Bk 1.xxxiii 1-3 solecisms

Soloecism ( Gk. soloikismos) had described imperfect Greek usage. The term was appropriated, together with the structures of Greek grammar, into formal descriptions of Latin.  Joseph Farrell addresses the political and social aspects of this matter, so I’ll quote him on the sub-text to ‘solecisms’.

  • Joseph Farrell, Latin Language and Latin Culture: From Ancient to Modern Times (2001)

  • and see I. Smith, Race and Rhetoric in the Renaissance: Barbarian Errors (2009).

To compare every statement by Isidore with those of earlier grammarians would surely tire my readers, for the co-incidence is constant and close.  But while Isidore’s faith in language was inextricable from his religious ideal of the Word –  rightly apprehended and rightly spoken  –  something of the older Roman imperial attitude is now invested in his ideal of the ‘universal message’.  This explains why, if only by his silences, Isidore holds an opinion which differs from that of Augustine, who had held, ultimately, that Gd didn’t care about rules of grammar, but about the heart which expressed itself honestly.  However, he, like Isidore, derived much of his appreciation of grammar from the Roman Quintilian who had taught Pliny and been tutor to the sons of emperors. 

QUINTILIAN: (35 AD – 100 AD)

AUGUSTINE (354-430 AD)
DONATUS: (320-380 AD)

A great proportion of remaining copies of the Etymologies contain only books IV onwards.  The popularity of Donatus’ grammar may provide the reason. With Donatus’ practical ‘catechism’ of grammar and a condensed version of the same authorities,  the first books of the Etymologiae might appear redundant. Here is Purcell on Donatus’ pronouncements about solecism.

  • William Michael Purcell, Ars Poetriae: Rhetorical and Grammatical Invention at the Margin of Literacy (1996).

Isidore and Donatus  – some references:
  •  L. Holtz, Donat et la tradition de l’enseignement grammatical: Étude et édition critique (1981)
  •              – review of the above by Margaret Gibson in The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 37, No. 2, 1987. (pp. 190-192). Gibson notes that Donatus “has a special reputation as the ‘praeceptor’ of St Jerome… The combination of brevity, currency and being perceived as the [teachings of] the man who had taught correct Latin to the editor of the Vulgate has given Donatus a unique position in the history of grammar” (p.190)
  • Joseph A.Dane, The Critical Mythology of Irony (  ) offers another comparison between the two (p.64)
  • Judith Law, ‘A Study of Latin Grammar in eighth-Century Southumbria’ treats the unexpected range and polish of Adelhelm’s Latin sources and style in Clemoes et.al.,  Anglo-Saxon England, Volume 12 (2007) pp.43-72.


  •  first Composite: detail from the Çanakçı rock tombs, Cilica. Within Merzin province, near the old site of Soli (GreekΣόλοιSoloi).  The devastation wrought upon Soli during the 1stC BC – including two de-populations and systematic destruction – was so  terrible in its thoroughness that not even modern archaeology has recovered much from the city’s earlier eight centuries.  Its population can be presumed to have consisted of  Greeks, Persians, Lycians, Lydians, Ionians and Phoenicians before the rise of Rome.  Pompey then re-settled the desolated site with prisoners, chiefly pirates, and provided the place with basic amenities and a new name: Pompey-opolis (GreekΠομπηιούπολις)- a mixture of Latin and Greek elements of which, one supposes, the grammarians would have disapproved had they dared.

see: The ‘Rough Cilicia’ archaeological survey. A detailed description of method and findings. [HERE]

  • motif: detail from MS. Bodley 764, Folio 52v
  • portrait of Augustine – the oldest known, a fresco from the Lateran, Rome.
  • bands (1) edited from a detail in the Aberdeen bestiary; (2) edited from a detail in Brit.Lib. MS Arundel 490.
  • border – edited from a detail in the Paris Psalter.
  • Postscript:  Smith always looks more kindly than I can  upon Rome’s military activities; since he acknowledges only the first of those two depopulations his view should be heard in all fairness.



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