Grammar, the Real Queen of Sciences

John Williams, Stoner (Chp.9)

“Stoner waited a few moments more, shuffling his papers; then he cleared his throat and began the class.

‘During our first meeting we discussed the scope of this seminar, and we decided that we should limit our study of the medieval Latin tradition to the first three of the seven liberal arts–that is, to grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic.’ He paused and watched the faces–tentative, curious, and masklike– focus upon him and what he said.

‘Such a limiting may seem foolishly rigorous to some of you; but I have no doubt that we shall find enough to keep us occupied even if we trace only superficially the course of the trivium upward into the sixteenth century. It is important that we realize that these arts of rhetoric, grammar, and dialectic meant something to a late medieval and early Renaissance man that we, today, can only dimly sense without an exercise of the historical imagination. To such a scholar, the art of grammar, for example, was not merely a mechanical disposition of the parts of speech. From late Hellenistic times through the Middle Ages, the study and practice of grammar included not only the ‘skill of letters’ mentioned by Plato and Aristotle; it included also, and this became very important, a study of poetry in its technical felicities, an exegesis of poetry both in form and substance, and nicety of style, insofar as that can be distinguished from rhetoric.’

He felt himself warming to his subject, and he was aware that several of the students had leaned forward and had stopped taking notes. He continued: ‘Moreover, if we in the twentieth century are asked which of these three arts is the most important, we might choose dialectic, or rhetoric–but we would be most unlikely to choose grammar. Yet the Roman and medieval scholar–and poet–would almost certainly consider grammar the most significant.'”

Grammar and Priscian, Munich Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Clm. 2599, f.102

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