Priscianus Caesariensis (fl. 500 AD), commonly known as Priscian, was a Latin grammarian. He wrote the Institutiones grammaticae ("Grammatical Foundations") on the subject. This work was the standard textbook for the study of Latin during the Middle Ages and provided the raw material for the field of speculative grammar.
The details of Priscian's life are largely unknown. Priscian was of Greek descent, and was born and raised in Caesarea (modern Cherchell, Algeria) the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis. According to Cassiodorus, he taught Latin at Constantinople. Priscian's minor works include a panegyric to Anastasius (491—518), written about 512, which helps establish his time period. In addition, the manuscripts of his Institutiones grammaticae contain a subscription to the effect that the work was copied (526, 527) by Flavius Theodorus, a clerk in the imperial secretariat.
Priscian's most famous work, the Institutiones grammaticae, is a systematic exposition of Latin grammar. The dedication to Julian probably indicates the consul and patrician, not the author of a well-known epitome of Justinian's Novellae, who lived somewhat later than Priscian. The grammar is divided into eighteen books, of which the first sixteen deal mainly with sounds, word-formation and inflexions; the last two, which form from a fourth to a third of the whole work, deal with syntax.
Priscian's grammar is based on the earlier works of Herodian and Apollonius. The examples it includes to illustrate the rules preserve numerous fragments from Latin authors which would otherwise have been lost, including Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, Lucilius, Cato and Varro. But the authors whom he quotes most frequently are Virgil, and, next to him, Terence, Cicero, Plautus; then Lucan, Horace, Juvenal, Sallust, Statius, Ovid, Livy and Persius.
The grammar was quoted by several writers in Britain of the 8th century - Aldhelm, Bede, Alcuin - and was abridged or largely used in the next century by Hrabanus Maurus of Fulda and Servatus Lupus of Ferrières. About a thousand manuscripts exist, all ultimately derived from the copy made by Theodorus. Most copies contain only books i.—xvi. (sometimes called Priscianus major), some include only (with the three books Ad Symmachum) books xvii. and xviii. (Priscianus minor), and a few contain both parts. The earliest manuscripts are of the 9th century, though a few fragments are somewhat earlier.
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