Volume 13, Issue 2-3
  • ISSN 0302-5160
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9781
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SUMMARYThe Latin grammarians of late antiquity seem to personify the cultural stagnation and decline that have commonly been thought to typify the age. Resting upon conceptual foundations that had been laid centuries earlier and repeating the same doctrine from generation to generation, their texts appear by and large to be wholly untouched by originality. This paper addresses the question: why was this so? To suggest one answer to this question, the argument begins from the premise that the tradition remained as stable as it did because it continued to satisfy certain needs; the paper then goes on to consider these needs and their interaction.First, there are the needs of the grammarians themselves. From the beginnings of the profession's history in the first century B.C. and first century A.D., when the grammarians' schools first emerged as distinct institutions at Rome, the grammarians' doctrine, with its emphasis on the rational analysis of the language's 'nature', provided them with the authority they needed to prescribe correct speech for the social and cultural elite that they served. Once this exercise of reason had made a place for the grammarians as relative newcomers to the world of liberal letters, the doctrine was something to be prized and defended: the vivid instruction of the late antique grammarian Pompeius shows us a man fortified and buoyed up by his profession's tradition, eager to assert its soundness or to add an improving touch here or there — and without the least wish or incentive to attempt some fundamental innovation; for to do so would be to tamper with the honorable social position that the profession provided. At the same time, the mainstream of the educated elite — the second group whose needs must be considered — would themselves have had little reason to encourage innovation: since a liberal education, based of course on grammar, had come to be one of the most important marks of social — and even moral — status, the honorable position of the elite was as much tied as the grammarians' to the maintenance of the traditional doctrine. As a result, when the interests of the grammarians and the educated elite met in the institution of patronage, on which all teachers depended, the stability of the tradition was reinforced: for patrons did not seek innovative brilliance in their dependents, nor did they even look primarily for technical competence; they rather looked first for traditionally valued personal qualities like modesty and diligence, and other such qualities that would tend to preserve the status quo.RESUMELes grammairiens latins de la Basse-Antiquite personnifient, semble-t-il, la stagnation et le declin culturels, considérés en general comme carac-teristique de cette periode. Reposant sur des fondements conceptuels eta-blis des siecles plus tot et reprenant la meme doctrine de generation en generation, leurs textes paraissent, a tout prendre, depourvus de toute origi-nalite. La question que nous posons ici: pourquoi en fut-il ainsi? Pour sug-gerer une reponse, nous partons de la premisse suivante: si la tradition resta stable a ce point, c'est parce qu'elle satisfait encore bien certains besoins; ce sont ces besoins, et leur interaction, que nous examinons ensuite.II y a d'abord les besoins des grammairiens eux-memes. Depuis les debuts de l'histoire de cette 'profession', au premier siecle avant notre ere et au premier siecle apres notre ere, periode ou apparurent a Rome, en tant qu'institutions differenciees, les ecoles des grammairiens, la doctrine des grammairiens, qui mettait l'accent sur l'analyse rationnelle de la 'nature' de la langue, fournissait a ces specialistes l'autorite dont ils avaient besoin pour prescrire un parler correct a l'elite sociale et culturelle qu'ils servaient. A partir du moment ou ces exercises de raison avaient menage une place aux grammairiens, plus ou moins nouveaux venus dans le monde des let-tres, la doctrine devenait quelque chose qu'il fallait proner et defendre: le vivant enseignement que nous donne le grammairien de la Basse-Antiquite Pompeius nous revele un homme conforte et soutenu par la tradition de sa profession, avide d'en affirmer la solidite ou de lui donner ici ou la une tou-che d'amelioration, mais sans souhaiter ou encourager le moins du monde quelque tentative d'innovation fondamentale: c'eut ete la toucher a la position sociale, fort honorable, que garantissait la profession. En meme temps, le courant principal de l'elite cultivee — le second groupe dont il faut tenir compte — n'aurait eu lui-meme guere de raisons d'encourager l'innovation: etant donne qu'une education liberate, fondee bien entendu sur la gram-maire, était devenue l'une des traits principaux du statut social — et done moral —, la position avantageuse de l'élite était aussi liée que celle des grammairiens au maintien de la doctrine traditionnelle. En conséquence, les interets des grammairiens et ceux de l'elite se rejoignant dans l'institu-tion du patronage, dont dependaient tous les enseignants, la stabilite de la tradition s'en trouve renforcee; car des 'patrons' ne cherchaient pas, chez leurs 'clients', le brillant de l'innovation, ni meme avant tout la competence technique; ce qu'ils voulaient plutot, c'étaient des qualités personnelles traditionnellement reconnues, telles que la modestie et l'application, ou des qualites tendant a preserver le status quo.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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