Session #592 Isidore of Seville and the Persistence of Classical Antiquity in Iberia and the British Isles during the Middle Ages

“‘Partes Orationis Quot Sunt?’: Medieval Iberian Grammar in the Wake of Isidore of  Seville, 600-1481” 

Marlena Petra Cravens, University of Texas, Austin

If we were to ask someone who endured Roman grammar school as a child, “Partes orationis quot sunt?” (“How many parts of speech are there?”), the answer would be obvious: “Octo” (“eight”). This question is the opening line of Donatus’s Ars minor (4th C.). The Ars minor is a short text in a question-and-answer format that was intended for beginners. The text guided medieval thought on Latin grammar for centuries.[1] It, along with Donatus’s Ars maior and other Classical grammar texts, influenced Isidore of Seville’s own writing on Latin grammar.

This paper examines medieval Iberian grammatical theory as it was disseminated from Isidore of Seville’s writing in Book I (“De grammatica”) of his Etymologies (600-625). Focusing on Iberian reception and use, I compare Latin grammatical theory and pedagogy from Isidore to theory in 1481, when Antonio de Nebrija wrote his widely-distributed Introductiones latinae (1481). Based on what is extant and what is known about classical grammatical theory, I argue that Isidore of Seville’s discourse on Latin grammar—and therefore pedagogy—caters to L1-learners of Latin: what we’d call “native speakers.” This target audience becomes both important and problematic with the decline of Latin in Spain, which fueled the rise of Iberian second-language learner grammatical scholarship grounded on Lorenzo Valla’s Elegantiae linguae latinae (1444) and Antonio de Nebrija’s Introductiones latinae (1481). The necessary reaction against Isidore of Seville’s descriptions of Latin grammar would contribute to the later rise of New World indigenous-language grammars.

1. History of the Etymologies: Impact, Target Audience, Purpose, Principle Sources

Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies (or Etymologiae in Latin) is in fact an etymological encyclopedia rather than a grammar book. The very first book is the only one specifically devoted to grammar. Before discussing the relationship between Nebrija and Isidore of Seville’s works, I want to emphasize here: (1) the impact of Isidore’s work, (2) his target audience, (3) his purpose for creating the Etymologies, and (4) his principle sources.

The Etymologies’ careful, meticulous, encyclopedic qualities made it an extremely useful and popular text in the Middle Ages and it was disseminated widely after Isidore of Seville’s death (he died before completing it).[2] The Etymologies was especially prized as it provided content from Classical authorities, which made it a useful alternative to reading the authorities in their entirety.[3] Well-known grammarians and lexicographers who used or at least cited the Etymologiae include Papias (Elementarium Doctrinae Rudimentum, 1040s), Huguccio Pisanus (Magnae Derivationes, d. 1210), Giovanni Balbi of Genoa (Catholicon, 1286), Niccolo Perotti (Rudimenta Grammatices, 1473), probably Juan de Pastrana (Grammatica pastrane, 15th C.), and possibly Alexandre de Villedieu (Doctrinale; ca.1170–ca.1250).[4] Popular authors that referenced Isidore of Seville or used his Etymologiae include St. Bede, Aldhelm, William Langland, Dante Alighieri, Vincent de Beauvais, Geoffrey Chaucer, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and John Gower. Overall, it survives in approximately a thousand extant manuscripts even before it was printed.[5]

Between 1472 and 1530 the Etymologiae saw at least 10 printed editions beyond its many painstakingly-copied manuscripts.[6] After that point, its popularity diminished due in part to the fact that it was a compendium of only parts of the classics rather than full editions—and, if anything, the Renaissance was about the rebirth and re-exploration of the literature of Classical Antiquity without the medieval filter. It was also due in part to the decline of Latin as a lingua franca over regional vernaculars.

While it is important to present the context of the Etymologiae here, I am not going to linger on the history of Visigothic Spain; nor will I linger on Isidore’s life and experiences. There are many excellent works that do both of these things, including those by Barney, Brehaut, and Fontaine. Instead, I want to wrap up my sketch of the Etymologiae by emphasizing three final things: the target audience for this text, the stated purpose of the text, and Isidore of Seville’s principle sources for writing his first book: “De grammatica.”

According to Copeland and Sluiter, Isidore of Seville’s text—while broadly useful to academics—was specifically for two groups: those learning within the “monastic educational program” and the “governing classes of the Visigothic kingdom, consisting of political and ecclesiastical administration.”[7] These target audiences, as well as the specific content, suggest that the text served two purposes: (1) the preservation and transmission of knowledge—with few deviations from Classical authorities—and (2) the imparting of the “preliminary skills [and knowledge] that make intelligent reading, especially of Scripture, possible.”[8] Within the context of discussing “De grammatica,” this means that Isidore relied on key classical resources for his discussions of nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech, but also for example sentences of “correct” Latin use.

Finally, medieval grammar book scholars like Jacques Fontaine (1983), Vivien Law (1993), and W. Keith Percival (2004) emphasize that Isidore of Seville’s “De grammatica” section is quite hard to pull apart, as nearly all classical writers copied each other intensely, or reworded things only slightly.[9] In spite of this, they have argued that the chapter derives from Cassiodorus (485-585), which draws from the grammar traditions of Classical Antiquity: our friend Donatus, as well as Quintilian, and—based on what is extant of De lingua Latina—Varro.[10] Other likely linguistic influences include Suetonius (quasi-etymology), Servius (quasi-etymology),[11] Sacerdos (3rd C.), Terentianus Victorinus (late 2nd C.), Diomedes (4th C.), Martianus Capella (4th C.), Consentius (5th C.), and Phocas (5th C.) (Brehaut 91; Barney 12). Donatus, Quintilian, and Varro in particular are part of the “Schulgrammatik” tradition, which is for L1-learners of Latin.[12] This means that the texts were written for students that already spoke Latin as their mother tongue and were part of the Roman “metropole.”[13] By comparing Isidore of Seville’s “De grammatica” to Lorenzo Valla’s Elegantiae linguae latinae (1444) and Antonio de Nebrija’s Introductiones latinae (1481), I will discuss a little bit about L1 and L2 Latin grammar learning strategies and show what elements of Isidore of Seville’s chapter “De grammatica” did contribute to the 1400s grammar tradition in Spain.

2. 800 Years Later: From Lorenzo Valla to Antonio de Nebrija

Lorenzo Valla’s impact—and, by extension, the broader Italian grammatical tradition’s impact—on Nebrija’s work is well-known through the scholarship of Percival and others. However, what I want to emphasize is the utter disdain toward Isidore that marked the new flourishing of Renaissance grammatical thought. In his Elegantiae linguae latinae (1444), Valla only mentions Isidore twice and both times are to reject his work.[14] The first is the most jarring; Valla writes of Isidore “indoctorum arrogantissimus, qui quum nihil sciat, omnia praecipit,” which I’ll roughly translate here as “very arrogant and ignorant fellow, who, since he knows nothing, orders [or “gives rules on”] everything.” (II. praef. 41).[15] The second incident is to reject Isidore’s “ ‘inept’ etymology of oratio from oris ratio” (VI.36.217).[16] This, however, doesn’t totally conceal the fact that Valla’s organization of topics and the comprehensive selection of examples from Classical authorities still pull from Isidore. As we know, Nebrija borrowed and learned from the Italian grammar tradition extensively and even went to Italy, specifically inspired by Lorenzo Valla’s work.

What becomes clear from examining Nebrija’s earliest text—the Introductiones latinae (1481)—is that Isidore of Seville’s impression on Nebrija was, at first glance, rather slight.[17] [18] This is further obfuscated by the two issues I mentioned before. First, the fact that the Italian tradition that influenced Nebrija explicitly rejected Isidore and other medieval grammarians. And, secondly, the fact that originality was not Isidore of Seville’s goal; his goal was to collect, compile, and organize the important knowledge and quotes from Classical authorities. This means that it’s hard to know when Nebrija cited Latin authorities directly and when he cited them through his use of Isidore’s text. Additionally, while Nebrija’s departure from Isidore at first seems clear—it’s a rejection of medieval grammatical thought and its silly versified grammars like the Villadieu’s Doctrinale—it is also directed by the fact that he was writing with the decline of Latin; quotidian life was dictated by the use of vernaculars and it was only in specific situations—in the church, certain legal documents, academic pursuits, and in the court—that Latin was still (somewhat) in use.[19]

Nebrija’s proem in the Introductiones latinae is cursory (a single page) and he immediately jumps into declining nouns using the standard examples from the grammarians of Classical Antiquity (“haec terra,”[20] “hic dominus,” “hic sermo,” “hic sensus,” and “hic dies,” with adjectives folded into the declination of nouns because they were originally perceived to be part of nouns). He structured his grammar using an early tabular array, which is something that language-learners encounter even in modern grammars today. He then, as is standard, gives examples for verb conjugation from each verb type, including some irregulars (“amo,” “doceo,” “lego,” “audio,” “sum,” “volo,” “edo,” and “fero”[21]). For the most part, these examples are the same that Donatus, Priscian, and other grammarians used as well.

And so, while Nebrija, like his Italian colleagues, wanted to advance away from medieval grammatical thought, it was not always possible to do so. As such, Isidore’s text was still a through-line by which Early Modern grammarians accessed and oriented themselves toward Classical authorities. Within Isidore’s section on verbs (“De verbo”), like Nebrija’s, we see the same favored conjugation examples, though they are presented within his etymological narrative. Isidore writes about the verb “to read”:

“…[The] indicative mood is so called because it has the sense of someone indicating, as ‘I read’ (lego). The imperative, because it has the tone of someone commanding, as ‘read!’ (lege). The optative, because through it we desire to do something, as ‘would that I might read’ (utinam legerem)”  (I.ix.4, trans. Barney)

As emphasized, Nebrija—like Valla—may have chosen to resist Isidore’s etymological impulses, but in referencing Isidore and using his text as an access point to return to Classical authorities along with his Italian colleagues, Nebrija not only used the same organizing structure as Isidore (derived from Cassiodorus), but also used the same verbs as Isidore even as he reached backwards to Donatus.

The Ars minor—Donatus’s simplest text—also offers a survey of specific verbs in order to demonstrate conjugation from each verb type. There is considerable overlap:  “lego,” “amo,” “doceo,” “audio,” and “curro.”[22] Donatus conjugated these verbs with an even and methodical approach, and “lego” (“I read”) and its conjugations get heavy-handed treatment, taking up over 50% of the conjugated examples.

Like Donatus and Isidore, Nebrija foregrounds both the nouns and verbs (the two parts of the sentence that were perceived as the most fundamental to sentence formation) and it is only afterwards that he launches into a Donatus-like recitation on what the parts of speech are and how they interact: “Partes orationis octo sunt” (f7r). He proceeds to list them—reminiscent of Donatus’s Ars minor: “nomen, verbum, participium, pronomen, praepositio, adverbium, interjectio, conjunctio” (f7r).

Antonio de Nebija’s Introductiones latinae (1481) from the Biblioteca Nacional de España (f4v).

Nebrija’s use of a tabular array (see image) is an important pedagogical innovation that takes advantage of how students can learn from visual aids—and how the spatial arrangement of declinations and conjugations play into that. Language learning is taken to be aural, oral, and—increasingly—visual. However, what is also important to note is that Nebrija’s text acknowledges the limitations of both language learners and teachers moving toward the 1500s. By the 1482 edition the following year, the Introductiones already began to show bilingual modifications and explanations  “en romance.”[23] And, by the 1487 edition,[24] Nebrija had clearly switched to a Castilian prologue with a dedication to “Doña Isabel,” as well as a new Spanish table of contents and passages explaining grammatical theory. This response to student needs was presaged by late medieval manuscripts of Donatus, for example, because “any non-native speaker attempting to learn Latin as a foreign language from the exclusively Latin grammars alone would fail”; the target audience for texts like Donatus and Isidore were native or near-native speakers, and so the L2 learner had no clear way to understand how to string phrases and entire sentences together, let alone read a text entirely in Latin.[25] In fact, Donatus’ Ars minor began to receive vernacular language glosses in the high Middle Ages (1000-1300), suggesting that “Medieval teachers began to appreciate the role that the vernacular could play in the study of Latin” and that, truly, recitation and memorization were not enough.[26]

3. Conclusion

To conclude, the Etymologiae was an extremely important compilation of the wisdom of Rome and Classical writers, but—through its emphasis on “word definitions and explanations”—it was also “important in maintaining the Latin language” as an exemplar, itself.[27] While Isidore’s text has been accused of being derivative, with scarcely anything original to it, his explanation of “why” for the origins of things, as well as what the words mean, is a modern pedagogical technique that is still used in grammar learning today. That said, Isidore’s text was not for Latin grammar learners, but for people who at best already knew Latin and would more or less by modern standards have achieved near-native speaker or reader ability. His chapter on grammar was more useful for teachers and for academic reference.

Centuries later, we can see the threads of Isidore in Nebrija’s Introductiones latinae through (1) the use of Cassiodorus’s structure; (2) the ties to Donatus and the rich references to other grammarians as I listed early on; and (3) Nebrija’s “more conscious effort to explain [a] word or passage in its poetic [and syntactic] context,” through examples. [28] While Nebrija’s 1481 edition of the Introductiones is not totally accessible to Latin-learners without the guidance of a teacher, his later editions transform into bilingual commentaries on Latin and indeed Castilian grammar.

To end: the new rise of Iberian second-language learner grammatical scholarship emphasized the access to explanations and commentaries on grammatical forms and were always bilingual. And so, while there was a necessary reaction against Isidore of Seville’s own L1-oriented writing, it was this reaction that would contribute to Nebrija’s grammars and its strong impact on the structure, grammatical explanations, and examples of New World indigenous-language grammars.

Works Cited

Barney, Stephen A., Wendy J. Lewis, Jennifer A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof. The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Brehaut, Ernest. An encyclopedist of the dark ages: Isidore of Seville. Columbia university, 1912.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Princeton University Press, 1990.

Díaz y Díaz, M.C., ed. Isidoriana. León. (1975) “La transmission de los textos antiguos en la peninsula iberica en los siglos VII-XI,” pp.133-75 in La Cultura antica nell’occidente latino dal VII all’ XI secolo. Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo 22:1. Spoleto.

Ekman, Erik. “The Geography of Grammar: Nebrija’s Appropriation of the Laus Tradition in the Prologue to the Introduciones latinas (1488).” Bulletin of hispanic studies 92, no. 2 (2015): 107-121.)

Fantazzi, Charles. “Nebrija and the “Horatius Christianus”.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 11, no. 4 (2005): 620-28. Accessed December 8, 2020.

Fernandes, Gonçalo. “Notes on 14th and 15th century linguistic studies in Portugal.” Metasprachliche Reflexion und Diskontinuität: Wendepunkte, Krisenzeiten, Umbrüche. Münster: Nodus Publikationen (2015): 34-42.

Fernandes, Gonçalo. “Syntax in the earliest Latin-Portuguese grammatical treatises.” Historiographia Linguistica 44, no. 2-3 (2017): 228-254.

Fontaine, Jacques. Isidore de Séville et la culture classique dans l’Espagne wisigothique (Paris, 1983).

—. “Cohérence et originalité de l’étymologie isidorienne” in Homenaje a Eleuterio Elorduy S.J., ed. Félix Rodriguez and Juan Iturriaga (Deusto, 1978), 113-144.

—. “Aux sources de la lexicographie médiévale: Isidore de Séville médiateur de l’étymologie antique” in La lexicographie du latin médiéval et ses rapports avec les recherches actuelles sur la civilisation du moyen-âge (Editions du CNRS, 1981), 97-103.

Leonhardt, Jürgen. Latin. Harvard University Press, 2016.

Laird, Andrew. “Colonial grammatology: the versatility and transformation of European letters in sixteenth-century Spanish America.” Language & History 61, no. 1-2 (2018): 52-59.

Law, Vivien. The history of linguistics in Europe: from Plato to 1600. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Luhtala, Anneli. “Pedagogical Grammars Before the Eighteenth Century,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics (OUP Oxford, 2013), 341-358.

Niederehe, Hans-Josef. Bibliografía cronológica de la lingüística, la gramática y la lexicografía del español (BICRES): desde los comienzos hasta el año 1600 (Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1995), 17-20.

Orme, Nicholas. Medieval Schools: From Roman Britain to Renaissance England. Yale University Press, 2006.

Oroz Reta, J., and M.A. Marcos Casquero. Etimologías: Edición bilingüe, with tr. and comm., and introd. By Manuel C. Díaz y Díaz, 2nd ed. (1993).

Percival, W. Keith. “Nebrija and the medieval grammatical tradition.” In Antonio de Nebrija, Edad Media y Renacimiento:[actas del Coloquio Humanista Antonio de Nebrija… celebrado en Salamanca 1992], pp. 247-257. Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 1994.

Stevens, Henry J. “Lorenzo Valla and Isidore of Seville.” Traditio 31 (1975): 343-348.

Appendix: Isidore’s Citations of Classical Authorities

Author[29] Approx. Citation Frequency/Reference
Varro 18
Donatus 6
Suetonius 4
Augustine 5
Solinus 79
Servius 61 (400+ uncited in total)
Cassiodorus “Profound indebtedness” in the first 3 Books (Barney 14)
Pliny the Elder 45
Vergil 190+
Cicero 50+
Lucan ~45
Others Plautus, Terence, Lucretius, Ovid, Horace, Juvenal, Martial, Ennius, Sallust, Persius, Boethius, Jerome, Tertullian, Verrius Flaccus, Cato


[1] In the Middle Ages, it was taught along with Priscian, parts of Quintilian, parts of Varro, Jerome, Augustine, Solinus, Servius, and Cassiodorus (among others). Only the Ars minor is memorizable; the rest—including Donatus’s Ars maior—are too long.

[2] It is also useful for modern scholars and writers who wish to understand the use of Classical authorities in the Middle Ages, especially as it was disseminated for many centuries after his death. As his text is part-etymology and part-encyclopedia—an organized mosaic of premodern knowledge—it can often be a useful point of departure for scholars studying premodern science; understandings of race, class, and gender; medicine and biology; law and its practice; botany and zoology; geology; geography; food ways and clothing; anthropology and linguistics; cosmography; and nationalism and citizenship. All in all, it was useful to premodern scholars and it continues to be useful to modern medievalists. Paired with marginalia made over the intervening centuries, it is a treasure trove of information.

[3] Barney states it best: “His aims were not novelty but authority, not originality but accessibility, not augmenting but preserving and transmitting knowledge” (10-11).

[4] Papias and Giovanni Balbi of Genoa were lexicographers. Huguccio Pisanus, Niccolo Perotti, Juan de Pastrana, and Alexandre de Villedieu were all grammarians. For more information on the possible ties of Isidore’s text to Juan de Pastrana’s work, see: Fernandes, Gonçalo. “Syntax in the earliest Latin-Portuguese grammatical treatises.” Historiographia Linguistica 44, no. 2-3 (2017): 228-254; Fernandes, Gonçalo. “Notes on 14th and 15th century linguistic studies in Portugal.” Metasprachliche Reflexion und Diskontinuität: Wendepunkte, Krisenzeiten, Umbrüche. Münster: Nodus Publikationen (2015): 34-42.

[5] Fernandes, Gonçalo. “Notes on 14th and 15th century linguistic studies in Portugal.” Metasprachliche Reflexion und Diskontinuität: Wendepunkte, Krisenzeiten, Umbrüche. Münster: Nodus Publikationen (2015): 34-42. Barney writes that there are “more than sixty manuscript copies of the whole work, as well as more than seventy copies of excerpts, [which] were written in the fifteenth century” (24). According to Oroz Reta and Marcos Casquero, by the year “800, copies of the Etymologies might be found ‘in all the cultural centers of Europe’” (210; Barney 24).

[6] Laird, 53.

[7] Copeland and Sluiter, Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric, 232.

[8] Copeland and Sluiter, 232; Barney et al., The Etymologies, 18. The importance of fomenting the skills for the correct interpretation of Scripture cannot be ignored; it is something that St. Augustine also emphasizes strongly in his De doctrina christiana. According to Augustine, not only was a knowledge of language important, a “knowledge of things”—from foreign and ancient measurements to poetics—was just as important for correct and nuanced interpretation of Scripture (I.xiv-I.xvi). Isidore’s Etymologies supports the “knowledge of things.”

[9] Barney writes that they, as well as their medieval copyists, were all “complacently derivative” (14). Furthermore, recent scholars have written negatively about Isidore due to his copycat tendencies. Brehaut argues that “Isidore’s account…[lacks]…solid substance” and this lack “measures the decline in intellectual grasp and thoroughness of the [4th, 5th and 6th] centuries.” Because of this failing,“[Isidore] is apparently unaware of the superior importance of [addressing] such subjects as conjugation and declension” (92). This is a convenient argument because it ignores the fact that Isidore’s primary goal wasn’t to produce a grammar book for classroom use, but a book on the etymology of things.

[10] Isidore of Seville likely did not interact with Marcus Terentius Varro’s (116-27 BCE) work directly, as Varro’s Disciplines was lost. The Disciplines is an etymology that is organized in such a way that it first covers the trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) and then the quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astrology, music). Barney notes that “[the] shape of Isidore’s first five books may be traced directly to Varro’s influence” thought it is unlikely Isidore had access to Varro’s writings (11). According to Barney’s  work with the Reta-Casquero edition of the Etymologies (1993), Isidore cite’s Varro (via second-hand citations) roughly 18 times and names him “as his authority for various facts twenty-eight times” (13).  Within Book I, De Grammatica, there are at least three instances of quoting Varro: “I.iii.1, I.xxvii.15, [and] I.xxxviii.1” (13 f.37). In the case of Priscian, Law notes that Isidore’s could possibly have been exposed to the Institutio de nomine, which is most known for its use in the early Middle Ages (112). However, it is also possible that Isidore was exposed either directly or through indirect citation to Priscian’s highly impactful Institutiones grammaticae (112; Percival, “Nebrija and the Medieval Grammatical Tradition,” 247). It’s hard to know as Isidore does not clearly cite Priscian.

[11] For more information on quasi-etymologies or what Barney calls “transmitters” of classical culture (Boethius, Cassiodorus, Suetonius, Servius, etc.), see: E.K. Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, MA, 1928); M.L. W. Laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, AD 500-900 (Ithaca, NY 1931); Riché and J.J. Contreni, “The Carolingian Renaissance: Education and Literary Culture,” in R. McKitterick, ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. II (Cambridge, 1995: 709-57).

[12] Law, The History of Linguistics in Europe, 65-66, 83. “Schulgrammatik” is a term coined by Karl Barwick (1922). This grammars are for L1-language learners that already have access to the target language as their mother tongue. Vivien Law describes “Schulgrammatik” grammars as having 4 major qualities: “(1) rigorously hierarchical structure; (2) systematic structure within chapters; (3) logical organization reflecting the presumed logical structure of language; [and] (4) tendency to foreground semantic categories and correspondingly to relegate formal categories to second place or omit them altogether.”

[13] The other grammar book style is the regulae tradition, a grammar book style that catered to L2-learners of Latin. Priscian’s grammar is a pseudo-regulae and was written in the Roman periphery: Constantinople. Interestingly, there is no explicit reference to Priscian (ca. 500) in spite of Priscian’s medieval popularity. Isidore wrote his Etymologiae in the early 600s (roughly c. 600–625) and Priscian wrote his Institutiones grammaticae sometime before 526, in Constantinople. I have no strong argument regarding why Isidore made no reference to Priscian or seemingly did not know Priscian other than that Priscian’s text took time to gain popularity and also took time—in manuscript form—to travel from Constantinople to Spain. These two texts were not totally divorced, however. Nicholas Orm in Medieval Schools (2006) noted that there is evidence of the Etymologies being paired with Priscian work in England in the 1300s (154).

[14] Elegantiae linguae latinae was very popular and was reprinted nearly sixty times between 1471 and 1536. It, like the other authors of the Italian grammar tradition, influenced Nebrija during his time in Italy.

[15] Stevens, Henry J. “Lorenzo Valla and Isidore of Seville.” Traditio 31 (1975): 343-348. This loosely translates to: “very arrogant and ignorant fellow, who, since he knows nothing, orders [or teaches] everything.”

[16] Stevens, 344.

[17] The Biblioteca Nacional de España holds an excellent version of the 1481 printing, which contains examples of marginalia, interlinear glosses, and other markers of learner use:

[18] While evidence may at first seem scant, Nebrija did have access to—at least in part—to Isidore’s work. Charles Fantazzi notes in “Nebrija and the “Horatius Christianus”” that on p. 404 (Ca. X. 15-16) “Nebrija proposes parens et ipse / coniugis for the unmetrical parens et Christus, but in order to make sense of the line he considers coniugis to mean “everlasting”, as if from “con” and “iugis”, an etymology of Isidore, but no such word exists” (628). In another example, Erik Ekman observes that the 1488 vernacular version of the Introductiones latinae contains a proem that is a “geographical description of Spain” (107-108). This text, which he calls a “Laus Hispaniae” or “praise of Spain” was actually “first written by Isidore of Seville [in the opening of his History of the Goths], and copied by many medieval historians, most notably Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada and Alfonso X” (107-108). And, pulling from my own work: in Nebrija’s Arte de la lengua castellana (1492), Nebrija seemingly lifts sections of his second chapter (“De la primera invencion de las letras…”) from Isidore’s slightly more expansive section in “De grammatica,” called “De litteris communibus” or “The common letters of the alphabet” (I.iii), which gives a history of the origins of writing and phonetics. Nebrija writes “Pues ia ninguno dubda que de grecia las traxo a italia nicostrata que los latinos llamaron Carmenta,” which neatly parallels Isidore’s origins-oriented, “The nymph Carmentis first brought the Latin letters to the Italians. She is called Carmentis because she would sing songs of things to come, but she is properly called Nicostrate” (trans. Barney, I.iv.1). As we can see here, Isidore is interested in the facts surrounding different terms, whereas Nebrija only briefly sketches the same story so that he can move into an analysis of phonemes, allophones, and the “littera” common to Spain.

[19] Leonhardt, Latin, 192. Leonhardt also emphasizes that in the Iberian Peninsula, “Catalan, Castilian, and Galician were present as literary languages…from the twelfth century at the latest” and that “…the official displacement of Latin occurred very early; Castilian became the sole language of royal documents in the thirteenth century” (192). Universities and churches held on somewhat longer, but Latin increasingly lost its hold in these spaces after 1600 (193).

[20] It is worth noting here that the preferred example for the feminine noun in Classical grammars was actually “haec musa.” Nebrija’s choice of “haec terra,” diverging from the Classical tradition, is notable. One explanation is that perhaps “haec musa” could have been unpalatable to a conservative, Christian audience. It is also possible that this use of “haec terra,” presages Nebrija’s later thoughts on national language and empire, as he wrote about it in his prologue to Gramática de la lengua castellana (1492). In this prologue, he indicates that his creation of a vernacular grammar for Spanish was due to not just his interest in the fact that “siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio” but also to his concern about the relationship between an empire’s power and the strength of its language: “que la memoria de vuestra hazañas perezca con la lengua o que ande peregrinando por las naciones extranjeras, pues que no tiene propria casa en que pueda morar”] (Nebrija f1r). This topic of empire, language, and lands deserves further interrogation.

[21] Trans.: “I love,” “I teach,” “I read,” “I hear,” “I am,” “I want,” “I eat,” and “to carry.”

[22] Trans.: “I read,” “I love,” “I teach,” “I listen,” and “I run.”

[23] Hans-Josef Niederehe, Bibliografía cronológica de la lingüística, la gramática y la lexicografía del español (BICRES): desde los comienzos hasta el año 1600 (Philadelphia: J. Benjamins, 1995), 17-20.

[24] De Nebrija, Antonio. Introductiones latinae INC 1168 (1487). Biblioteca Nacional de España.

[25] Law, 80.

[26] Anneli Luhtala, “Pedagogical Grammars Before the Eighteenth Century,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics (OUP Oxford, 2013), 350; Law, 196-7.

[27] Leonhardt, Jürgen. Latin: Story of a World Language (2016), 157.

[28] Fantazzi, “Nebrija and the ‘Horatius Christianus,’” 626.

[29] Barney, 10-17.

Session #592 “Medieval Iberian Grammar…” by Marlena Petra Cravens
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