiquity.

As I said above, in the last part of the volume S. gives a summary of what has emerged during the analysis of the text: it is the most interesting and useful section of the work, as S. draws some conclusions on the issues of the authorship, date and place of composition of the commentary, and, in particular, on the very complex question of the relationship between Ps.Cass. and other commentaries on Donatus. I will just highlight some points of particular interest. Firstly, with regard to the authorship, S. rightly rejects the attribution to Cassiodorus, based on Garet’s conjecture (Garet suggested reading the title given by the manuscript M as ) and he corrects the corrupt word S…cii in Sergii (see 110-114 and 418-419; surprisingly, S. does not mention Law 6, who had already rejected such an attribution on the basis of similar arguments).

Then, S. moves on to discuss Holtz’s analysis, especially focusing on the meaning of the expression (Inst. II 1, 1) which, according to S., would indicate one or more commentaries on Donatus included by Cassiodorus in a larger collection of grammatical treatises and not, as Holtz suggested, a double commentary, on Donatus’ Ars Maior I and II, written by Cassiodorus himself. In this case, S.’s analysis puzzles me. Whereas it is very likely that Cassiodorus did not write the commentary on Donatus under discussion, there is some doubt about the exact meaning of ; the verb relinquere is not a technical term, but we cannot exclude the possibility that Cassiodorus commented on Donatus, whose reading was recommended by Cassiodorus himself to his monks,7 and, furthermore, interpreted as commentaries on Donatus written by others makes no sense within the context of the passage by Cassiodorus’ Institutiones. Starting from the attribution to Sergius, S. goes a step further and, on the basis of the parallels between Ps.Cass. and Sergius’ De littera, argues that the two texts belonged to the same work (Sergius’ De littera would have been the commentary on the first part of Donatus’ Ars Maior and Ps.Cass. the commentary on the second part of Donatus’ Ars Maior I and on Ars Maior II, which, because of accidents of transmission, has come down to the present day in a version divided into two parts. S.’s hypothesis is certainly fascinating but it can hardly be proved (the parallels cited by S. do not seem to support such a hypothesis; see 409 n. 99). In addition, it may be observed that analogies of stylistic features could be derived from the use of a technical language which is peculiar to almost all grammar and rhetorical handbooks.

As for the chronology, a careful examination of the main sources of the commentary, of the quotations taken from the grammar handbooks and the classical authors, and of the language and the style of the grammarian (387-412), lead S. to suppose that the commentary was written in Campania in the first half of the fifth century A.D. A quotation from Paulinus of Nola would confirm this chronology, and S. finds further arguments for this view in the fact that the grammarian showed a good knowledge of Christian terminology and Church practises while not ignoring pagan culture (the text would reflect an ancient phase of Christianity during which Christian teachers had not yet developed an autonomous culture; cf. 403-404) and, in addition to this, in the language that is characteristic of the late fourth and early fifth century A.D. (as well as in the connection with the language of Augustine). Finally, a thorough structural analysis reveals that Ps.Cass. has a close connection with Donatus and Servius’ commentary (although the existence of other sources may be suggested by the presence of some features which do not appear in other texts). Thus, by comparing Ps.Cass. with Servius on the one hand, and Pompeius and Cledonius on the other, S. draws up a sort of stemma of the possible links between the commentaries on Donatus, assuming a division of the tradition into two lines, the first represented by Ps.Cass. and the second by Servius’ commentary and Explanationes I. In S.’s view, later on these two lines must have been reunited, as can be seen in Pompeius’ and Cledonius’ commentaries, which made use of a common source. S.’s suggestions are undoubtedly valuable. However, the evidence is not sufficient to sustain his arguments; some crucial factors, like the relationship between Servius and Donatus and, connected to this, the chronology of Servius’ commentary on Virgil,8 require more thorough discussion.

To sum up. Although S.’s arguments are sometimes unconvincing (there are also important omissions in the bibliography 9), S.’s work is to be appreciated, as it represents the first modern edition of such an important text, which has been neglected by scholars for too long time. In particular, the line-by-line commentary and the discussion of important questions, like the authorship and the relationship with other commentaries on Donatus, will serve both as a fundamental reference for scholars interested in ancient Roman grammarians and as a starting point for further studies on Donatus and the tradition of grammatical texts.


1. For a general view on the commentaries on Donatus, see V. Law, The Insular Latin Grammarians, Woodbridge 1982, 14-19 and 28.

2. See U. Schindel, Die Lateinischen Figurenlehren des 5. bis 7. Jahrhunderts und Donats Vergilkommentar (mit zwei Editionen), Göttingen 1975; see also P. De Paolis, Le Explanationes in Donatum (GL IV 486-565) e il loro più antico testimone manoscritto, in M. De Nonno, P. De Paolis, and L. Holtz (edd.), Manuscripts and Traditions of Grammatical Texts from Antiquity to the Renaissance, I, Cassino 2000, 173-221 (not mentioned by S.).

3. On Cledonius see H. Bertsch, Cledoni Ars grammatica, Heidelberg 1884.

4. This attribution has been rejected by Keil (GL VII 140-141 note), M. Manitius, Geschichte der Lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 1, München 1911, 49, B. Loefstedt, Zu den Quellen des hibernolateinischen Donatkommentars im Cod. Ambrosianus L 22 sup., in ‘Studi Medievali’ 21, 1, 1980, 311-320, and V. Law, The Insular Latin Grammarians, 18, but accepted by M. Cappuyns, Cassiodore, in Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie ecclésiastique, 11, 1949, 1374, J. Fontaine, Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l’Espagne wisigotique, 1, Paris 1959, 106 n. 2, and L. Holtz, Le Parisinus Latinus 7530 – Synthèse cassinienne des arts libéraux, in ‘Studi Medievali’ 16, 1, 1975, 137 f.

5. Holtz, Le Parisinus Latinus 7530.

6. Law, The Insular Latin Grammarians, 18; see also Loefstedt, Zu den Quellen des hibernolateinischen Donatkommentars, 311-312.

7. See L. Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l’enseignement grammatical, Paris 1981, 247-248.

8. S. suggests that Servius’ commentary on Virgil was written after 415 A.D. (see 417-418 n. 26). Since the question of the chronology of Servius’ commentary is far from being resolved, a closer analysis would have been welcomed (S. restricts himself to citing A. Uhl, Servius als Sprachlehrer. Zur Sprachrichtigkeit in der exegetischen Praxis des spätantiken Grammatikerunterrichts, Göttingen 1998, 590 f.).

9. Just two examples. For Servius S. does not mention P. Wessner, Servius, in RE, II A 2, 1923,1834-1848; for De Arte Grammatica Sergii S. does not cite the most recent edition by L. Munzi, Spigolature grammaticali in una silloge scolastica carolingia, in Bollettino dei Classici s. III, f. 14, 1993, 103-132.