Thursday, June 26, 2008

Latin Edumacation in the Early Medieval Period: I BLEG You

This is a query that I'll likely get around to asking on e-lists and other medievally boards as well, but though I'd start here.

For those who know or care: today I completed chapter 2 (edition, commentary, translation, intro and chapter 1 all done). And it gets easier from here.

Ok back to the question which is only tangentially related to dissertation work or to the discussion of Worcester Fragment A. But what if anything do we know about Latin education in the early middle ages? What I'm specifically looking for is the education in WRITING, Latin Composition if you will.

From what I can remember about the writers with whom I've worked, these Latin works are all composed by men with noble connections and families. (Aelfric is a probable exception, but his Latinity is one of the motivating factors for the query.) Now I'm not talking about teaching everyone in a school or monastery to READ Latin, at least at a basic level, nor to copy a Latin text, but to actively compose in Latin, a different skill altogether, and writing is a different skill than reading, and composition a different skill than simply writing or copying. So who was taught to compose? Nobles only? Everyone? somewhere in between? Sources? Or do our sources tell us?

4 comments:

Derek the Ænglican said...

No wonder this is a bleg--it's a hard question without very many sources to work with... The way I'd tackle it is to consider how writing was taught classically, and that was by means of the progymnasmata--the classroom exercises. The Hermogenic corpus was the main set of exercises that made it into the late Empire--and these were translated into Latin by Priscian.The very same Priscian used by the clever monk (or abbot) who penned De Excerptiones that then a certain Aelfric used in compiling his grammar and glossary...

Of course, De Exceptiones leaves out any and all rhetorical sections, so it's not know if that part circulated in England or not. Or, more accurately, it's not known to me...

Kennedy's not a lot of help here. He mentions Priscian, of course, and states that some judicial rhetoric and status theory were taught and that this can be sen from reports in Gregory of Tours. Other than that, he doesn't say a whole lot.

Alcuin did write a dialogue on rhetoric and the virtues, much of which he copped from Cicero's De Inventione but I've only read of it, and haven't examined the work itself. There may be some clues there whether it was to be a court-teaching or a clerical-teaching (or both).

So, as far as I know, there's not a lot to go on.

I would, however, take exception with your complete break between learning to read and learning to write. I think that's a false distinction especially when imitation is regarded not as a vice but an important pedagogical tool. In fact, I'd be willing to argue that most preachers of the time (Aelfric included) learned how to preach from Paul the Deacon, not Augustine's de Doctrina Christiana. Learning comes through imitation. (And the progymnasmata are quite big on that point too as is Cicero...) Thus, I'd argue that the advanced exercises in Aelfric Bata's Colloquy's aren't just =vehicles for hard vocabulary--they're also models for showing how to construct hermeneutic Latin prose.

tiruncula said...

You'll want to look at Scott Gwara and David Porter's edition of the Colloquies; David Porter's "The Latin Syllabus in Anglo-Saxon Schools" in Neophil 78; Anna Grotans' book Reading in Medieval St. Gall; Grotans and Porter's edition of the St. Gall Tractate; various articles by Gwara and by Christoper A. (Drew) Jones appraising the level of latinity actually attained by Anglo-Saxon authors... Also, more generally, Pierre Riché is your man for early medieval education.

As Derek says, this is a hard question to get at. I'd argue that the rhetorical figures (transmitted in grammars and in Bede's De schematibus et tropis) provided a conceptual framework for the kind of textual analysis that precedes composition/imitation. For the question of the availablity of rhetoric qua rhetoric in pre-Conquest England, you need Gabriele Knappe's _Traditionen der klassischen Rhetorik im angelsächsischen England_. The short version of her answer to the question: there wasn't any. She published an English summary of the book in ASE a few years ago.

Another way to get at the question of learning to write through imitating other stylists, outside the formal curriculum, would be to look at the correspondence between masters and pupils - e.g. Aldhelm with his many protegés, or Alcuin with his, and see how imitators respond to their exemplar. I can't think of a study that does that, off hand.

theswain said...

Thanks to both Derek and Tiruncula for the responses!

Derek: I wonder how many of the texts you mention though were for general consumption; that is do we know that they were used for everybody learning Latin, or only the select few? And if the latter, was that based on talent, location, class, or some other basis?

The dichotomy I'm drawing I think accurate. While reading is a necessary skill to have for writing, and for composition, writing is not a necessary skill for reading, and we know that the two were viewed as separate skills and not taught simultaneously as they are now. So it isn't a false distinction at all.

Tiruncula: Good to see you post! And many thanks for the bibliography, some of which I checked. In fact, it was Jones' article on Aelfric's Latinity that originally gave rise to the question.

I should say that my question is this: the vast majority of composed texts in Latin are written (not necessarily copied, but composed), our Latin authors if you will, by men (and a smattering of women) who have noble connections. Is this just accident, or were only noblemen (with a few notable exceptions, but relatively few) really taught how to compose literary Latin? But I'll be checking out those sources I haven't already, thanks much!

tiruncula said...

That is an excellent but unanswerable question. Which is why, of course, I swamped you with bibliography that doesn't really answer it :-). One area of the scholarly literature that I don't know well but that might yield some answers, or at least more answers than we have here, is the whole debate on whether or not monasteries supported external schools, and also the literature on the demographics of monasteries in the period. No specific suggestions there, except that for the former you might look at the notes to the Baker and Lapidge edition of Byrhtferth.