Virgilius Maro Grammaticus - Writings


His writings survive in around twenty manuscripts or fragments, dating from the eighth to the eleventh century. The three principal manuscripts (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Latinus 13026; Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, 426; and Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale IV.A.34) on which modern editions have been based were all written in early ninth-century France. In most manuscripts of Virgil also contain other grammatical and schoolroom texts. As a rule, the Epitomae travelled separately from the Epistolae, which are much more poorly represented in the surviving manuscripts: just one manuscript contains the entire text (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale IV.A.34), and comparison with other fragments suggests its testimony may not always be trustworthy.

Virgilius wrote at least two surviving works, the Epitomae and Epistolae. The number of books in both groups - 12 and 8 (though the last surviving Epitoma may have been numbered 15, implying there were once three more books now lost) - compares to the number of books in Donatus Ars Maior and Ars Minor. He displays knowledge of authors such as Isidore of Seville, Virgil and Aelius Donatus, but never quotes them by name. Instead one finds in his works a plethora of obscure and unlikely-sounding authorities mentioned nowhere else and quotations attributed to well-known authors which cannot be identified in their writings. Thus there are Varro, Cato, three Vergiliuses, three Vulcans, Aeneas and Origenes, and also Sufphonias, Galbungus, Sagillus, Blastus, Gurgilius, Balapsidius – the list can be expanded. Some of these names are clear fabrications, often displaying considerable knowledge of classical and patristic literature.

Although written in a similar style to late antique grammatical texts and incorporating some genuine grammatical material, there is much baffling and outlandish material contained in Virgilius' writings: he discusses twelve kinds of Latin, of which only one is in regular use, and attributes much of his lore to grammarians up to a thousand years old, who debate questions such as the vocative of ego and write texts such as De laudibus indefunctorum (In praise of the undead). Often these grammatical authorities form the centre of anecdotes: Aeneas is often referred to as Virgil's teacher; an elderly Spanish grammarian visits Virgil in the dead of night; and others wage war with thousands of men over grammatical definitions. The oddity of Virgilius' texts extends beyond ignorance or even parody, and it has been argued that his peculiar fabrications are a veiled plea for diversity and variety. However, a great deal remains uncertain about Virgilius, his origins and his real purpose in writing.

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