1902 Encyclopedia > Priscian

(Priscianus Caesariensis)
Latin grammarian

(fl. 500 AD)

PRISCIAN (PRISCIANUS CAESARIENSIS), the most cele-brated Latin grammarian, lived about 500 A.D., i.e., some-what before Justinian. This is shown by the facts that he addressed to Anastasius, emperor of the East 491-518, a laudatory poem, and that the MSS. of his Institutiones Grammatics, contain a subscription to the effect that the work was copied (526, 527) by Flav. Theodorus, a clerk in the imperial secretariat ("memorialis sacri scrinii epistolarum"). Threeminor treatises are dedicated to Symmachus (the father-in-law of Boetius). Cassiodorus, writing in the ninety-third year of his age (560 1 573 ?), heads some extracts from Priscian with the statement that he taught at Constantinople in his (Cassiodor's) time (Keil, Gr. Lat., vii. p. 207). His title Cmariensis points, accord-ing to Niebuhr and others, to Caesarea in Mauretania. Priscian's teacher was Theoctistus, " noster praeceptor, omnis eloquentise decus, cui quicquid in me sit doctrinas post deum imputo" (Inst. Gr., vi. 51), who also wrote an Institutio artis grammaticx (ibid., xviii. 56). A later gram-marian, Eutyches, pays Priscian himself a still higher com-pliment—"de quibus Romanes lumen facundise, meus, immo communis omnium hominum, praeceptor, summa cum subtilitate copiosissime grammaticus Priscianus disser-uisse cognoscitur " (Eutych., i. 8 ; Keil, Gr. Lat, v. p. 456). Priscian was quoted by several writers in Britain of the 8th century—Aldhelm, Bede, Alcuin—and was abridged or largely used in the next century by Hrabanus Maurus of Fulda and Servatus Lupus of Ferrara. Of the general use made of his great work the best proof is that, as Hertz says, there is hardly a library in Europe that did not and does not contain a copy, and that there are now about a thousand MSS. of it. The greater part of these contain only books i-xvi. (sometimes called Priscianus major); a few contain (with the three books Ad Symmachum) books Xvii., xviii. (Priscianus minor); and a few contain both parts. The earliest MSS. are of the 9 th century, though a few fragments are somewhat earlier. All are ultimately derived from the copy made by Theodoras. The first printed edition was in 1470 at Venice. It may fairly be said that from the beginning of the 6th century until recently Priscian has reigned over Latin grammar with almost as generally recognized an authority as Justinian has over Roman law. Some account of so remarkable a treatise may reasonably be required.

The Institutiones Grammaticae is a systematic exposition of Latin grammar, dedicated to Julian, consul and patri-cian, whom some have identified with the author of a well-known epitome of Justinian's Novelise, but the lawyer appears to be somewhat later than Priscian. In length the treatise is about twice the size of Quintilian's Institutio Oratorio,, and about equal to Madvig's Latin Grammar. It is divided into eighteen books, of which the first sixteen deal mainly with sounds, word-formation, and inflexions, the last two, which form from a fourth to a third of the whole work, deal with syntax. Priscian informs us in his preface that he has translated into Latin such pre-cepts of the Greeks Herodian and Apollonius as seemed suitable, and added to them from Latin grammarians. Of the latter he occasionally refers to Caper, Donatus, Probus, and Servius; and more rarely to Charisius, Diomedes, Asper, Nonius, Remmius Palsemon, and others. He proceeds in orderly and almost exhaustive fashion, though with some digressions and repetitions, gives defini-tions, rules, examples, and exceptions, and constantly quotes passages from various writers to illustrate the use of a form. He has thus preserved to us numerous frag-ments which would otherwise have been lost, e.g., from Ennius, Pacuvius, Attius, Lucilius, Cato, and Varro. But the authors whom he quotes most frequently are Virgil, and, next to him, Terence, Cicero, Plautus; then Lucan, Horace, Juvenal, Sallust, Statius, Ovid, Livy, and Persius. His industry in collecting forms and examples is both great and methodical. His style is somewhat heavy, but sensible and clear ; it has not the admirable grace of Quin-tilian, nor the adroit use of a technical language such as is found in the Roman jurists ; but there is no attempt at fine writing, and it is free not of course from usages of late Latin, but from anything that can be called barbarism. Considering the time at which it was written, it is very creditable to the author, and not unworthy of the high place it obtained in the grammatical world. Its defects are such as were till lately common more or less to all grammars.

These defects may be referred in the main to four heads. (1) Priscian avowedly treats Greek writers on (Greek) grammar as his supreme authorities (cf. i. 13; vi. 1; xii. 13, &c), and, though noticing differences between the two languages, bears too little in mind that each has a history of its own and is a law to itself. (2) There had been no scientific study of phonetics, and consequently the changes and combinations of languages are treated in a mechanical way: e.g., i passes into a, as genus, generis, generatum; into o as saxi, saxosus (i. 33); q passes into s as torqueo, torsi (i. 48), &c. (3) The resolution of a word into root or stem and inflexional or derivative affixes was an idea wholly unknown, and the rules of formation are often based on unimportant phenomena, and yet are invested with an authority which is irrational and mis-leading : e.g., Venus, like other names ending in us, ought to have genitive Veni, but, as this might be taken for a verb, it has Veneris (vi. 86; viii. 5). Ador has no geni-tive because two rules conflict; for neuters in or have a short penult (e.g., xquor, xquoris), and adoro, from which it is derived, has a long penult (vi. 49 ; viii. 6). (4) The practical meaning of the inflexions is not realized, and syntactical usages are treated as if they were arbitrary or accidental associations. Thus, after laying down as a general rule for declinable words that, when they refer to one and the same person, they must have the same case, gender, and number, Priscian adds, that when there are transitive words we may use different numbers, as doceo discipulos, docemus discipulum (xvii. 153-155). He often states a rule too broadly or narrowly, and then, as it were, gropes after restrictions and extensions.

His etymologies are of course sometimes very wild : e.g., cxlebs from cxlestium vitam ducens, b being put for u because a consonant cannot be put before another consonant (i. 23); deterior from the verb detero, deteris; potior (adj.) from potior, potiris (iii. 3); arbor from robur (vi. 48) ; verbum from verberatus aeris (viii. 1), &c. Nor is he always right in Greek usages: thus, in illustrating Latin moods by Greek he frequently uses the future optative with av, e.g., ______, _____ (xviii. 106), and still more strangely treats apa as identical in force with av, e.g., quasi tolleretur ac constitueretur, ______, and misuses both particles, e.g., in me causam con/erebat quod eum codicem obsignassem, ______ (xviii. 110). He evidently regarded av or apa as normally required with the Greek optative or other moods corresponding to the Latin sub-junctive (xviii. 117, &c).

A rapid notice of the order and of some salient points will show both merits and defects in the treatment of his subject-matter. The references are to the book and to Krehl's paragraphs.

Book i. treats of vocal sound and of letters, their changes and com-binations. Mementa are vowels, semi-vowels, or mutes. Vowels are named from their own sound ; semi-vowels sound a vowel before them ; mutes sound a vowel after them (i. 7). As semi-vowels he classes/, I, ro, n, r, s, x, and in Greek names z. F was, among the earliest Latins, the ^olic digamma, but afterwards was equivalent to <b. It is, however, rather a mute, because it is not found at the end of a word, and can be placed before I and r in the same syllable (ib. 13). K is quite superfluous; g merely shows that a u following has no metrical effect; h is a mere aspiration ; i and u sometimes pass into consonants, and then have a different metri-cal effect from what they have as vowels (ib. 14-17). D has often the sound of z : e.g., in meridies, Iwdie (ib. 31).

Book ii. treats of the syllable and of the letters used to end it, then of the parts of speech. A syllable is an ordered combination of letters uttered with one accent and one breath (ii. 1). A word (dictio) is the unit of orderly speech (ib. 14). Speech (oratio) is a suitable arrangement of words expressing a complete meaning (ib. 15). The parts of speech are, according to Priscian, eight, viz., noun, verb, participle, pronoun, preposition, adverb, interjection, conjunction. Infinites (i.e., infinitive moods) are included under the verb, because they have tenses and no cases. Participles are not included, because they have cases and genders but no moods (ib. 18). Priscian obtains a framework for the arrangement of his facts from the ' ' accidents " of each part of speech, and subordinate classifications are taken from the endings of the words. Nouns have the following accidents :—species, genus, Humerus, figura, casus. As regards species (" class ") nouns are proper or appellative, and each of these classes are subdivided into many others. Adjectives are (rightly) treated by Priscian in common with other nouns (ii. 22 sq. ). The rest of this book and books iii. and iv. treat of the formation of the different classes of nouns, e.g., of patronymics, possessives, comparatives, superlatives, diminutives, and other derivatives. Book v. treats of gender, number, figure, and case. For gender, nouns are discussed by their endings. Figure is either simple or composite or decomposite (i.e., derivative from composite), as, magnus, magnanimus, magnanimitas (v. 61). There are four modes of composition :—(1) ex duobus integris, as tribunusplebis ; (2) ex duobus corruptis, as benivolus ; (3) ex integro et corrupto, e.g., inimicus ; (4) ex corrupto et integro, as impius (v. 58). There are six cases, thus arranged :—(1) the nominative as the original ; (2) the genitive, because it is born from the nomin-ative, and begets the other oblique cases ; (3) the dative, " qui magis amicis convenit ; " (4) the accusative, " qui magis ad inimicos attinet ;" (5) the vocative as the most imperfect ; (6) the ablative as new and peculiar to the Latins (v. 74). In book vi. the for-mation of the genitive is discussed, each nominative termination being taken in order, irrespective of the declension. Book vii. treats of the other cases in each of the five declensions. Neither here nor in the bdoks on the verb are full paradigms set out as in modern grammars. Sic, hujus, &c, are often prefixed as symbols of gender and case.

Books viii.-x. deal with the verb. Verbs have eight accidents:— genus, tempus, modus, species, figura, conjugatio, persona, numerus. Some verbs (as other parts of speech) are defective, either by natural necessity or by chance. Necessity may lie in the meaning (e.g., puerperus is not found) or in the incompatibility of sound (e.g., cursor but not cursrix). Chance may lie simply in non-use, e.g., faux, prex, dicio, for, dor ; or because the form would be un-pleasant, e.g., metuturus or metuiturus, nutritrix (from nutritor), for which nutrix is used. Sometimes a word is not used in order to avoid confusion, e.g., conjunx has conjugis, lest conjungis should be taken for a verb ; maneo has mansi, not manui ; foe, due avoid confusion with ablatives face, duce, &c. (viii. 4-6).

Genus or significatio vcrbi is its being active or passive. Verbs in o are active, neuter, and neutro-passive, e.g., amo, spiro, gaudeo (cf. xi. 28). Verbs in or are passive, common, and deponent, e.g., amor, oscular te and a te, sequor. Verbs whose meaning and use do not correspond with the form are enumerated (ib. 7-39). Tempus is present, past, and future. Past time is divided into past imper- fect, past perfect, past pluperfect. Present and future time are not divided by the Romans (ib. 38). Dixero is called the subjunc- tive future (ib. 55, 57). The indicative and subjunctive have all tenses ; the imperative has present, future, and, in passive, a past (e.g., amatus sit). The optative and infinite have one form ex- pressing both present and past imperfect, and another expressing perfect and pluperfect (ib. 38-43). The present tense embraces to some extent both past and future (e.g., Priscianus vocor, scribo versam). The perfect corresponds to Greek aorist as well as to perfect (ib. 51-54). Priscian makes five moods,—the optative (same in forms as the subjunctive) always requiring an adverb of wishing ; the subjunctive, requiring not only an adverb or conjunction, but also another verb, e.g., cum faciam venito. In expressions of com- mand, as ne dicas, another verb is not required (ib. 68). Supines and gerunds (sometimes confused, sometimes distinguished, by Priscian) are nouns used in place of the infinite. Amandus, &c, is called participiale or nomen verbale (ib. 44, 70). Impersonal verbs have a peculiar meaning (ib. 69).

In class verbs are primitive or derivative. Derivatives are numerously classified as inchoatives, fréquentatives, &c. (ib. 72 sq.). In figure verbs are simple or compound (ib. 81). Conjugations in Latin are determined by the vowel of the 2nd person, and are thus four only, while the Greeks have ten. Person and number close the eighth book. Fero, volo, edo are specially treated (ix. 4-11). The formation of the perfect is first treated generally (ix. 13), and then the perfects and supines of 1st and 2nd conjugations and (in book x.) of 3rd and 4th conjugations.

Book xi. deals with participles, which were invented to act as verbs applied to nouns, especially in oblique cases. Hence we can say not only bonus homo loquebatur but boni hominis loquentis orationem audivi, kc. (xi. 3). The participle has six accidents :— genus, casus, significatio, tempus, numerus, figura (ib. 13),—where genus is gender, and significatio and figura have same application as in verbs. The formation of the participles, especially of the past participle, is fully discussed.

Books xii. and xiii. deal with pronouns. They have six acci-dents :—species, persona, genus, numerus, figura, casus. There are four declensions, viz., personal, ille, kc, mens, kc, nostras, kc. Priscian classes as nouns, and not as pronouns, quis, qualis, talis, quantus, tantus, tot, unus, solus, totus, alius, nullus, uter, alter, and their compounds (xiii. 11, 29-35).
Having finished the four declinable parts of speech, Priscian turns to the four indeclinable. Prepositions (book xiv.) are (except some-times in verse) put before nouns both by apposition and com-position ; before pronouns only by apposition ; before all else by composition (xiv. 8). He treats first of prepositions used with the accusative case, then of those used with the ablative, and lastly of those occurring only in composition. Adverbs (book xv.) have species, significatio, figura, where species refers to their being primi-tive or derivative, and significatio to their meaning as temporal, local, confirmative, optative, kc Some are used with all tenses and moods, others with some only. They are arranged for discus-sion under their endings (ib. 7). Under the endings in <i are treated also ablatives of nouns used as adverbs, e.g., una, qua, Roma, and also other local uses of nouns, e.g., Eomaisum, Pomam eo, &c. (ib. 9). Interjections are separated from adverbs by Roman writers, because they express fully an emotion of the mind, e.g., papal, quid video, where papae = miror (ib. 40). Conjunctions have figura and species, species denoting meaning and use as copulative, causal, disjunctive, &c. Some conjunctions belong to several of these classes.

The two books on syntax are looser in arrangement, and are not so clear and exhaustive as the former books. The truth is, Priscian lacked a good framework for the facts of construction, and first tries one and then another. The seventeenth book rests mainly on Apollonius ; the eighteenth is less dependent on him, and ends with a long miscellaneous list, in alphabetical order, of Greek idioms, chiefly verbal, which he compares with corresponding Latin usages. Part of this list occurs twice over. Omitting duplicates, there are nearly 300 such comparisons. Hertz suggests (Prsef. iii. p. vii.) that it was only closed by the fortunate occurrence of xopTafafxai, illustrated by a line of Terence which ended with satur! These idioms are illustrated by copious quotations from Demosthenes and Plato, and not a few from Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, besides Latin authors.

The syntax commences with showing the analogy of elements, words, and speech. In each of these we have repetition, omission, conjunction, transposition, &c. (xvii. 3 sq.). Then Priscian dis-cusses why interrogatives are all of two parts of speech only, viz., nouns and adverbs (ib. 22) : why not also verbs (ib. 36) ? He dis-cusses the difference of pronouns from one another, their use with impersonals, particularly interest, refert (ib. 92), the use of the pos-sessive and reflexive pronouns. He says that mei ager may be used for meus ager, but also for "the land of my husband" (ib. 129, 130). There are many possible unions and interchanges of different parts of speech and of their accidents. Such unions as ille ego qui quondam, kc, are justified analogically by the union of different eases, e.g., animalium queedam sunt mortalia, or by the rise of compounds from different cases, as mediterraneus a medio terrse (ib. 144-152). Different numbers and genders are combined, as pars secant; aperite aliquis ; in Eunuchum suam ; or different cases, as urbem quam slatuo vestra est; or different times, as post-quam cecidit. . . Ilion et omnis humo fumat Troja (ib. 155-163). Often we find interchange, e.g., of parts of speech, as sublime (volas) for an adverb, genus unde Latinum for ex quo, kc. (ib. 168).

In the eighteenth book he discusses the use of the cases. The nominative and vocative are absolute, and with substantival or vocatival verbs of the first or second person they do not require a pronoun, e. g., homo sum, Cicero nominor, but with other verbs they do, e.g., ego Priscianus scribo, tu Apollonius (or Apolloni) scribis. Tu may, however, be omitted with the vocative, but Priscianus scribo is a solecism, because nouns by themselves and participles, _without the vocative case, are of the third person (ib. 2-4). If a noun requires an oblique case, we must have the verb substantive or participle, e.g., films Serculis sum. In filius Pelei Achilles multos interfecit, the participle ens ("for which we now use qui est or qui fuit") must be understood (ib. 6). The nominative is joined to the genitive when possession and a possessor are meant. In Sector filius Priami the genitive denotes the possessor; in magna virtutis vir it denotes the possession. In the latter use the Latins often have the ablative, as they have also for the Greek geni-tive of consequence, tuov (UWTOS =me vivo (ib. 14). The geni-tive after comparatives and superlatives and after verbals in -or and -rix is mentioned ; also such usages as fidens animi, dives lactis (ib. 18, 19). In doctus grammaticam we have a participle; in doctus grammaticx a noun (ib. 21). The dative is used acquisitively, e.g., commodus tibi sum, also after verbals in -lis and -dus. "Words of equivalence or subjection or the reverse are used in any order with either genitive or dative, e.g., pater filii, or filio est pater; so similis, par, amicus, kc. Nominatives are joined to accusatives when what belongs to a part is assigned to the whole, e.g., fortis dextram for fortem dextram habens. In all (even in oblique) cases we must understand qui est, as albi colorem equi o=equi ejus qui est albi coloris (ib. 27). The ablative is joined to the nominative to express the instrument, the possession, the con-sequence (see above). It is used also with words of passive mean-ing, e.g., viduus pharetra, dignus morte, and in comparisons (ib. 32). He then proceeds (in awkward language) to point out that the nominative which is joined to a verb remains unchanged, and either takes no oblique cases of another declinable word or only-such as are construed with the verb, e.g., Terentius ambulat; Osesar vincit Pompeium ; pater indulget filio. But the nominative, which in consequence of the nature of the noun itself takes oblique cases, takes those cases, be its own case what it may ; e.g., victor Pompeii C'sesar interfectus est a Bruto; victoris Pompeii Csesaris filia fuit Julia; victori Pompeii Osesari, he. (ib. 35, 36). Similarly datives like curse, cordi, &c, are used with all cases, e.g., cordi kominis for jucundi hominis (ib. 38; xi. 24). Priscian would have found it difficult to give an instance of this.

The syntax of the verb follows. The infinite is taken first as the most general. Infinites are often joined to nouns, e.g., bonum est legere, and, by a beautiful figure, to adjectives, e.g.,fortis bellare ; also to verbs and participles (xviii. 40-46). All verbs may be resolved into infinites, e.g., ambulo = dico me ambulare, scribebam. = scribere ccepi. Hence coipit was sometimes omitted, e.g., ego illud sedulo ncgare factum (ib. 48). Participials and supines have the same case as the verb ; verbal nouns in -dus have the same case as the nouns to which they are joined (ib. 61-63). All transitive verbs are joined either to a genitive or dative or accusative or ablative, _e.g., egeo tui, insidior tibi, &c. Similarly participials or supines, e.g., miserendo tui moveor, nocitum tibi propero, nocitu tibi gaudet (ib. 61). An instance of the last would be hard to find.

The uses of indicative, imperative, and optative moods are briefly treated. The subjunctive, which is the same in form as the optative (ib. 82), requires always to be joined to another mood or to another verb of the same mood. It is especially frequent with si, when expressing doubt and put for i&v (ib. 80). With the indicative si used for ____ shows confirmation and belief. In siqua id for-tuna vetabit, vetabit is put metri gratia for vetet. The subjunctive expresses doubt or approval or possibility, e.g., doubt in eloquar an sileam, approval in si ___ pertsesum thalami txdaequc fuisset, where fuisset = _____ ___. Ut and qui, qux, quod, giving a reason or expressing a doubt, are often used with.subjunctive (ib. 82-93). In discussing ut for 'Ira, his examples carefully give the same tense of the principal verb (whether indicative or subjunctive) as that of the dependent subjunctive, e.g., doces ut proficias, doceres ut pro-ficeres, docuisti ut profeceris, docuisses ut profecisses, docebis ut profeceris (future subjunctive). But he also notes that fecissem or facerem are equally right with nisi impedires, and that faeiam or fecero is used with either nisi impedias or impedires (ib. 101-104).

After then discussing the cases used after verbs according to the meaning of the verbs as transitive, passive, common, absolute (e.g., rubco pudore), or expressing various affections of the body or mind (ib. 127-167), he proceeds to the long list of idioms spoken of above.

Priscian's three short treatises dedicated to Symmachus are on weights and measures, the metres of Terence, and some rhetorical elements. He also wrote De nomine, pronomine, et verbo (an abridg-ment of part of his Institutiones), and an interesting specimen of the school teaching of grammar in the shape of complete parsing by question and answer of the first twelve lines of the Aineid (Par-tiliones xii. versuum Aeneid mprincipalium). The metre is discussed first, each verse is scanned, and each word thoroughly and instruct-ively examined. Its meaning, its form, its accent, its class, its other cases or tenses, its compounds and derivatives are all required from the pupil, as well as the rules to which they ought to conform. Such parsing, rarely, if ever, takes place in modern schools. A treatise on accents is ascribed to Priscian, but is rejected by modern writers on the ground of matter and language. He also wrote two poems, not in any way remarkable, viz., a panegyric on Anastasius in 312 hexameters with a short iambic introduction, and a faithful translation into 1087 hexameters of Dionysius's Periegesis or geogra-phical survey of the world. A few passages have, says Bernhardy, been altered by Priscian on account of their heathen contents.

The grammatical treatises have been critically edited, in excellent fashion, in
Keil's Grammatici Latini, vols. ii. and iii., 1855-60; the Institutiones by Martin
Hertz ; and the smaller treatises by Keil. The poems have heen recently edited
by Bahrens, in his Poette Latini Minores, vol. v., 1883. (H. J. R.)

The above article was written by: Henry John Roby.

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