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2. Donatus's Latin grammar

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
Shelfmark: IC.58.

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.

 
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