Priscianus Caesariensis (), commonly known as Priscian ( or ), was a
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

grammarian and the author of the ''Institutes of Grammar'', which was the standard textbook for the study of Latin during the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of ...
. It also provided the raw material for the field of speculative grammar.


The details of Priscian's life are largely unknown. Priscian was born and raised in the North-African city of Caesarea (modern
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), the capital of the Roman province of
Mauretania Caesariensis Mauretania Caesariensis (Latin for "Caesarea, Numidia, Caesarean Mauretania") was a Roman province located in what is now Algeria in the Maghreb. The full name refers to its capital Caesarea, Numidia, Caesarea Mauretaniae (modern Cherchell). T ...
, which during his lifetime would be under the control of the Vandalic Kingdom. According to
Cassiodorus Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus (), was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people ...
, he taught Latin at Constantinople in the early sixth century. His minor works include a panegyric to Roman Emperor Anastasius I, Anastasius (491—518), written about 512, which helps establish his time period. In addition, the manuscripts of his ''Institutes'' contain a subscription to the effect that the work was copied (526, 527) by Flavius Theodorus, a clerk in the imperial secretariat.


Priscian's most famous work, the ''Institutes of Grammar'' ( la, Institutiones Grammaticae), is a systematic exposition of Latin grammar. The dedication to Julian probably indicates the consul and patrician, not the author of a well-known epitome of Justinian I, Justinian's ''Novellae'', who lived somewhat later than Priscian. The grammar is divided into eighteen books, of which the first sixteen deal mainly with sounds, word-formation and inflexions; the last two, which form from a fourth to a third of the whole work, deal with syntax. Priscian's grammar is based on the earlier works of Aelius Herodianus, Herodian and Apollonius Dyscolus, Apollonius. The examples it includes to illustrate the rules preserve numerous fragments from Latin authors which would otherwise have been lost, including Ennius, Pacuvius, Lucius Accius, Accius, Lucilius, Cato the Elder, Cato and Marcus Terentius Varro, Varro. But the authors whom he quotes most frequently are Virgil, and, next to him, Terence, Cicero, Plautus; then Lucan (poet), Lucan, Horace, Satires of Juvenal, Juvenal, Sallust, Statius, Ovid, Livy and Persius. The grammar was quoted by several writers in Britain of the 8th century - Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, Aldhelm, Bede, Alcuin - and was abridged or largely used in the next century by Rabanus Maurus, Hrabanus Maurus of Fulda and Servatus Lupus of Ferrières. About a thousand manuscripts exist, all ultimately derived from the copy made by Theodorus. Most copies contain only books I—XVI; these are sometimes known as the ''Priscianus Major'' ("Greater Priscian"). Others contain only books XVII and XVIII along with the three books to Symmachus; these are known as his work ''On Construction'' (') or the ''Priscianus Minor'' ("Lesser Priscian"). A few copies contain both parts. The earliest manuscripts are from the 9th century, though a few fragments are somewhat earlier. Priscian's minor works include: * Three treatises dedicated to Symmachus (the father-in-law of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius): on weights and measures; on the metres of Terence; and the ''Praeexercitamina'', a translation into Latin of Greek rhetorical exercises from Hermogenes of Tarsus, Hermogenes. * ''De nomine, pronomine, et verbo'' ("On noun, pronoun, and verb"), an abridgment of part of his ''Institutes'' for teaching grammar in schools * ''Partitiones xii. versuum Aeneidos principalium'': another teaching aid, using question and answer to dissect the first lines of each of the twelve books of the Aeneid. The metre is discussed first, each verse is scanned, and each word thoroughly and instructively examined. * The poem on Anastasius mentioned above, in 312 hexameters with a short iambic introduction * A translation in 1087 hexameters of the verse-form geographical survey by Dionysius Periegetes.


Books XVII & XVIII of the ''Institutes'', his work ''On Construction'', was part of the core curriculum of the University of Paris in the 13th century and Roger Bacon's lectures for the class were the probable origin of his own ''Overview of Grammar'', one of the first expositions on the idea of a universal grammar. Dante places Priscian in Hell among sodomites in Canto XV of his ''Inferno (Dante), Inferno''.Dante, ''Inferno (Dante), Inf.'', Canto XV, l. 109.

Editions and translations

Editions * Prisciani caesariensis grammatici opera ... Edited by Augvst Krehl. Lipsiae: Weidmann, 1819–20. * Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum I-XVI, indices et concordantiae. Curantibus Cirilo Garcia Roman, Marco A. Gutierrez Galindo. Hildesheim, New York: Olms-Weidmann, 2001, * Prisciani institutionum grammaticalium librorum XVII et XVIII, indices et concordantiae. Curantibus Cirilo Garcia Roman, Marco A. Gutierrez Galindo, Maria del Carmen Diaz de Alda Carlos. Hildesheim, New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1999. * Prisciani Caesariensis opuscula. Critical edition edited by Marina Passalacqua with commentary in Italian. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1987 (vol. I: De figuris numerorum. De metris Terentii. Praeexercitamina; vol. II: Institutio de nomine et pronomine et verbo partitiones duodecim versuum aeneidos principalium) German Translations * Schönberger, A. 2009. ''Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Pronomina: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 12. und 13. Buches der'' Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia. (books XII-XIII; first translation into a modern language.) * Schönberger, A. 2008. ''Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Präpositionen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 14. Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae'', Frankfurt am Main: Valentia, 2008, (book XIV; first translation into a modern language.) * Schönberger, A. 2010. ''Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Konjunktionen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 16. Buches der Institutiones Grammaticae'', Frankfurt am Main: Valentia. (of book XVI; first translation into a modern language.) * Schönberger, A. 2010. ''Priscians Darstellung der lateinischen Syntax (I): lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des 17. Buches der'' Institutiones Grammaticae, Frankfurt am Main: Valentia. (book XVII = first book of the "Priscianus minor"; first translation into a modern language.) * Schönberger, A. 2010. ''Priscians Darstellung des silbisch gebundenen Tonhöhenmorenakzents des Lateinischen: lateinischer Text und kommentierte deutsche Übersetzung des Buches über den lateinischen Akzent'', Frankfurt am Main: Valentia. (''De accentibus''; first translation into a modern language). * Schönberger, A. 2014: ''Zur Lautlehre, Prosodie und Phonotaktik des Lateinischen gemäß der Beschreibung Priscians.'' In: ''Millennium (Zeitschrift), Millennium.'' Vol. 11, pp. 121–184. French translations * Priscien, ''Grammaire. Livre XIV - XV - XVI'', Paris: Vrin 2013. * Priscien, ''Grammaire. Livre XVII – Syntaxe I'', Paris: Vrin 2010.



* * Attribution *

Further reading

* M. Baratin, B. Colombat, L. Holtz, (eds). 2009. ''Priscien. Transmission et refondation de la grammaire, de l'antiquité aux modernes'', Brepols Publishers. . *Luhtala, Anneli. 2005. ''Grammar and Philosophy in Late Antiquity. A Study of Priscian's Sources''. John Benjamins. Series: Studies in the history of the language sciences; 107. Preview available at Google Books as of February 2011.

External links

Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum: complete texts and full bibliography
*''Rhetores latini minores'', Carl Halm (ed.), Lipsiae in aedibus B. G. Teubneri, 1863
pp. 551-560
{{Authority control Ancient linguists Grammarians of Latin 6th-century Latin writers Ancient Roman rhetoricians Quotation collectors 6th-century Byzantine writers