Professor Raymond Geuss, who kindly wrote us a piece a few weeks ago about Mommsen’s Römisches Staatsrecht, has been enjoying the eight volumes of Keil’s Grammatici Latini (which as far as Latin grammar is concerned is almost as far from Bradley’s Key to Arnold’s Latin Prose Composition as you could possibly get). After some internal discussion about blowing one’s own trumpet, we decided to keep his very cheering last sentence in the blog – and of course we agree with every word of it! He says:
“Not only was Latin in continuous use as a spoken and written language in Europe until the middle of the nineteenth century, but the systematic study of the Latin language, and the presentation of the results of that study in formal ‘grammars’ has an unbroken history reaching back two thousand years. For much of that period ‘Latin grammar’ was the most important of all the humanistic disciplines; ‘most important’ both in that for centuries grammar-based study of Latin was the first step to any form of higher education, and also in the sense that the seemingly self-enclosed perfection of ‘Latin grammar’ was the model to which other subjects aspired.
In the middle of the nineteenth century the philologist Heinrich Keil began to put together and publish a series of editions of the most important systematic treatises on the grammar of the Latin language that had come down to us from antiquity. This collection eventually amounted to eight volumes. These volumes contain a wealth of observations and speculations about the structure of language in general, about proper and improper uses of language, about the relation of writing to speech, about the (purported) idiosyncrasies of Latin (usually compared with Greek), about figures of speech, forms of elocution, and many many other topics. Just as important, though, the presentation of the historical succession of treatises allows one to follow changes in the structure of what was taken to be ‘the art of grammar’: what particular topics it was thought to encompass (and what remained outside it), what was taken to be a basic feature of language and what a derived or secondary, what an essential feature and what adventitious, in what order the topics of ‘grammar’ were presented and how they were taken to relate to each other, to what extent the treatment was more descriptive and to what extent aesthetic features or considerations of decorum were thought to be important, etc. For anyone interested in the history of Western ways of thinking about what is arguably one of the most important domains of human life — speech — a study of this corpus of material is infinitely rewarding.
The individual volumes have been taken from the Cambridge University Library and have been scanned page by page. Then the pages have been digitally cleaned before being reproduced. The result is a remarkably clear, unsullied text, which is visually a pleasure to contemplate and very easy to read.”