In the 15th century, Latin was the language used by the educated
and governing classes throughout Europe. The most widespread work
used for teaching it, Ars minor (The Smaller Art [of Grammar]),
was written in the 4th century by Aelius Donatus. He was the teacher
of Jerome who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.
Donatus's Ars minor was one of
the first items to be printed in Europe. There are many editions
from the 15th century, but most survive only in fragments. Little
books used by schoolboys, most have been worn to bits. Large and
prestigious books such as the Bible have survived in much better
condition, for they often ended up being owned by institutions with
libraries where they were spared heavy use and they were protected
from one generation to the next.
Quite a number of fragments
survive of Donatus's grammar printed with the same type as the Gutenberg
Bible. The British Library has a copy of leaf 2 of one of these
editions. It was previously dated around 1455, but the date now
seems less certain, for it is of course possible that the type was
used after the Bible was printed.
It is highly likely that some of the editions
are earlier than the Gutenberg Bible, for it would have made sense
to print a small schoolbook while preparing for a gigantic publication
like the Bible. It would have brought in much needed ready cash.
Aelius Donatus, Ars minor [Mainz: [in the type of the 42-line Bible], about 1455?], 26 lines
per page. Type 140 mm per 20 lines (the actual measurement of 20
lines on the vellum is 133 mm).
BMC I 18; GW 8698; ISTC number: id00316450
A modern edition of Donatus's text with an excellent introduction,
of relevance also for the 15th century:
Louis Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l'enseignement grammatical:
étude sur l'Ars Donati et sa diffusion(IVe-IXe siècle)
et édition critique (Paris, 1981).
On the early printing of
versions of Donatus:
W. O. Schmitt, `Die Ianua (Donatus): Ein Beitrag zur lateinischen
Schulgrammatik des Mittelalters und der Renaissance', Beiträge
zur Inkunablekunde, dritte Folge, 4 (1969), 43-80.
and the postscript in:
Remigius, Schleswig 1486: A Latin Grammar in Facsimile Edition with
a Postscript by Jan Piborg, Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes
Selskab Historisk-filosofiske meddelelser, 50:4 (Copenhagen, 1982).
An introduction to the teaching of Latin in the 15th century:
Kristian Jensen, 'The Humanist reform of Latin and Latin teaching',
in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, edited by Jill
Kraye (Cambridge, 1996), 63-81.