13. GRAMMAR: 1. OVERVIEW
This section of MS 17 comprises the following items:
- 1. List of verbs and prepositions with lexical and usage glosses: fols. 159v-167v
- 2. Reduplicated syllables: fol. 167v
- 3. Verb paradigms: fol. 167v-168r
- 4. The special case of the verb fero: fol. 168r
- 5. Formation of modes: fol. 168r
- 6. Types of letters: fol. 168r
- 7. Syllabic division between consonants: fol. 168r
- 8. Consonant combinations: fol. 168r
- 9. Mutation of consonants: fol. 168v-169r
- 10. Syllabic quantity: fol. 169r-v
- 11. Accent and meter: fol. 169v-170r
- 12. Introduction to declension of nouns, pronouns and adjectives: fol. 170r
- 13. A précis of Priscian: fols. 170r-175rb
A large block of materials on grammar might seem out of place in a compilation devoted to time-reckoning and related scientific subjects. But its presence makes sense when we consider computus as part of what C.W. Jones perceptively termed the "vocational program" of early medieval clerical education. The focus of this program was the cleric or monk's performance of the liturgy. This demanded three skills: grammar to understand and articulate the texts; computus to regulate the times of worship; and vocal music (cantus).1 Hence, early computus manuscripts often shared their pages with grammar treatises (chant, even after the development of notation, was taught directly).
St Dunstan's Classbook (Oxford, Bodleian Library Auct. F.4.32) is an excellent example of the functional partnership between liturgy, computus and grammar. The volume is assembled from Continental, Anglo-Saxon and Welsh elements. The first gathering is a Carolingian copy of Eutyches' De discernendis conjugationibus verborum; together with the final gathering, a 9th century Welsh copy of Ovid's Ars amatoria, it constitutes the grammar component. The two central gatherings are devoted to computistical and liturgical aspects of Easter: they include an Old English homily on the True Cross, computus tables for Paschal calculation, and lessons for the Easter Vigil. If MS 17 incorporates a little grammar into a computus anthology, Bern Burgerbibliothek 207, a Carolingian manuscript from Fleury, reverses the formula by incorporating a little computus into a grammar anthology. Bede is named as one of the auctores on the contemporary "title page", but the only work of his included in chapter 1 of De temporum ratione, which concerns a way to represent numbers on the hand tellingly called loquela digitorum. It is followed by various exotic alphabets, Paschal tables, and argumenta. The succeeding extracts from Isidore of Seville cover grammar and literary genres, but also dialectic and astronomy.
The nature of the grammar materials included in computus manuscripts suggests that their compilers also perceived some congruence between the study of words and the study of numbers and time. One excerpt which is frequently found in such compendia — in fact, it is often the only grammatical item — is a passage from Martianus Capella's De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae 3.261 on the pronunciation of the letters of the alphabet. It turns up, for instance, in Munich CLM 14456 fol. 63v (s. IX), Paris BNF lat. 12117 fol. 146v (s. XI), and British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XII fol. 44v. When compilers of computus manscripts elect to devote more space to grammar, they show a distinctive preference for the elements of prosody: pronunciation, orthography, quantity, accent, and meter. The earliest stratum and in many ways the magnetic core of Walahfrid Strabo's commonplace book was metrics and computus.2 Similarly, Paris BNF lat. 7518 opens (fols. 1-24v) with a treatise by Phocas Grammaticus devoted primarily to quantity and accent. As quantity and accent are largely controlled by orthography, most of Bern Burgerbibliothek 330 is taken up by treatises on this subject by Bede, Cassiodorus and others, while its membra disiecta Bern 347 and 357 interlard Latin and Greek-Latin glossaries amongst the cosmographical and computistical materials. A manuscript once in the library of Peterborough Abbey contained a number of texts on metrics and quantity, alongside the computus works of Gerlandus Compotista and Philip of Thaun.3 Gerlandus shares the folios of Montpellier 322 (Cîteaux, s. XII) with two treatises on accent,4 whose opening words clearly demonstrate that the context of this material was preparation for the daily duty of public reading in choir, chapter and refectory: "Quoniam non solis nobis nati sumus, sed toti mundo natura nos peperit, educavit, instituit, compendiosam de accentibus doctrinam ad legendi peritiam rudibus tradere curavi..." ("Because we are not born for our own sakes alone, but nature nurtures, trains and brings us up for the sake of the whole world, I have taken it upon myself to convey to the unlearned this summary teaching on accents with a view to skill in reading..."); "Denotatio accentuum secundum usum Cisterciensium..." ("An indication of accents according to Cistercian usage...")
Many computists implicitly or explicitly claimed that prosody had an innate affinity with computus. The logic underpinning this seems to be that prosody concerns the spoken word unfolding in time; specifically, it is preoccupied with quantity, defined as the length of time in which a syllable is pronounced, and related factors of accentual and metric rhythm. It is where time and number impinge on grammar. The problems and examples of time measurement discussed in Augustine's Confessions 11.26-27 are drawn from metrics. As Isidore of Seville points out (Etymologiae 1.3.1), letters, the building blocks of words, are also the elements of Roman numerals. Abbo of Fleury's Quaestiones grammaticales deal overwhelmingly with pronunciation, quantity and accent, yet he closes with a section on "measure, number, and weight" which includes a discussion of years. But it is Byrhtferth of Ramsey who offers the most insistent and compelling picture of the connection between grammar and computus. He rarely misses an opportunity to stress the analogies between the two disciplines, and the equality of computus and grammar as objects of reverence.5 The five letters of the AEIOV lunar letters table (cf.MS 17 fol. 24v) are the five vowels of the scribae, and thus do bookmen and computists agree (Enchiridion III.2, 144.140-144); the computists' symbols for duodecimal fractions are juxtaposed to grammarians' reference marks (Enchiridion III.3, 178.233-184.328); the twenty-four morae of a hexameter line correspond to the twenty-four hours of the day (Enchiridion II.1, 92.491-495; III.3, 182.305-184.308); the movement of the gnomon's shadow on the sundial is like the motion of a pen (Enchiridion II.3, 104.23-28); and the "poet's leap" (synaliphe or fusion of a terminal vowel with the initial vowel of the following word) parallels the "priest's leap", that is, the saltus lunae (Enchiridion II.1, 92. 490-504). It would seem that connections of this type lay behind the construction of MS 17's grammar anthology, though curiously, none of its materials are paralleled in either Abbo's or Byrhtferth's writings.
MS 17's grammar section is in many respects like its abacus materials. Both are constructed from excerpts or adaptations of various source materials, strung together without dividing rubrics. Both have a pedagogical savour. The fact that there are other contemporary copies of the Ratio numerorum abaci suggests that the original compilation was at some remove from MS 17, but the grammar anthology has no such parallel.6 It may be the literary as well as the scribal product of Thorney Abbey. The content and the striking visual form of many of the items suggest a compact handbook of teaching aids rather than a treatise for private consultation. Theprécis of Priscian on fols. 170r-175r could be a portable lesson book. The graphic presentation, particularly of the items on fols. 168r-170r, makes skilful use of display scripts to highlight key headings almost in the manner of a computus table. On fol. 168r for example, the upper paragraph deals with syllabification between two consonants. Each consonant under consideration is raised in relief, so to speak, by being executed in filled calligraphic capitals. In the lower paragraph on consonant combinations, the different categories are distinguished by different colours of ink.
1 Jones 1943, vi-viii.
2 Described by Bernhard Bischoff, "Ein Sammelhandschrift Walafrid Strabos," in Bischoff 1966-1981, 2.34-51.
3 James 1926, 50-51.
4 Thurot 1867, 25.
6 The verb-preposition list on fols. 159v-167v and the extracts from Priscian (fols. 170r-175r) are mentioned in Bursill-Hall 1981, 183 (no. 199) and Addenda, 390. His index of incipits reveals no parallel to MS 17's texts in other MSS.