Editing Niccolò Perotti's Rudimenta grammatices

W. Keith Percival

[This is a shortened transcription of a paper presented at the 17th International Congress of Humanistic Studies convened by the Istituto Internazionale di Studi Piceni at the Palazzo Oliva, Sassoferrato (Ancona) from 26 to 29 June 1996. A copy of the entire paper is available on request.]

The question of how we can best establish a critical edition of the Rudimenta grammatices by Niccolò Perotti is not an easy question to answer. In my judgment, the choice of procedures should hinge both on the particular circumstances surrounding the composition and publication of the work, and also on the purpose for which such an edition is being contemplated. Let me first focus on various aspects of the first issue and begin by recapitulating a few salient biographical facts.

Niccolò Perotti was born in Fano in 1429 or 1430 and died in Sassoferrato in 1480. In his youth, he studied under both Vittorino da Feltre in Mantua (1443-45) and Guarino Veronese in Ferrara (1445-46), two of the most illustrious names in humanistic education at that time. The young Perotti began his grammatical activity by composing in 1453 two short but seminal metrical treatises. At that time he was in the service of Cardinal Bessarion in Bologna and was already working on his translation of Polybius, the Greek historian of the rise of the Roman Empire. A printed edition of the metrical works appeared in 1471 and there were later reprints.

Perotti's Latin grammatical manual, the Rudimenta grammatices, was composed when he was in his late thirties. From internal evidence it appears that the work was completed in Viterbo in late 1468. At that time, Perotti was papal governor in Viterbo. He dedicated the work to his nephew Pirro, in whose education he was taking an interest at that time. The Rudimenta grammatices appeared in printed form on 19 March 1473, hence a little over four years after it was composed, and it was printed by none other than Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, Rome's first printers. By that time, Perotti was living in Rome.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Rudimenta grammatices is that it quickly became a best seller. A second Roman edition was printed a little over a year after the first (on 10 May 1474) by Giovanni Filippo La Legname, the first native Italian printer active in Rome, and then a third edition came out in late 1474 (2 December 1474), printed by Arnold Pannartz himself. Pannartz printed a second edition a year later on 25 February 1476. Clearly, Pannartz understood the lucrative potential of the Rudimenta grammatices.

From 1475 on, an average of six editions came out each year. The Rudimenta was soon taken up by printers in northern Italy (first in Padua on 17 June 1475, then in Venice, on 21 December 1475, in Milan on 8 April 1478, and in Bologna on 6 May 1478). In Venice, Gabriele di Pietro, printed it twice (in December 1475 and August 1476), and proceeded to print it a third time after moving to Toscolano (on 10 May 1480). Neapolitan printers (Mattia Moravo ca. 1475, Sixtus Riessinger in 1476, and an unnamed printer in 1478) also enter the picture. Meanwhile, two printers in Catalonia brought out editions of the Rudimenta (Johannes de Salsburga in Barcelona on 12 December 1475 and Nicolaus Spindeler & Peter Brun in Tortosa on 16 June 1476); they were the first editions to appear outside Italy. Finally, printers in other countries, France first of all (Paris 1477, 1479, and so on) and then various printers in cities of the Empire (Antwerp, Basel, Cologne, Louvain, and Strasbourg) printed editions of the Rudimenta. It is interesting to note that the Barcelona edition predates the first Venice edition, and that the Paris edition predates the first Milan edition.

Another sign of the popularity of the Rudimenta is that adaptations of the text of the grammar were produced for the use of non-Italians. This was necessary because the Rudimenta is peppered with vernacular glosses and contains entire sentences in Italian. For the benefit of speakers of German an adaptation of the Rudimenta was composed by Bernard Perger of Vienna, entitled Grammatica nova. On the basis of internal evidence, I infer that the first edition was published or at least completed by 1479, although no copy of an edition printed in that year has so far been reported. (The earliest dated edition appeared in Passau in 1482 [see Hain 12608].) It is not known how many editions of Perger's Grammatica nova came out, but it was obviously an extremely popular work.

In France, a second adaptation of Perotti's Rudimenta was produced by Josse Bade (Badius Ascensius) a little over twenty years after Perger's. In his bibliography of Badius's editions, Philippe Renouard reports a Paris edition printed in March 1504, and thirteen subsequent editions.

The German and French adaptations were not translations of the entire Rudimenta into German and French. Like the original Rudimenta, they were what one might call "macaronic" works, i.e., works written in a mixture of Latin and the vernacular. Only the Italian words, phrases, and sentences were replaced by German or French words, phrases, and sentences. This extensive use of vernacular glosses was, moreover, not an innovation of the late fifteenth century: the same procedure had been customary earlier in the century when a scribe copying, say, the Regule grammaticales of Guarino Veronese translated the vernacular parts of that work into his own local dialect. Indeed, most Latin grammatical manuals, certainly by the Trecento, if not earlier, had been macaronic productions, this format constituting an important stage on the way to the practice of composing Latin grammars in the vernacular, which did not begin until the sixteenth century.

The international dimension of the Rudimenta is perhaps its most surprising aspect. It is significant that the first edition to appear outside Italy, viz., in the Iberian peninsula, came out in 1475 [12 XII 1475], only a little over two years after the first edition. Similarly, the first Paris edition appeared in 1477 [5 XII 1477], only four years after the first edition. Again, the first non-Italian adaptation, Perger's, may have been composed only about five years after the appearance of the first edition. What we may have here is an interesting combination of factors: the increasingly international character of Renaissance humanism, the spread of the art of printing to new countries, the economics of the book trade, and finally, let us not forget, the intrinsic qualities of Perotti's Rudimenta itself.

Perotti's final legacy in the grammatical area was the Cornu copiae, a commentary on Martial's Liber spectaculorum and book I of the epigrams. Perotti had a presentation copy of the Cornu copiae produced and offered to Federico of Urbino. Federico died in 1482, two years after Perotti died. The Cornu copiae was printed in Venice in 1489 (14 May 1489) by Paganino de' Paganini, together with a prefatory letter by Lodovico Odasio dedicated to Guido Ubaldo, the son and successor of Federico of Urbino. Like the Rudimenta, the Cornu copiae appeared in many subsequent editions. According to Wolfgang Milde, 176 editions of the Rudimenta have been reported, while thirty-six printed editions of the Cornu copiae are known to have appeared. Thus, both works were commercially successful, the Rudimenta more so than the Cornu copiae, presumably because the Rudimenta was a beginner's manual and being shorter than the Cornu copiae could be less expensively produced.

As regards content, the Rudimenta falls into three parts. The first part is a beginner's manual, stylistically similar to the Ars minor of Donatus, but much more comprehensive than that work; it is therefore more similar Priscian's voluminous Institutiones grammaticae. Part II covers syntax (constructio orationis) and other intermediate-level topics, such as infinitives, gerunds, supines, participles, relative pronouns, the comparison of adjectives, and heteroclite nouns. Part III is a manual of epistolary style, headed De componendis epistolis. These three parts are independent of each other and could have been published separately, which would not have been unusual in the fifteenth century. The grammarians who came before Perotti did precisely that. Guarino wrote several short grammatical treatises in addition to his Regule grammaticales.

The historical significance of Perotti's Rudimenta consists, therefore, in the fact that it was a commercially successful attempt at a comprehensive grammar and stylistics of Latin, and it was one of the first of its kind since Antiquity. Even if one confines one's attention to Part I of the Rudimenta, the part devoted to Latin morphology, one finds that it is more comprehensive than anything that had been attempted earlier. The commercial success of the Rudimenta was due more to its perspicuous organization and comprehensive coverage than its originality, which was slight. The Cornu copiae, Perotti's second major achievement, was a treasure-house of lexical information about Latin of encyclopedic proportions and laid the foundations of much of later Latin lexicography. In view of their wide diffusion, the Rudimenta and the Cornu copiae together constitute the most important contribution that Perotti made to the studia humanitatis in the fifteenth century.

Let me move on to the question of our documentary sources. In the case of the Rudimenta grammatices, we are in the unusual position of having two almost equally important primary sources, namely an autograph manuscript in the Vatican Library (Vat. Lat. 6737) and the first printed edition of 1473, printed by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz (see Hain-Copinger 12643). In a seminal monograph published in 1925, Cardinal Mercati pointed out that the autograph manuscript shows every sign of having been used by a printer and was therefore, as he termed it, an "originale di stampa." However, not having access to a copy of Sweynheym and Pannartz's edition in the Vatican Library he was not in a position to establish whether it was the manuscript used by them.

Many years later, in 1980, I myself discovered that the vertical casting-off marks in the margins throughout the autograph manuscript correspond to the pagination of the Sweynheym and Pannartz edition of 1473 and to no other early edition. This is significant because the second and third editions of the Rudimenta were the only editions copied directly from the first. In other words, if the printers of the second and third editions had decided to retain the pagination of the first edition throughout, the casting-off marks would have fitted those editions as well as they fit the first, and we would have had no way of proving that only one edition corresponds page by page with those marks.

To my knowledge, Perotti's Rudimenta is the first grammar of any language for which we have an autograph manuscript which was also a printer's copy, and it is among a small number of incunables for which we have printers' copies. The Rudimenta is also the first Latin grammatical work in the fifteenth century for which we have an autograph manuscript. In comparison, the Latin grammars that immediately preceded Perotti's Rudimenta are murky from a textological point of view. Take, for example, the Regule grammaticales of Guarino Veronese, first mentioned in a letter of Guarino's dated 19 January 1418, which became the most widely diffused grammatical text of the first half of the Quattrocento. The many manuscripts and early printed editions of Guarino's Regule offer texts differing from each other so fundamentally that philologists may never be able to reconstruct an archetype. We are especially hampered by having few datable manuscripts and by the fact that the earliest printed editions, some of which are undated, appeared half a century after the work was first referred to as in existence. We are also hampered by another accidental fact, namely that Guarino was unusually long-lived for that period (he died in 1460 at the age of eighty-six), and it seems probable that he revised the Regule in the course of forty years of teaching. In this regard, Perotti's Rudimenta could not be more different: we have both a datable manuscript in the author's hand and a dated edition that we know was printed from it. Moreover, Perotti lived only seven years beyond the publication date of the first printed edition. The situation is close to ideal, but as we shall see, not quite perfect.

There are, first of all, textual differences between the autograph and the first edition. The most basic factor has to do with the passage of manuscript book to printed book. Perotti's manuscript presented a number of problems for Sweynheym and Pannartz. For instance, Perotti was fond of using different-coloured inks and adding vernacular glosses in the margins of the manuscript. Moreover, he not only cited Greek words and quotations in the text, but placed accents and breathings over the vowels. He also accented certain Latin words in accordance with the prosodic doctrines accepted at that time. Sweynheym and Pannartz did not print any of those accents. Although they had a Greek fount, they did not print the Greek accents or the breathings. Hence, none of Perotti's accents, neither the Latin nor the Greek accents, appear in Sweynheym and Pannartz's edition. Moreover, since they printed only in black, Perotti's use of coloured inks was likewise lost. On the other hand, they carefully inserted Perotti's marginal additions in the text in the appropriate places, but they ignored the vernacular glosses which appear in the margins of the autograph manuscript.

Second, the printers adhered to their own editorial practices. We note re-spellings (e.g., Perotti's summo replaced by sumo) and retention of a certain amount of orthographical fluctuation (e.g. the inconsistent rendering of the Latin diphthongs). They also use their own set of abbreviations and do not follow Perotti's practice. Moreover, Sweynheym and Pannartz failed to respect Perotti's idiosyncratic orthographical preferences. Thus, they print desideratiuus, while he writes desyderatiuus; they print felix, not foelix; panthera, not pantera; patricida, not parricida. They sometimes, but not always, replace Perotti's preferred spelling quatuor with quattuor.

Third, the printers sometimes failed to follow copy because they misread the text of the autograph. This happened partly because Perotti's cursive hand is not always easy to read. An interesting example is a Ciceronian quotation (from Verr. which occurs in one of Perotti's marginal additions written in a minute hand (see f. 99r in the manuscript, and f. i7v in the first edition). In the manuscript, it reads as follows: "Unum ostende in tabulis aut tuis aut patris tui emptum, et uicisti." Perotti explains the form uicisti by adding "pro uiceris." Sweynheym and Pannartz found the word uicisti illegible and instead printed uitesti (with a dot over the final vowel), and then went on to replace uiceris at the end of the sentence by uiteris. The dot over the final i of uicisti must have looked to them like a tittle standing for an immediately following n or m. The printers who followed Sweynheym and Pannartz either left the sentence as they had printed it or tried to emend, but without success.

Fourth, where appropriate Sweynheym and Pannartz correct Perotti's mistakes. Thus, they fill out missing members in noun paradigms; they replace praenomen by pronomen where Perotti had clearly used the wrong abbreviation for the prefix pro-, animus by magnanimus, Quae by Duae, and so forth. There are instances where Perotti put the wrong words in some of the verbal paradigms. This seems to have happened because he was copying from an earlier draft that he or someone else had prepared, and it seems that at times his eye would stray and he would copy from the wrong line.

Let me move on now to another fundamental problem that we must face sooner or later. If one asserted that there are features of the manuscript that do not appear in any copies of the first edition, one would in fact be claiming something about which we cannot possibly be sure. Reflect, first and foremost, that one necessarily works for much of the time from microforms, not in situ. I own microfilms of a copy of the first edition in the Bodleian Library at Oxford and two copies in the British Library, and also a microfilm of the Vatican manuscript. As everyone knows, microfilms fail to transmit certain features of a manuscript or printed page. I can, of course, visit the Bodleian Library, the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Vatican Library and consult copies of the manuscript and the first edition on the spot, and I do so whenever possible. But it is important to realize that what we see when we consult a copy of an early printed book (and especially when we consult such a copy in situ) is an object as unique as a manuscript. The advent of printing did not give rise to completely identical copies. Hence, any copy of the first edition is only one representative of a large family of copies, similar but not identical, printed by Sweynheym and Pannartz in March 1473. Hence, in editing the Rudimenta we are dealing with a complex textual history in which there never was a textus receptus uniformly reproduced in all copies of one and the same printed edition.

So far, however, I have been talking as if we knew where Perotti's work on the manuscript left off and the printers' work began. In reality, we cannot be sure that Perotti did not intervene in the manuscript while it was being printed. He was certainly in Rome at that time and could well have supervised the printing process. Hence, some pages of the text could have been edited by the author himself as the book was being printed. The result of that would have been that some finished copies would go out containing errors corrected in other copies. This is exactly the same problem that I have just mentioned in connection with the printers' corrections, with the added problem that it affects the issue of Perotti's original intentions. In other words, even a critical edition based entirely on the printed editions and ignoring the autograph manuscript could not be guaranteed to be completely free of elements put there by the author. Hence, when we see a correction in the manuscript, we cannot know whether or not it was added before printing began, even if we could identify Perotti's hand-written corrections.

My own editorial suggestions are as follows. For convenience of citation and commentary I propose to number the paragraphs in the grammar, although no such numbers appear in the autograph or in the printed editions. I capitalize and punctuate à la moderne and use modern Greek fount. Ideally, I need a triple apparatus: (1) Perotti's sources; (2) the variant readings of the autograph versus the first edition; (3) my own commentary. Whether such a triple apparatus will be feasible in practice given the text editor I am using is another question.

I spell out abbreviations. The status of the abbreviations that Perotti uses is, however, ambiguous in that some of them are quoted at the end of the list of letters at the beginning of the grammar. In passing, let me recall that in the fifteenth century & was not simply a logogram (as it is nowadays); potentially, it could stand for the sequence et wherever it occurs. Thus, Perotti writes lic& for licet. In some cases, we know how Perotti intended abbreviations to be spelled out. Thus, he wrote celum with the e-caudata, but we know from statements that he makes in the Cornu copiae that he thought the word should be spelled caelum, not coelum. In the case of standard abbreviations like "uġ" (for uero), it would be pedantic to preserve them or even refer to their occurrence in the apparatus.

Otherwise, I follow the autograph closely, especially where it deviates from the first edition. However, where Perotti deviates from his own normal practice, I adopt his normal practice and explain the deviation in the apparatus. Thus, where he spells Pyrrus in the heading on the first page of the Rudimenta I print Pyrrhus, because that is the spelling that he normally uses. This procedure differs from correcting normal Quattrocento spellings to make them conform to the way that scholars spell Latin nowadays (e.g., Perotti writes penultimus, not paenultimus, nunquam, not numquam). My aim here, therefore, is not to modernize Perotti's spelling indiscriminately, but merely to correct random cases of inadvertence. Such deviations from the manuscript readings are mentioned in the apparatus, so that the reader is never in doubt as to the reading found in the manuscript. Lastly, I restore the vernacular marginalia that the printers failed to print.

Moreover, a number of difficult problems await investigation. First, there is the complex relation between the Cornu copiae and the Rudimenta: for instance, the two works differ in orthography, e.g., auctor versus author, cum versus qum, and the treatment of enclisis. Another largely unknown factor is the divergence between Perotti's orthography and the prescriptions of Giovanni Tortelli in his seminal orthographical dictionary. That work had appeared twenty years before the Rudimenta and must have been known to Perotti.

In conclusion, let me say that I offer these comments to encourage discussion of the procedure to follow in editing a Neo-Latin text that has come down to us in both manuscript and printed form. Clearly, my contention that a critical edition should fit the particular historical circumstances in which the text took shape is itself open to discussion. In the case of Perotti's writings it is striking, for instance, how different the Rudimenta and the Cornu copiae are in this regard. At the very least, editing a Neo-Latin work from the Quattrocento is different from editing a work that has come down to us from classical antiquity. Determining the goal of an edition is likewise a delicate issue. In the case of a Neo-Latin text that has come down to us in the form of an autograph manuscript as well as one or more early printed editions, should the editor of a critical edition reconstruct the author's original conception of the work from the autograph ignoring the printed editions, or should a critical edition in such a situation sidestep the autograph manuscript and instead aim to produce a version that faithfully reflects the printed editions?

Author's address: W. Keith Percival, 3815 NE 89th Street, Seattle, WA 98115-3742.