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priscian institutiones grammaticae, priscian grammar
Priscianus Caesariensis fl AD 500, commonly known as Priscian /ˈprɪʃən/ or /ˈprɪʃiən/, was a Latin grammarian and the author of the Institutes of Grammar which was the standard textbook for the study of Latin during the Middle Ages It also provided the raw material for the field of speculative grammar


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Works
  • 3 Legacy
  • 4 Editions and translations
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 References
  • 7 Further reading
  • 8 External links


The details of Priscian's life are largely unknown Priscian was born and raised in the North-African city of Caesarea modern Cherchell, Algeria the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis According to Cassiodorus, he taught Latin at Constantinople1 in the early sixth century2 His minor works include a panegyric to Anastasius 491—518, written about 512,3 which helps establish his time period In addition, the manuscripts of his Institutes contain a subscription to the effect that the work was copied 526, 527 by Flavius Theodorus, a clerk in the imperial secretariat4


Institutiones Grammaticae, 1290 circa, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence

Priscian's most famous work, the Institutes of Grammar Latin: Institutiones Grammaticae, is a systematic exposition of Latin grammar The dedication to Julian probably indicates the consul and patrician, not the author of a well-known epitome of Justinian's Novellae, who lived somewhat later than Priscian The grammar 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 syntax4

Priscian's grammar is based on the earlier works of Herodian and Apollonius The examples it includes to illustrate the rules preserve numerous fragments from Latin authors which would otherwise have been lost, including Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, 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 Persius4

The grammar 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 Ferrières About a thousand manuscripts exist, all ultimately derived from the copy made by Theodorus Most copies contain only books I—XVI; these are sometimes known as the Priscianus Major "Greater Priscian" Others contain only books XVII and XVIII along with the three books to Symmachus; these are known as his work On Construction De Constructione or the Priscianus Minor "Lesser Priscian" A few copies contain both parts The earliest manuscripts are from the 9th century, though a few fragments are somewhat earlier4

Priscian's minor works include:4

  • Three treatises dedicated to Symmachus the father-in-law of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius: on weights and measures; on the metres of Terence; and the Praeexercitamina, a translation into Latin of Greek rhetorical exercises from Hermogenes
  • De nomine, pronomine, et verbo "On noun, pronoun, and verb", an abridgment of part of his Institutes for teaching grammar in schools
  • Partitiones xii versuum Aeneidos principalium: another teaching aid, using question and answer to dissect the first lines of each of the twelve books of the Aeneid The metre is discussed first, each verse is scanned, and each word thoroughly and instructively examined
  • The poem on Anastasius mentioned above, in 312 hexameters with a short iambic introduction
  • A translation in 1087 hexameters of the verse-form geographical survey by Dionysius Periegetes


Books XVII & XVIII of the Institutes, his work On Construction, was part of the core curriculum of the University of Paris in the 13th century and Roger Bacon's lectures for the class were the probable origin of his own Overview of Grammar, one of the first expositions on the idea of a universal grammar Dante places Priscian in Hell among sodomites5

Editions and translationsedit


  • Prisciani caesariensis grammatici opera Edited by Augvst Krehl Lipsiae: Weidmann, 1819-20
  • Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum I-XVI, indices et concordantiae Curantibus Cirilo Garcia Roman, Marco A Gutierrez Galindo Hildesheim, New York: Olms-Weidmann, 2001, ISBN 9783487113081
  • Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum XVII et XVIII, indices et concordantiae Curantibus Cirilo Garcia Roman, Marco A Gutierrez Galindo, Maria del Carmen Diaz de Alda Carlos Hildesheim, New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1999
  • Prisciani Caesariensis opuscula Critical edition edited by Marina Passalacqua with commentary in Italian Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1987 vol I: De figuris numerorum De metris Terentii Praeexercitamina; vol II: Institutio de nomine et pronomine et verbo partitiones duodecim versuum aeneidos principalium

German Translations

  • Schönberger, A 2009 Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Pronomina: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 12 und 13 Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia ISBN 978-3-936132-34-2 books XII-XIII; first translation into a modern language
  • Schönberger, A 2008 Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Präpositionen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 14 Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2008, ISBN 978-3-936132-18-2 book XIV; first translation into a modern language
  • Schönberger, A 2010 Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Konjunktionen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 16 Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia ISBN 978-3-936132-09-0 of book XVI; first translation into a modern language
  • Schönberger, A 2010 Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Syntax I: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 17 Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia ISBN 978-3-936132-10-6 book XVII = first book of the "Priscianus minor"; first translation into a modern language
  • Schönberger, A 2010 Priscians Darstellung des silbisch gebundenen Tonhöhenmorenakzents des Lateinischen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des Buches über den lateinischen Akzent, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia ISBN 978-3-936132-11-3 De accentibus; first translation into a modern language
  • Schönberger, A 2014: Zur Lautlehre, Prosodie und Phonotaktik des Lateinischen gemäß der Beschreibung Priscians In: Millennium Vol 11, pp 121–184

French translations

  • Priscien, Grammaire Livre XIV - XV - XVI, Paris: Vrin 2013
  • Priscien, Grammaire Livre XVII – Syntaxe I, Paris: Vrin 2010


  1. ^ Keil, Gr Lat vii 207
  2. ^ Jones 1964, p 991
  3. ^ Lejay 1911
  4. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911, p 360
  5. ^ Dante, Inf, Canto XV, l 109


  • Jones, AHM 1964, The later Roman empire 284-602: A social, economic, and administrative survey, II, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, p 991, ISBN 0631149651 
  •  Lejay, Paul 1911, "Priscianus", in Herbermann, Charles, Catholic Encyclopedia, 12, New York: Robert Appleton Company 


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed 1911, "Priscian", Encyclopædia Britannica, 22 11th ed, Cambridge University Press, p 360 

Further readingedit

  • M Baratin, B Colombat, L Holtz, eds 2009 Priscien Transmission et refondation de la grammaire, de l'antiquité aux modernes, Brepols Publishers ISBN 978-2-503-53074-1
  • Luhtala, Anneli 2005 Grammar and Philosophy in Late Antiquity A Study of Priscian's Sources John Benjamins Series: Studies in the history of the language sciences; 107 Preview available at Google Books as of February 2011

External linksedit

  • Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum: complete texts and full bibliography
  • Rhetores latini minores, Carl Halm ed, Lipsiae in aedibus B G Teubneri, 1863, pp 551-560

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