Librarian’s Pick #3: A Latin Textbook from Early Medieval England (MS 154)


As indicated above, the Grammar is followed by a Glossary, a bilingual (Latin – English) class glossary, to be precise. A class glossary lists words by subjects rather than alphabetically. In most cases Ælfric presents simple one-to-one translations of religious terms, animal names, names of herbs and trees, occupations, illnesses, crimes and much more. Only in two instances Latin headwords are followed by descriptive definitions:

SJC, MS 154, fol. 153r (detail of Glossary)

lupus . wulf . Leo . leo . Linx . gemenged hund . 7 wulf . Unicor|nis . anhyrne deor . þæt deor hæfð ænne horn . bufan ðam twam ea/gum . swa strangne . 7 swa scearpne . þæt he/ fyht wið ðone mycclan ylp . 7 hine oft gewundað . on ðære wambe oð deað . he hatte eac . rinoceron . 7 monoceron . griff/es . fiðerfote fugel . leone gelic . on wæstme . 7 earne gelic . on heafde . 7 on fiðerum . Se is swa micel þæt he gewylt . hors . 7 menn .

lupus, wolf, leo, lion, linx both dog and wulf. Unicornis, one-horned beast. That beast has one horn above two eyes, so powerful and so sharp that it fights with the large elephant and often wounds it deadly in the belly. It is also called rinoceron and monoceron. Griffes, a four-footed bird, a statue like a lion and a head and feathers like an eagle. It is so powerful that it easily moves a hors and men.’

Joyce Hill has shown that the Grammar and Glossary were commonly copied together and complemented each other as classroom texts (Hill, ‘Ælfric’s Grammatical Triad’, p. 289). The high survival rate of Anglo-Saxon copies of the Grammar (nine fairly complete or imperfect copies plus four fragments) and the Glossary (it follows the Grammar in six copies) is seen by Hill as evidence that the Grammar was ‘much copied’ because it ‘clearly met a need’ (ibid, p. 291). By contrast, the four colloquia (‘conversations’) which make up the remainder of St John’s MS 154 have a very low survival rate. For three of these, this manuscript is the sole text witness.

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