The ART of Grammar

The Idea of Progress and the Art of Grammar: Charisius Ars Grammatica 1.15
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

American Journal of Philology 119.3 (1998) 443-459 


In studies on the history of the concept of progress many passages have been cited from Greek and Roman texts on the progress of mankind, culture and/or the arts, but no attention has ever been given to a passage which, thanks to Flavius Sosipater Charisius (ca. 360), we may read in his Ars Grammatica. It not only contains a definite statement on continuing growth and development of the arts but also discusses the effect this may produce when one considers such progress. The latter aspect is found again in very few other texts, but our text is unique for its application of the concept of progress to the ars grammatica. For these reasons the passage in Charisius deserves a discussion of its own. It is not easily read because of its textual condition and its style, and this may well be the main reason why those who have studied it have until now (with one exception) overlooked the underlying idea of progress.
Charisius’ grammar is a huge collection of earlier material, which he has compiled and ordered after the plan of the Schulgrammatik. Within this framework he has inserted huge blocks of material to accommodate the form. Thus the fifteenth chapter of his first book starts with a long portion of text, apparently an introduction to some book, but what follows thereafter has no clear connection to it. Accordingly, the first portion is an independent piece of writing and should be discussed as such. The text takes up pages 61.16-63.20 in Barwick’s edition (5 Keil GL I 50.8-I 51.20) and consists of five sections:

a. 61.16-62.2, on the progress of arts in general

b. 62.2-14, on Latin language originally being unruly and later being put in order by grammar
c. 62.14-63.9, on the four criteria of correct usage of Latin, namely natura,analogia, consuetudo, and auctoritas
d. 63.9-16, more on the relationship between analogy and consuetudo
e. 63.16-20, announcement of the subjects to be treated hereafter.
As we are concerned here with the aspect of progress, only the first two sections are relevant. I have supplied my own text (above), based on Barwick’s [with his line numbers], and add a short critical apparatus and a translation.
The first sentence (ne ipsa . . . satiata) shows stylistic traits that we shall meet with throughout the passage: an involuted style with much variatio, daring imagery, and difficult periphrases. Ancient authors liked to turn their prefaces into rhetorical showpieces, and our author has done so to a high degree. Instead of simply saying, “the arts have no limits,” he introduces an a fortiori argument: if nature, though finite, is so wide as not to allot to us her farthest boundary, the more is this true for the arts. No argument is given for the idea that nature is finite. At any rate, our author is more interested in the status of nature’s usual complement, the arts. At first — and this would be in line with his a fortiori argument — he seems to accept as feasible the idea that at some time the arts will be complete and finished, and he explains that this point of perfection has not yet been reached because of human weakness: we humans are too weak to make the arts perfect. This is so either because the work to be done is of extreme difficulty, or because we are already satisfied by having founded an art and are disinclined to continue our job. The reader is left with the choice between these two possibilities as the author proceeds to a more…
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