grammatica dividit

Pope St Gregory the Great (r. 590–604)

“In essence, the grammarian [of the Late Antique Roman Empire] presented himself as an arbiter of the claims of three competing forces: the habit of contemporary usage (consuetudo; usus), the authority (auctoritas) of the classical literary models, and nature (natura), that is, the natural properties of the language, determined by reasoned or systematic analysis (ratio) and set down as rules (regulae) in the grammarian’s handbook (ars). In practice, the grammarian spent much of his time protecting the nature of the language (and so his own ars [as a descriptive rule]) against the influences of habit and authority.

“The consequences were twofold. First, the grammarian, as a man of regular speech, was fundamentally a man of distinctions. Grammar defines and separates: grammatica dividit [the phrase is from a letter of Sidonius Apollinaris, a 5th-century Gallic man of letters and later bishop, whose extant corpus is a multitude of letters, poems, panegyrics, &c.]. As a distillation of the grammarian’s expertise the phrase could not be bettered, and the definition applies both to the effect of grammar on the language and to its social consequences, distinguishing the educated man from the masses. Second, by a paradox suited to the self-created species, the language the grammarian taught was simultaneously artificial and natural, a product of human skill that claimed objective validity and permanence.”

R. Kaster. Guardians of Language.

“[A] product of human skill that claimed objective validity and permanence.” Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for wondering with me how the first words, the seeds from which all other words have grown by slow evolution, became attached to the first things.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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