Grammar is Bread, Ignorance is Gruel

Lorenzo Valla, Ars Grammatica 15-29

It is a bad teacher who does not exemplify their own rules, and there were several of these in centuries gone by, because they did not flip through the learned books of the ancients. So come on kids, sing with me in Latin, and consider this learning as something like bread, which is good by itself and also enhances other dishes. Every art is in need of Grammar, but it needs none of them, and those who don’t know Grammar are definitely just eating gruel. So come on kids, take this bread from my lips, which will make your bodies robust and minister strength to you. For you will read many things written in no books except in ours, although Bostar and Aspar dare to transfer them into their own pamphlets – I mean, what a disgrace! Laugh at them with me, as though they were little crows wearing the peacock’s tail or geese strutting around like swans.

Doctor enim malus est in quo sua non radiat lex,

quales iam seclis aliquot plerique fuere

quod libros veterum non evolvere disertos.

Quare agite, o pueri, mecum cantate latine,

assimilem pani doctrinam hanc esse putantes

que per se valet et reliquas corroborat escas;

indiga grammatice queque ars est, nullius illa,

quam qui non norunt vescuntur pulte profecto.

Hunc, pueri, nostra de voce capessite panem

qui corpus solidum reddat viresque ministret;

namque legetis adhuc in nullis scripta libellis

multa nisi in nostris quamvis ea Bostar et Aspar

in chartas transferre suas, o dedecus, audent!

quos mecum ridete, velut cornicula pavi

si gestet caudam vel se ferat anser olorem.

Medicinal Grammar

Lorenzo Valla, Ars Grammatica 1-12

You see how doctors giving wormwood to children anoint the cup’s rim with Cecropian honey, so that the bitterness covered by sweetness will offend less (for healthy things are often unpleasant to the taste); and you see how song relieves the sailor’s labor as he churns up the blue of the sea with his arms applied to the oars, and the bent ploughman consoles himself by singing. Thus it has pleased me to relate the precepts of Grammar in song, so that soft little ears can be massaged, and so that the heart may drink in the healthy perceptions below the honey; and for that reason I have at the same time added some little bit of resplendence, for there is no poem if the poem be not pleasing.

Lorenzo Valla - Wikipedia

Aspicis ut medici pueris absinthia dantes

Tingunt cecropio summum cratera liquore

Quominus offendat dulcedine tectus amaror

– nam sunt austero plerunque salubria gustu –

Utque lacertosis pelagi dum cerula verrunt

Remigibus levat ille canor quicunque laborem

Et se solatur cantando incurvus arator,

Sic mihi grammatice placuit precepta referre

Carmine, mollicule demulcerentur ut aures

Pectoraque haurirent sensus sub melle salubres

Nec nihil iccirco simul admiscere nitoris,

Nam nullum fuerit, fuerit nisi carmen amenum.

Read Collections of Miscellany!

Battista Guarino, de ordine docendi et studendi XXX: 

“When they first start to study on their own, they should make an effort to read those books which are composed of miscellaneous things, such as Gellius, the Saturnalia of Macrobius, the Natural History of Pliny, which is no less various than history itself; I would add to these Augustine’s City of God, which is a book crammed full of history, as well as matters on ancient ritual and religion. They should always hold to that practice of trying to make excerpts from everything which they read; they should also persuade themselves of the truth of Pliny’s maxim, that ‘no book is so bad that it is not good in some part.’”

Ubi primum per se studere incipient, operam dabunt ut eos videant qui variis ex rebus compositi sunt, quo in genere est Gellius, Macrobius Saturnalium, Plinii Naturalis Historia, quae non minus est varia quam ipsa natura; his addimus Augustinus De civitate Dei, qui liber historiis et tam ritu veterum quam religione refertus est. Sed omnino illud teneant, ut semper ex iis quae legunt conentur excerpere, sibique persuadeant, quod Plinius dictitare solebat, ‘nullum esse librum tam malum ut non in aliqua parte prosit.’

Poets, Flattery, and the Invention of Religious Cults

Coluccio Salutati, de laboribus Herculis 1.13-15

“It is clear then that Plato, and not Athena – the mother of morals and education – decided that poets were to be expelled. Though six other cities claimed for themselves the honor of Homer’s birthplace, Athens itself, the seventh city of Greece, renowned for so many philosophers, glorified by so many citizens, and decorated by so many generals, most strenuously defended its own claim to be the birthplace of one man, who was blind while he lived, because he was a poet. Therefore, let not senseless garrulity condemn poets; first let people learn what poetry is, or what the business of poets is. Then, if they are so inclined, they may reprehend it. For the beginnings of poetic are are believed to have sprung forth from the most eloquent men, who were without doubt the most religious of their time and country. When it came to checking the savagery of those people whom they had raised to the sky more from admiration of their merits and virtues rather than considering anything human, the poets thought it useful that these men be cultivated by religion, and exerted themselves through praising them to persuade the people of this. They offered the most sublime style and the most ornate character of speech to this project, and wishing to excite the popular multitude to admiration of the men whom they praised, they did not employ a plain mode of speech, but changed words for other words and things for other things in the sweetest way, and thus led the listening people away from their senses to such a degree that, forgetting entirely about mortality, they believed with certainty that even those mortals whom they had seen themselves were not dead, but lifted into the heavens for their virtuous merits.”

File:Lafond Sappho and Homer.jpg
Charles Lafond, Sappho Sings for Homer

Censuit itaque Plato, non morum et doctrine mater Athene, pellendos esse poetas. Nam cum alie sex civitates ortum sibi vendicarent Homeri, ipse Athene, septima Grecie civitas, tot clara philosophis, tot civibus inclita, totque ducibus exornata, unius ceci dum viveret hominis, quia poeta fuit, nativitatem post eius fata sibi contentiosissime defendebant. Non ergo damnet poetas insensata garrulitas, sed prius addiscant quid poesis quodve poetarum officium, deinde, si videbitur, reprehendant. Nam huius artis initium a viris eloquentissimis atque secundum sua tempora et nationem religiosissimis sine dubio creditur provenisse. Cum enim ad cohibendam feritatem populorum eos quos illi meritorum atque virtutum admiratione plus quam humanum aliquid cogitantes extulerunt in celum, putarent utile religione colendos idque decernentibus populis suaderi ipsorum laudibus insudabant. Cui quidem rei sublimem stilum et ornatissimum dicendi caractherem adhibuerunt et volentes popularem multitudinem in eorum quos laudabant admirationem inducere non plano orationis genere sed verba pro verbis et res pro rebus suavissime commutantes audientes populos a sensibus taliter traducebant quod etiam quos viderant fuisse mortales non mortuos sed translatos in celum pro virtutum meritis mortalitatis illorum obliti certissima opinatione tenerent.

Giovanni Judges Jokes

Giovanni Pontano, de Sermone 3.18:

Martial’s sayings are such that most of them have a lot of wit and no less of bile and bombast, and in their place they joke and delight, while now and then inciting a blush rather than a laugh. But there are others which aren’t just prurient or titillating, but even offer up petulance and jokes which are on the whole lacking in modesty. On so many occasions, he is so unacquainted with shame that he openly plays the clown, and seems not just to envy the sycophants, but even the parasites and the mimes.

Yet, he has embraced all these types so completely and is so much and so often among them that he wishes to seem to have taken the material for his play from other jokes of this sort. But since we seek a middle road in this matter and since extremity is to be avoided, we should look for other types of sayings and types of jokes which are entirely appropriate. And as in no small part the sayings of this Valerius are so little in keeping with our program, so too are many of Cicero’s to be rejected, especially since they are more appropriate to an orator trying to gain victory in a case than they are to that relaxation of the mind which we seek with honesty and dignity, and for which there is an innate appetite in all humans. And so, we ought not to skip over what and how Cicero thinks about these things.

Giovanni Pontano - Wikipedia

Eiusmodi sunt igitur Martialis dicta, ut pleraque multum habeant salis nec minus fellis atque ampullosi proque loco et iocentur et delectent, interdum ruborem inducant magis quam risum; alia vero quae non pruritum tantum exciant aut titillatum verum etiam petulantiam prae se ferant lususque parum omnino modestos. Persaepe autem verecundari ita nescit ut vel aperte scurretur, nec solum invidere sicophantis videatur ac parasitis verum etiam mimis. Adeo autem cuncta haec complexus est genera estque in iis ita frequens et multus ut aliis in eiusmodi iocis ludendi praeripuisse videri velit materiam. A nobis autem cum mediocritas parte in hac quaeratur defugianturque extrema, alia dictorum tum genera quaerenda sunt tum species quae facetorum sint omnino propria. Utque Valeri huius dicta, parte quidem non exigua, institutioni huic nostrae parum consentiunt, sic et Marci Ciceronis quaedem etiam explodenda, quippe quae oratori magis conveniant, ad victoriam causae comparandam, quam ad eam animorum relaxationem, quae a nobis cum honestate ac dignitate quaeritur, cuiusque insita est hominibus a natura appetitio. Itaque quid et quomodo Cicero de iis sentiat, a nobis praetereundum non est.

Don’t Read Trash! A Warning for the Internet Age

Leonardo Bruni de Studiis et Litteris 5

“But believe me, our own study overcomes and conquers everything, for it opens up and displays to us not only words and syllables, but also tropes, figures, and every fine ornament and beauty of speech. We are shaped and established by this study; through it, we then learn many things which can scarcely be taught by a teacher, such as melody, elegance, harmony, and charm. The head of this study will be first to see to it that we involve ourselves in the reading of only those books which were written by the best and most approved authors of the Latin language; but we must also be wary to avoid those which are written unskillfully and inelegantly, as they would be a certain calamity and blot upon our intellect. The reading of rude and unpolished writers attaches to the reader their faults and degrades his mind with a similar illness. It is like a pabulum for the soul, by which the mind is formed and nourished. For this very reason, those who are concerned for their stomach do not pour any food into it indiscriminately; so too, the reader who wishes to preserve the integrity of the mind will not permit himself to read everything indiscriminately.”

Caravaggio, “Saint Jerome Reading”

Sed omnia (mihi crede) superat ac vincit diligentia nostra. Haec enim non verba solum et syllabas, sed tropos et figuras et omnem ornatum pulchritudinemque orationis aperit nobis atque ostendit. Ab hac informamur ac velut instituimur, denique per hanc multa discimus, quae doceri a praceptore vix possunt: sonum, elegantiam, concinnitatem, venustatem. Caput vero huius diligentiae fuerit videre primum, ut in eorum tantum librorum, qui ab optimis probatissimisque latinae linguae auctoribus scripti sunt, lectione versemur, ab imperite vero ineleganterque scriptis ita caveamus, quasi a calamitate quadam et labe ingenii nostri. Inquinate enim inepteque scriptorum lectio vitia sua lectori affigit et mentem simili coinquinat tabe. Est enim veluti pabulum animi, quo mens imbuitur atque nutritur. Quam ob rem, qui stomachi curam habent, non quemvis cibum illi infundunt; ita, qui sinceritatem animi conservare volet, non quamvis illi lectionem permittet.

Don’t Waste Time – Read Read Read!

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, LIV:

“There is indeed good reason to gather together those times which others tend to neglect, as when we read at dinner or awaits sleep (or avoids it) by reading. Yet, the doctors tell us that these practices are bad for our sight and eyes; this is true if we read too much, that is to say, either too intently or after an excessive meal. But it will also be to our advantage if we set up, in our libraries and right before our eyes, those instruments which are used to measure the hours and times more generally, so that we may see time as it flows and slips away from us. It would also be useful if we were to use those places for nothing else than what they were established, allowing there no external business or thought.”

Bonae etenim rationis est ea quoque bona colligere quae solent neglegere ceteri, ut si quis super cenam legat et somnum quidem inter libros exspectet aut certe per libros fugiat. Quamquam physici obesse ea visui luminibusque contendunt; quod et verum est, si modo praeter modum, id est, aut intentione nimia aut super multam saturitatem id fiat. Sed et illud quoque proderit nonnihil, si intra bibliothecas nostras coram atque in oculis instrumenta haec constituamus, quibus horas ac tempora metiri solent, ut quasi tempus ipsum fluere labique videamus, et si eis ipsis locis ad nihil aliud quam ad quod instituta sunt utamur, nullam ibi aut occupationem aut cogitationem extremam admittentes.

All I Ever Do Is Read Read Read (Maybe Write)

Leon Battista Alberti,
On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literature (Part I):

“Lorenzo Alberti, our father, a man who was in his time easily the best in many things, including in the education of his family (as you yourself know, Carolus), was accustomed to wish us so educated as to appear both at home and outside never to be entirely idle. Having been educated and imbued with this ingenuous and shining discipline of our father, you have always been involved either in the management of business or in the study of literature; I, however, who have applied myself entirely to literature by setting other things at naught, can probably do anything in the world more willingly than to pass a day without either reading or composing something.

For that reason, I am glad that we have brought it about that we can in some part bear moderately, and in some part prudently avoid the adversity and sufferings which have long pressed upon us by resorting to the consultation of literature. Indeed, it seems to me that we should strive with our studies not only to render them beneficial to ourselves, but even more so to make them satisfy the expectation of our friends. Every day all of our friends, to whom my dignity and reputation are dear, beg me to draw forth some fruit of my late nights, so that they can be sure that I have actually achieved something in the labor and assiduity of my studies.”

Laurentius Albertus parens noster, vir cum multis in rebus, tum in educanda familia temporibus suis facile nostrorum omnium princeps, ut meministi, Carole, solitus erat nos ita instructos velle et domi et foris videri, ut nunquam essemus otiosi. Qua quidem ingenua et preclara patris nostri disciplina instituti atque imbuti, tu semper aut gerendis negotiis aut in litterarum cognitione versaris; ego autem, qui me totum tradidi litteris, ceteris posthabitis rebus, omnia posse libentius debeo quam diem aliquam nihil aut lectitando aut commentando preterire.

Qua ex re illud quidem nos assecutos gaudeo, ut adversas quibus diutius premimur erumnas partim ferre moderate, partim vitare prudenter licuerit documentis litterarum. Ac mihi quidem studiis nostris non modo ut nobis tantum prosint, sed magis etiam ut amicorum expectationi satisfaciant enitendum videtur. Namque in dies nostri, quibus et dignitas mea cara est et fama, omnes exposcunt ut fructum aliquem depromam vigiliarum mearum, quo intelligant me meo studiorum labore et assiduitate aliquid profecisse.

Hey Poindexter, You Don’t Know Sh*t!

Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance (32):

“I don’t say these things in an effort to avoid their judgment, but so that they who are ignorant may feel some shame (if they are capable of it) in making their judgment. For, on this subject, I do not just embrace the opinion of friendly jealousy, but even the judgment of hostile hatred, and in sum, if someone pronounces that I am ignorant, I agree with him! When I myself think over how many things are lacking to me, toward which my mind, eager for knowledge, exerts itself, I sadly and silently recognize my own ignorance. But in the meantime, while the end of my present exile is near, at which point this imperfection (from whence our knowledge derives) will be terminated, I am consoled by the thought of our shared nature. I think that it happens to all good and modest minds, that they learn about themselves and derive consolation therefrom. For those who get hold of great knowledge (I am speaking according to the standards of human learning), it is always small when considered in itself, but it becomes great in light of the narrow circumstances from which it is derived, and certainly looks great when compared to others. Otherwise, I ask you, how small and insignificant is the knowledge granted to one mind? Nay, how much like nothing is the knowledge of any one person, whoever they be, when it is compared not just to the knowledge of God, but to one’s own fund of ignorance?”

Petrarch-engraving

Non hec dico, ut declinem forum, sed ut pudeat, siquis est pudor, iudicasse qui nesciunt. Ego etenim de hac re non modo sententiam amicabilis amplector invidie, sed hostilis odii, et ad summam, quisquis ignarum me pronuntiat, mecum sentit. Nam et ego ipse recogitans quam multa michi desint ad id quo sciendi avida mens suspirat, ignorantiam meam dolens ac tacitus recognosco. Sed me interim, dum presentis exilii finis adest, quo nostra hec imperfectio terminetur, qua ex parte nunc scimus, nature communis extimatione consolor. Idque omnibus bonis ac modestis ingeniis evenire arbitror, ut agnoscant se pariter ac solentur; his etiam quibus ingens obtigit scientia — secundum humane scientie morem loquor — que in se semper exigua, pro angustiis quibus excipitur, et collata aliis ingens fit. Alioquin quantulum, queso, est, quantumcunque est, quod nosse uni ingenio datum est? Imo quam nichil est scire hominis, quisquis sit, si non dicam scientie Dei, sed sui ipsius ignorantie comparetur?

Even Plato Could Not Ban Poets

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis, 1.7-10:

“But to return to my topic, these men do not know that their teacher Aristotle did not spurn poets, but rather brought them forth as authorities. They also know that he treated of the art of poetry specially in a singular book, in order to provide a complement to his literary philosophy. To that extent, the chief of philosophers (I do not omit Plato as Cicero did) did not neglect poetry. But the successors of his studies (though they perhaps are more worthy of that title than that reality), censure poetry in direct proportion to their ignorance. But this is not surprising: they want to be called Aristotelians without any Aristotle. You would injure them if you called them Platonists, although they seem to hold an even more extreme opinion than Plato, in thinking that poets should not be expelled from an imagined state, but should be prohibited from the entire world.

Plato, however, did not expel all the poets from every city, but only the disreputable Attelani and comic poets, who exercised too much license in noting and describing various vices; even then, he expelled them from a city which he had never seen, but rather invented. For, though in portraying an ideal republic, rather than one he had seen, yet neither in his speech in life nor his authority after death (granted, from admiration of his divinity, eloquence, and the length of his life, which ended in the eighty-first year of his age – a number which is said to possess the highest perfection because it possesses multiplied roots of odd numbers – he was honored with temples and shrines), I repeat, neither his speech in life nor his authority after death prevailed to such a degree that even the comic poets were excluded from real cities. Perhaps some people were receptive to all of that in the schools – but it is manifest that the people were not receptive to that in the theaters, which were bustling with daily recitations of plays and new productions of the poets. The admiration for and authority of the poets was so great among the Athenians, and even all of Greece, that they were not only not expelled from the cities, but were received as the chief administrators of government, placed in command of wars, and welcomed into the counsel chambers of kings, so that the business of the greatest empires was conducted in accordance with the plans of the poets themselves.”

Jean-Baptiste Regnault: Socrates Tears Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure

Sed uti ad propositum redeam, nesciunt hi magistrum suum Aristotilem non sprevisse sed allegasse poetas. Nesciunt et ipsum, ut sermocinali philosophie traderet complementum, de arte poetica singulari libro specialiter tractavisse. Adeo princeps ille philosophorum (nec Platonem ut Arpinas excipio) poeticam non contempsit. Quam hi successores studiorum suorum, si tamen id esse vel potius dici merentur, non minus nesciunt quam reprehendunt. Sed hoc mirum non est: sine Aristotile quidem volunt Aristotelici nominari. Quibus iniuriam feceris si Platonicos appellaris, quanquam et hoc ultra Platonem sentire videantur ut poete non de ficta solum per ipsum civitate pellendi sint sed a totius orbis ambitu prohibendi. Sed expulit Plato poetas non quoslibet nec ex qualibet civitate sed inhonestos Athelanos et comicos veteres, quorum nimia licentia fuit circa obicienda et describenda flagitia. Et istos ex illa solum urbe depulit cuius statum nullo modo videre potuit sed confinxit. Nam licet rem publicam describens non qualem vidit sed qualem esse debere sibi persuaserat depinxerit civitatem, non tamen tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas (licet admiratione divinitatis et eloquentie ac vite sue periodo, que octogesimo primo anno sue etatis terminata est, qui numerus propter imparium numerorum radices in se, imo per se, multiplicatas perfectionis maxime predicatur, templis et aris cultus fuerit), non, inquam, tantum valuit vel viventis oratio vel mortui autoritas quod ex veris civitatibus etiam comici truderentur. Receperunt illa forsan aliqui tunc in scolis. Palam autem est quod id populi non receperunt in theatris, que quotidianis recitationibus fabularum et novis poetarum editionibus effervebant. Tantaque fuit apud Athenienses et totam Greciam admiratio et autoritas poetarum ut non solum non pulsi de civitate fuerint sed inter principes administrande rei publice sint recepti, prepositi bellis, et regum asciti consiliis, ut iuxta determinationes ipsorum maximorum regnorum negocia gererentur.