Linguistic consciousness in Erasmus Desiderius’ De conscribendis epistolis and De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione

by George Hinge




Erasmus Desiderius’ great project was doomed to failure. His vision of a humanist education based on the Classical Greek and Latin languages and on a pure interpretation of the Gospel was as beautiful as it was impracticable.

Inevitably, his modest revisionist theology got out of his hands and developed into a revolution of faith which was going to cleave Europe for centuries. Erasmus himself insisted on a middle position between Papist obstinacy and Lutheran zeal. However, there was no third way in this gigantomachy. Both parties courted Erasmus to win over his acknowledged capacity of oratory and integrity.

Instead Erasmus withdrew to Basle, where he dedicated his life to his pedagogical writings such as the treatise on letter-writing from 1522 and the dialogue on the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek from 1528. In these and similar books, he attempted at formulating a new and more solid basis for the humanist education.

Again, Erasmus’ good intentions would concede to reality. Even though he tried to revitalise Latin dissociating himself both from the vulgarisation in previous centuries and from the radical classicism as was practiced by many of his contemporaries, Erasmus’ Latinate education couldn’t appeal but to a narrow elite. The future surely belonged to the vernaculars.

However, in both areas, faith and tongue, Erasmus’ legacy is unmistakable. It may not have turned out the way he planned, but whether he wanted it or not, he initiated both movements, from Church to Gospel and from dead to living language.

Of course Latin was indeed a living language in the Middle Ages, being the natural medium for any communication, which the elite spoke as naturally as their mother tongues, and probably even more so. However, the liveliness or deadliness of the language lay not so much in the fact whether it was spoken naturally or not, but how it was practiced. The strength of Latin was also her most severe weakness, namely the fundamental unity in time and space, which was in contrast to the need of flexibility.

De conscribendis epistolis

Epistolography in Antiquity and Middle Ages

Letter-writing was one of the most important linguistic practices at the time, and therefore it got special attention from all intellectuals interested in language and education since the High Middle Ages. Letter-writing manuals sprouted up like mushrooms on a damp forest floor.

In Greco-Roman antiquity, it was not so. Epistolography was not an independent discipline, but only a minor branch of the ubiquitous art of rhetoric. In the ancient handbooks of rhetoric, only a a few pages – at most – were dedicated to the writing of letters. Social importance was gained primarily in the public speech, and letter-writing was basically considered a substitute to a face-to-face conversation and therefore subjected to the rhetorical principles of such a conversation.

In Christian culture, epistolography occupied a far more central position, first of all due to the prominence of Paul’s letters in the Scripture. Generally speaking, pagan epistolography exhibited a minimalist simplicity, conceding to ancient rhetorical prescripts of the plain style. A letter was a virtual conversation, a sermo put into writing due to the accidental absence of an interlocutor. Paul’s epistolary discourse, on the other hand, is characterised by a certain pomposity, or Schwulst, if you may. The rhetorical situation was different, and the expectations of the audience were different. The Pauline epistles were directed to a community, and they were meant for recitation in the congregations of that community, as they still are until this day.

Another factor contributed to the upgrading of epistolary theory, namely the bureaucratisation of society in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Furthermore, the increasingly complicated system of addressing pears and superiors necessitated that letter-writing was carried out more carefully and more consciously, than it was the ideal in the Roman republic and the early Empire. Accordingly, the chapters on epistolography became much larger and far more explicit in the rhetorical manuals of Late Antiquity (e.g. C. Julius Victor, 4th cent. AD).

Due to the decreasing literacy in the Early Middle Ages, both letter-writing and the performance of the letters themselves were to a large extent left to professionals, the so-called dictatores. Their profession was called dictamen, “dictation” – itself a post-Classical word. In the High and Late Middle Ages, letter-writing manuals started to appear, the Ars dictaminis, pairing ancient rhetorical theory, especially Cicero, with the reality of medieval epistolography (associated with names like Alberic of Monte Cassino, Adalbert of Samaria, and Boncampagno of Signa).[1]

The ars dictaminis was not only the most important type of rhetoric, but also the word for rhetoric as such. The style of the dictamen was rather pompous, employing a complex title and address system, a strict division of the letter into fixed parts, and an extremely formulaic language. Whereas the formulas were introduced as a means to overcome illiteracy and social barriers, they were increasingly felt as a straitjacket. At the end, the ars dictaminis stood in the way of a free personal style and a more varied communication between the correspondents.

Humanist epistolography

Famously, in 1345 Francesco Petrarca rediscovered Cicero’s Letters to Atticus in Verona. The cultural importance of this event cannot be overestimated. The early humanists found a totally different and to their mind much more attractive epistolography practiced in Cicero’s letters. Petrarca himself started to write letters in the style of Cicero and made them circulate among his friends. Thus, the private letter came into vogue again, and eventually, it became the most important expression of the humanist movement, Erasmus being one of the most, if not the most, excellent example. Writing letters meant to construct a public and, so they thought, lasting image of their personality. Accordingly, their letters circulated and were collected for publishing in their own lifetime already.

Initially, it was difficult for the early humanists to take up the example of Cicero, being as they often were secretaries working in church or court offices and therefore committed to the traditions of the rhetoric practiced in these contexts. Thus, it has become customary to address a person in the plural, with vos instead of tu. The humanists wanted to reintroduce the singular, which was the norm of the classical models. However, Coluccio Salutati, who belonged to the circle of Petrarca, tried to use tu in his official correspondence, when he became chancellor of Florence, but he met with too much resistance and was forced to return to the vos, and he continued to use the elevated style and the rhythm (cursus) characteristic of court rhetoric.[2]

There were several attempts at composing letter-writing manuals in accordance with the humanist ideals of a letter, e.g. Giammario Filelfo, Francesco Negro, and Heinrich Bebel, who relied heavily on the classical rhetorical system and defined the letter as a “conversation between absent friends”.

Erasmus and the ars dictaminis

Erasmus’ treatise on letter-writing arose gradually, the first draft being published, allegedly against his will, towards the end of the fifteenth century. The final edition, carrying the title Opus de conscribendis epistolis, was published in Basle in 1522. With its 410 pages, it was the most thorough treatment of the subject hitherto, and it exerted an enormous influence on contemporary and subsequent theoreticians.

Erasmus relies on the legacy of Cicero, Quintilian, and the grammarians. As we have seen, the letter has replaced the speech as the natural means of expressing oneself in the public space. Thus, De conscribendis epistolis is in a sense a modern replacement of Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, literally The rhetorical education. What Erasmus aimed at was an epistolary education as the fundament of a Latinate Bildungskultur, untouched by the national cultures, which are described as vulgar and barbarian. The letter is a natural expression of this international culture, because the letter form transgresses both time and space and is suited for the self-promotion, or Selbstinszenierung, of the humanist as a literary persona.

Like his predecessors, Erasmus criticises the formalism of the ars dictaminis. If you look at text number 4 on your handouts, you will find part of Erasmus’ criticism against what he calls “the absurd practice ... of addressing a single person in the plural”. One argument against it is that it is barbarian and “contrary to the practice of the ancients”. But his main argument is that it is linguistically illogical, since the plural is designed to express a large number of things, not magnitude or importance: A large mountain and even God himself are referred to in the singular. It would, perhaps, be appropriate, he says, if it was some three-bodied creature or perhaps “a breeding sow”. In other words, Erasmus believes in some correspondence between grammar and logic.

Erasmus and Ciceronianism

Yet, Erasmus criticises not only the formalism of the previous centuries, but also the formalism of his present age. In the sixteenth century, it became increasingly popular to imitate the classical models in every detail. This Ciceronianism was out of touch with its own age and, what is more, with the needs of the genre itself. It has replaced one law with another. In a later work, Ciceronianus, published together with the dialogue on pronunciation in 1528, Erasmus attacks this fashionable Ciceronianism. But it is also a major issue in the present work.

Therefore, Erasmus uses the first eight chapters of his treatise to argue against the central doctrines of radical humanist epistolography. These doctrines were taken over from ancient rhetorical manuals, which exhibited, as we have seen, a rather limited interest in the epistolary genre. On your handouts, you will find generous excerpts from this discussion, viz. text 1, 2, and 3. Since these doctrines have played an important role in the early modern approach to letter-writing as well, it should be instructive to take a closer look at them.

The dogma of brevity is formulated already in Pseudo-Demetrius’ Περὶ ἑρμηνείας (prob. 1st cent. AD), and it is also the origin of the German (and Scandinavian) word for ‘letter’, i.e. Brief from brevis. Erasmus argues that one shall not interpret the general ideal of brevity in absolute terms and claim that a letter must not exceed, say, twelve lines of text. In some cases several pages would seem too little – and in others a few lines too much.

Towards the end of the same excerpt, Erasmus makes a general remark about the difference between a book and a letter, concluding that a letter is in fact far more flexible stylistically, because it has only one recipient to take into consideration, whereas a book is directed to a general audience. This remarks shows a hitherto unseen awareness of the special character of the epistolary genre, which is not just a reduced form of rhetoric, but a dynamic discourse formulated in the space between two correspondents. Traditional rhetoric, as practiced in a speech or in a monograph, is fixed and closed, whereas the epistolary discourse is, in principle open and in a steady development.

The importance of adapting style and argumentation to the situation and the audience was emphasised by the classical rhetoricians as well. This evident point was of course known to previous theoreticians, but it tends to disappear in formalism. In the introducing chapters of the De conscribendis epistolis, on the other hand, it receives the special attention it deserves. In the third excerpt on your handouts, discussing the choice of style, Erasmus writes that a “letter should adapt itself to every kind of subject and circumstance”. He compares the letter to Mercury, appropriately enough the divine messenger god: it may transform “itself into every shape required by the topic at hand”.

Another demand frequently asked of epistolary prose since antiquity is clarity. Again, in the third text on your handouts, Erasmus protests: “no other genre admits so freely of obscurity,” he says. Furthermore, and this point is important in our context, clarity cannot positively be a priority in a humanist letter, which is not only a demonstration of the writer’s erudite persona, but first of all written in a language that is anything but familiar to the general public, namely Latin in contrast to French or German. Accordingly, the most celebrated models of classical prose literature are not at all clear in the eyes of the average reader, who would prefer texts in simple contemporary Latin or his own vernacular.

So, in Erasmus’ eyes, the radical Ciceronianism is a contradiction in terms: One cannot ask for clarity and at the same time opt for an extinct linguistic form. Letter-writing must not obey to some fixed scheme, then, and as a matter of fact, it didn’t in antiquity, either, as Erasmus points out. The problem is not that people want to follow the example of Cicero, but that they do it so blindly.

The scope of Erasmus’ treatise is practical, and he looks upon language and epistolography from a pragmatic point of view. Words and discourses are not defined absolutely, as good or bad per se, but in relation to their function in a certain context.

Three genera + one

In the fifth excerpt on your handouts, Erasmus seems nevertheless to yield to rhetorical formalism himself, dividing epistolary prose into the classical three types of rhetoric introduced by Aristotle, namely the deliberative, forensic and epideictic genres (he calls them suasorium, demonstrativum and judiciale respectively). He adds as a fourth, somewhat disturbing, category the familiar letter, which was the type of epistolography celebrated by the humanists adoring Cicero’s letters.

However, this division into three or four rhetorical genres are meant as an alternative to previous treatises that operated with an enormous amount of different letter types defined on varying principles. In the text, he refers to a Greek division into twenty-one classes; his source is the Τύποι ἐπιστολικοί wrongly attributed to Demetrius of Phaleron. Other lists are even longer. Erasmus’ point is that these lists are anything but practical: “I do not see how it can help a young to write correctly,” he says.

His own division, on the other hand, is not only practical, but is also defined logical in accordance with the function of the letter: persuasion, description, arguing, and social intercourse. So, Erasmus’ approach may be described as pragmatic after all.

De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione


Let us turn to the other book addressed by this paper, namely the dialogue De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione. But first some words on the historical background.

After the Roman conquest of the Greek-speaking East, Greek and Latin became on a pair in western education. They were simply “the two languages”, utraque lingua. Even though the Roman Empire included numerous ethnicities, all other linguistic norms than Greek and Latin were more or less ignored in the public space. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the knowledge of Greek decreased rapidly in Western Europe, alongside with the decrease of literacy in general. Even though Greek continued to be used in the Byzantine Empire, the westerners seldom felt the need to learn the language. Thus, Greek philosophy was at first studied in Arabic translations, even though the Greek originals were available in the East.

With the renaissance, the contact with the Greek past and present was revived. Petrarca and Boccaccio learnt Greek from Barlaam, a native speaker from the Greek-speaking Calabria. Finally, after the sack of Constantinople in 1456, a large amount of Greek scholars fled into Western Europe, especially Italy, e.g. Demetrios Chalkondylos (1424-1511), who, in 1463, became the first professor in Greek at a western university (Padua). Greek literature swamped the market, and Greek language was now taught all over Europe.

Like all languages Greek had developed naturally throughout the centuries. However, this development was not recognised in the learned language, which still respected the orthography, grammar and phraseology of Classical Greek. Latin experienced a formal separation between the literary norm and the spoken, so-called vulgar forms in the ninth century already. There are examples of popular literature in Greek in the Middle Ages already (significantly enough in the areas occupied by the Franks); but in general, the classical form was still considered the only proper form of the language.

The Greek orthography was unchanged, but the pronunciation was identical to the one used in the popular language, which had experienced a radical reduction of the phonological oppositions extant in Classical Greek. However, given that nobody heard anything but the contemporary pronunciation, this discrepancy was unknown to the Greek speakers themselves. Accordingly, when teaching the Classical language to western students, the Greek teachers used the modern Byzantine pronunciation, and the students used this pronunciation without knowing better, just as the average learner of English accepts the conservative orthography of that language without further notice.

Erasmian pronunciation

Some western scholars, however, felt that something was wrong there. The Spanish grammarian Antonio of Lebrija (1444-1522) enumerated what he called the errores Graecorum, first in a lecture held at the university of Salamanca in 1486, but the Greeks were not at all satisfied with this attack upon their authority (and many of them still take offence today, when one points out to them that Classical Greek was pronounced differently from what they have learnt from their mothers). Another pioneer in this field was Aldus Manutius (1449-1515), the famous publisher from Venice and a close friend of Erasmus.

The first thorough description of the problem was, however, Erasmus’ De recta pronuntiatione, published in Basle in 1528. It presents a systematic reconstructon of the original phonetics of the classical languages on the basis of ancient grammarians and arguments of reason. It is set as a dialogue between an older man called Ursus and younger man called Leo. The older man represents Erasmus himself, whereas the younger man was perhaps Erasmus’ young friend Rutger Rescius from Leuven.[3]

The dialogue form was popular in educational literature since antiquity, and it makes the otherwise rather technical discussion a pleasant read for the average audience. Consequently, it exerted an enormous influence, and the so-called Erasmian pronunciation is now standard in all schools and universities (outside of Greece). At first, it met some resistance, though. The conservative party was called Reuchlinians after Johann Reuchlin, who had died six years before the appearance of Erasmus’ dialogue; but his pupils, above all Philipp Melanchthon, stuck to the pronunciation taught to them in his classes.

The motive for the reconstruction was a wish to reach to a pure form of the classical languages free from the corrupting influence of the vernaculars. The concept of a corrupt and barbarian present in contrast to a pure past was presented already in excerpt 2 of the letter-writing manual. Similarly, in the present work, he writes:

“Once upon a time a large part of Europe and Africa together with a smaller part of Asia spoke Latin and Greek. Now, look at the number of barbarian languages there are, which the common people have created out of Latin alone! Look at the different dialects even within single countries, as in Italy, France and Spain. So it is important for scholars to confine themselves to those languages that have almost exclusively been used in learned writing. The reason is that they do not depend for their guarantee on ordinary people. The people are poor custodians of quality, whereas the guarantee of the integrity of the learned languages rests in the books written by good authors.” (p. 32 / 924)

So, the unity of Latin rested upon the purity of the language. Corruption would lead to disintegration and consequently undermine the humanist education. In a sense, Erasmus was right. The use of the vernacular, most prominently in the case of Luther’s introduction of German as the language of the reformed Church, eventually replaced the international Latinate culture with a national culture based on the diverse vernaculars. On the other hand, this development ensured new unities, thereby integrating other social groups not only into religion, but also into literate education.

Consciousness of the phonetic differences between the various nations of Europe

In spite of his overt contempt for the vernaculars, Erasmus exhibits an unprecedented consciousness of the fine differences between the various European linguistic forms. First of all, of course, the dialects of his native language Dutch and the neighbouring and closely related Westphalian dialect, but also the English, French and Italian languages.

Let’s take the 7th excerpt on the handout, where the pronunciation of the Greek ἦτα is treated. In Modern Greek, it has become [i], but Erasmus argues that since it alternates now with e and now with a, it was probably something in between, a vowel, which he finds in the pronunciation of a “in Scotland and parts of Holland”, whereas the Westphalian a is closer to o. In the same passage, he also refers to certain aberrant pronunciations of e in connexion with r, where it is closer to the Scottish a, and the French opening of e in a closed syllable before a nasal.

There are numerous such comparisons in the book, and they are invaluable as testimonies to the earlier phase of the dialects in question. In the actual case, however, Erasmus seems to speak about the various pronunciations of Latin, not of the vernaculars themselves. Similarly so in passage 6 on the handout, where the fashion of a French accent in one’s Latin is described vividly. At any rate, Erasmus has probably communicated in Latin with most people anyway. Yet, since these peculiarities are due to an influence from the substratum, the testimony is still valid.

In text number 9 on the handout, Erasmus discusses various instances of diphthongs in contemporary dialects. He argues that the Greek digraphs α-ι, ε-ι, and ο-ι – which the modern Greeks pronounce e, i, and i, respectively – were in fact originally pronounced as diphthongs, and therefore, he wants to find typological support for the existence of such diphthongs, the possibility of which was, believe it or not, a matter of dispute among grammarians.[4] Most of his examples come from Dutch, but there are also some from French, English and the Cologne dialect of German.

However, when reading the Latin text, it catches one’s eyes that all his examples are quoted in Latin translation, which makes it a complicated case to follow his argument if one happens to lack fluency in the languages in question. Not every reader would know that ovum was ei in Dutch, or that famam would be bruit in French. The publisher of the text realised that, so in several cases, he added the vernacular forms in the margin of the text. These forms are not always trustworthy: thus the form gruet is ascribed to the dialect of Cologne, which is, to the best of our knowledge, impossible.

Yet, it says a lot about Erasmus’ attitude towards the vernacular forms. He may have known them – and in the case of Dutch, he must have– but he considers them inadequate for writing. Sometimes, he does include such forms, e.g. dier ‘animal’ in text 11 and chapen ‘yawn’ in text 13; but normally they are represented by the Latin translations.

Unified pronunciation

In text 8, Ursus instructs Leo in the pronunciation of the letter u. To the modern student of Latin, it may come as a surprise that he prescribes a front-tongue [y], like in French and – as he points out – in some varieties of Italian, instead of a back-tongue [u], which he describes as a Westphalian speciality and judgmentally compares to the mooing of cows. He finds [y] in the dialects of northern Italy as well. He may have been influenced by the fact that the Dutch also has a front-vowel [y], and it is interesting that he testifies that many Dutchmen tried to imitate the [u] of the neighbouring Germans, though imperfectly.

The point of departure, however, is the Greek υ, and the vernacular variants of the phoneme /u/ are adduced only in order to establish that the Greek vowel was pronounced as [y] and not [i] like in modern Greek. The interesting thing is that Erasmus puts Latin and Greek on a common denominator. According to the title, the dialogue is about the correct pronunciation of Latin and Greek. Apparently, it turns out that he is not speaking about two things but one and the same thing. The two languages had different alphabets, but as far as the letters corresponded, they had the same ideal pronunciation.

What is more, Erasmus speaks as though each letter had an ideal pronunciation not only in the two classical languages, but in any language. Accordingly, the difference between the single languages is only part of the surface structure, not the deep structure of language. Or to use the terms of Saussure, they belonged to le parole rather than la langue. One could say that Latin and Greek were la langue, and the vernaculars only imperfect or corrupt paroles, whereas the reconstructed ideal pronunciation of Greek and Latin was a perfect parole. At any rate, the attempt at establishing an ideal unified pronunciation of Greek and Latin is a logical consequence of the role of these languages as supranational linguistic norms independent of local accents and idiosyncrasies.

Language development

The modern observer may smile at Erasmus’ naïve treatment of language history. I have included two excerpts on the handout, number 11 and 12, where he derives the Germanic words dear, fire and fish directly from Greek θήρ and πῦρ and Latin piscis. The affinity of the last two of these words are a fact, but they have a common Indo-European origin (*ph2ur-, *pi(k)sk‑), whereas the similarity of the first of them is accidental (*gwher‑ ~ *dheus-). Erasmus observes that p is changed to f (in his terminology an aspirate), but he seems not to have recognised the regularity of that sound change, or of any sound change for that matter – compare his remarks at the end of excerpt 12. Well, nobody knew better before the nineteenth century, and it is therefore more interesting how he related the seemingly arbitrary sound changes to the unreliability of the uneducated mob in accordance with his general view on language.

The origin of language or at least words is touched upon in the last text on the handout. It appears that Erasmus adheres to the theory which Plato made famous with his dialogue Cratylus, namely that words have a true meaning which is revealed in the letters of which they are combined. Erasmus’ examples are partially taken right out of Plato.

However, at a close inspection, it turns out that Erasmus has a more sophisticated approach than the one presented in Cratylus. When Leo, who plays the naïve part, protests that “then every object ought to have the same name in every language” (as it was pointed out in antiquity already[5]), the wise Ursus answers that it’s because different words represent different aspects of one and the same reality. In other words, the names may be natural, but it is, after all, a matter of convention which name is chosen in a particular language and at a particular time.[6] Thus, paradoxically speaking, Erasmus’ linguistic essentialism is really a pragmatic one.


The title of this paper uses the expression “linguistic consciousness”, but it gives either too little or too much credit to Erasmus and his writings. Of course, Erasmus is conscious about language and rhetoric, being as he was a man of letters and at that, the most famous one of his age.

Yet the question is, if this consciousness was extraordinary not only in quantity, but also in quality. Did he reach to new insights in language as such or at least in particular languages? I believe that the answer is affirmative in both cases.

His knowledge of contemporary linguistic variation is amazing, and his phonetic observations is out of the ordinary. Whether he wants it or not, he thereby prepares the way for a serious occupation with the vernaculars.

His linguistic and rhetorical theory relies on a pragmatic approach which is far more accentuated than in previous and contemporary treatments of language and literature. And his understanding of the conditions and potentials of epistolary discourse is more modern than most that was written until the 20th century.


[The English translation is adapted from Collected Works of Erasmus, 25-26, Toronto 1985]

De conscribendis epistolis

1: p. 213 / 346
Nam quid tandem est breuitatem praestare? Nempe maximam rerum uim, quoad fieri potest, in pauca conferre: non pauca scribere, quod alioqui uel indoctissimus quisque, desidiosissimusque facillime possit. Omnem igitur ad copiose dicendum supellectilem in animo praepararis oportet, si laconismi, hoc est breuiloquentiae laudem auferre uoles. Ea autem pro argumenti oblati modo: utque sese dabit ocium uel scribenti uel lecturo, ita utemur, modo rei satis fiat. Neque interim ulla epistola non breuis uidebitur, in qua praeter argumeni dispendium nihil adimere queas; quae sic est scripta, ut iterum atque iterum relecta, tamen non satiet: cum tua interim, uel intra duodecim uersiculos consistens, adeo breuis non sit, ut Iliade quoque uideatur prolixior. Quandoquidem in hac, tametsi longissima, nullus ex tot uersuum milibus redundat, cum ex tuis illis undecim uersiculis, septem possint resecari, atque ita sane resecati ut reliqui quoque ob sermonis ineptiam, immensae prolixitatis nauseam faciant. Quare si quem in scribendis literis impendio delectat hic laconismus, per me quidem licebit, si rei ociique modo, non chartanum spatiis, ac uersiculorum numero breuitatem metiator. Nec ita scribat paucissima, ut ex iis ipsis supersint quaedam, sed ut uelut e diuite rerum aceruo optima quaeque decerpta fuisse appareat. Meminisse tamen debemus, nonnihil interesse inter uolumen et epistolam, propterea quod haec ad temporis, rerum, personarumque praesentem rationem, quantum licet, est accommodanda. Volumen quoniam omnibus scribitur, ita temperandum est, ut optimis atque doctissimis placeat.

p. 13-14
“What in fact do we mean by brevity? Surely the ability to concentrate a great amount of material into the fewest words possible, not merely to write few words, which for that matter the most ignorant and indolent person could do with great facility. So you must have a mental store of words necessary for expressing yourself fully if you wish to win praise for laconism, that is, brevity of speech. But it must be adapted to the subject-matter and must be used according to the time at the disposal of the writer and prospective reader, provided justice is done to the subject. The truly brief letter is that from which nothing can be subtracted without detriment to the content, and which is so well written that even after several readings it does not cloy; at the same time, even a letter kept within the limit of twelve lines may be so lacking in brevity that it seems longer than the Iliad. And yet in this poem, despite its great length, not a single line of so many thousands is superfluous, while of those eleven lines of yours, seven can be pruned and, even after the pruning, the remaining lines, if badly expressed, will still convey the same tedium as if they rambled on endlessly. If anyone enjoys being laconic in a letter, he is free to do so, provided that he measures brevity by the limits of the subject-matter and the time available, and not by the size of the paper or the number of lines. But out of these very few words there should be none that is superfluous; rather it should appear that the writer has chosen the best portions of a rich store of material. In all of this we must remember that there is an important difference between a book and a letter, in that the latter must be adapted as far as possible to the immediate occasion, and to contemporary topics and individuals, whereas a book, intended as it is for general consumption, must be contrived to please all men of learning and good will.”

2: p. 217-21 / 347-9
Non haec dico, quod negem in quauis oratione praecipuam ease laudem perspicuitatis. Quid enim eat oratio, quae non intelligitur? Sed quemadmodum pro re non solum probanda, uerumetiam necessaria est perspicuitas, facilitasquc sermonis, ueluti, quoties serium quippiam petitur ab homine semidocto, morosoue, aut etiam uehementer occupato, ita incidit nonnunquam, ut non aliud genus excusatius admittat obscuritatem: uelut cum eruditus cum erudito uelitatur literatis iocis, quos nolit a quouis intelligi. Quemadmodum nos olim lusimus cum eruditissimo uiro Thoma Linacro: cui scripsimus epistolam metro trochaico tetrametro, sed ita temperata compositione, ut aliud agenti non suboleret esse carmen. Admonueram in epistolae frontispicio, ut sibi caueret: nam mihi in animo esse ipsum hac epistola fallere; et in calce adieci iam me fefellisse, ni fallerer ipse. Non sensit homo fraudem, nisi monitus a me. Mihi non displicet illud Octauii Caesaris, non aliter in sermone fugiendum uerbum insolens, quam in cursu scopulum. Et merito ridentur hoc nostro seculo quidam Apuleiani, et obsoletae antiquitatis affectatores. Arridet usitatiis uerbis oratio, sed ab istis lubens quaesierim, quae tandem appellent usitata. Num e compitis ac triuiis sumpta? Recte sane si gallice, aut germanice scribendum erit. Uerum si graece aut latine, quid minus conuenit quam eius sermonis mundiciem ab his auctoribus petere, apud quos praeter meas sordes nihil est? Olim hoc iuris erat consuetudini publicae, ut quasdam uoces antiquaret, aliis gratiam nouitatis adderet. Quanquam ne tum quidem omnia placebant doctis, quae uulgo in conciliabulis, theatris, ant castris iactarentur; et erant in libris eruditorum, ad quae resisteret plebeius lector. Nunc uero latine loquendi consuetudo, non a foris ant conciliabulis idiotarum sed a probatis autoribns petitur. Itaque nullum uerbum inusitatum uideri debet, quod extet in elegantis mundique scriptoris literis. Quid Ciceronis oratione candidius, quid apertius? At hic nonnullis uidetur Cimeriis tenebris obuolutus. Quid Terentiano sermone luculentius? At hunc ne commentariis quidem adiuti; complures intelligunt. In sordidis autoribus uersatus, si quando inciderit in Quintillanum, clamat omnia sibi uideri graeca, aut arabica. Danda est opera ut simus aperti, sed eruditis. Neque quenquam commoueat obscuritatis crimen, quod sit illi cum Cicerone, aut Tito Liuio commune. Clamitas tenebricosam esse Placci dictionem, sed eruditis uel in primis admirabilis est erudita perspicuitas. Proinde colligis, opinor, in te tenebras esse, non in autore. Tu in quemcunque scriptorem incideris, modo laudatum, noctem istam tecum circumfers. Vociferaris spinosum esse librum, sed tui pedes spinas habent, non locus: caligas in sole, et lux ipsa tuis oculis nocturnis pro caligine est. Mutandus est, inquis, stilus: qui quoquo modo accidat, tamen non intelligitur. At quanto iustius est, et tibi etiam utilius, tuum mutare uitium, quam eruditos omnes suam orationem tuo uitio accommodare. Barbare loquendi mille sunt species ac subinde exoriuntur nouae. Itaque simplicius est ac facilius, ut unam emendate loquendi rationem discant omnes, quam ut omnes barbare dicendi formas singuli. An aequum censes, ut docti romanam linguam, cui tot egregiae disciplinae, cui christiana religio concredita est, sinant intermori, ne quid offendant istorum indoctam arrogantiam? Num par esse iudicas committere ut intereant, non dicam Cicero, Quintilianus, et huius generis caeteri, sed Cyprianus, Hieronymus, Augustinus, ut pro his legatur Catholicon, Holcot, Bricot, et Gorra? An luscinia commutabit cum cuculo modulos suos, propterea quod asello iudici planius et intelligibilius canit cuculus? At iniquius sit, si docti cogantur rectum sermonem dediscere, ut cum istis foede balbutiant, praesertim cum eis in manu sit, imo cum eis tot nominibus expediat ea discere, quae suo magno malo fastidiunt. Ego uero qui semper discendi sum cupidus, nec his succensere soleo, qui priscas uoces et a Ciceronis etiam consuetudine semotas eruunt. Fortassis et his usus erat Cicero, si extaret quicquid scripsit. Non indignor obiectum esse quod non intelligam, sed oblatum gaudeo quod discam. Tu contra mauis alienam eruditionem reprehendere, quam tuam ipsius inscitiam uel agnoscere modeste, uel mutare prudenter. Mauis solem in crimen uocare, quam lippientes oculos tonsori Licino committere. Ac uide interim, quam studiose in nos iniquus sis: tu qui tuis in literis sordidissimi sermonis portenta inculcas, quum uere tenebricosus sis, sanis etiam oculis; dilucidus tamen uideri postulas, et alios obscuritatis accosas. Paria certe facere debueras; et si oculis tuis irasci non potes, saltem nostras falsas dissimulare tenebras, quum tuas, quae teterrimae, uerissimaeque sunt, cupias et laudari. Non dignatur tua prudentia latinam linguam discere, quo possis D. Hieronymum (nam unnm hunc plurimorum uice nomino) intelligere, et nos uis fecem istam sermonis in tua culina nati, perdiscere, ut te tuosque sodales delirantes, ac misere balbutientes intelligamus? Non uero haec, optime lector, in hoc tot uerbis disserimus, quod eruditam sermonis simplicitatem contemamus, quae mea sententia, saepenumero plus habet artis quam operosa structura; sed ut ueram perspicuitatem, a ueris tenebris separemus. Seruiendum est auribus, sed eruditis: in his duntaxat, quae cupimus ab eruditis legi. Quod huic obscurum est, illi dilucidum est. Sed hic lusciosus, ille puris oculis. Est tamen aliquid suapte natura dilucidum, ad cuius sensum repurgandi sunt oculi. Caeterum, ut ad institutum sese referat oratio, quanquam obscuritas quoties officit, ubique uitanda est uel dicenti uel scribenti, tamen haud scio an ullo in genere plus inueniat ueniae quam in epistolis, modo non indocta, in quibus vel Ciceronis exemplo, licet subinde graeca miscere latinis, obscuris allusionibus uti, amphibologiis, significationibus, paroemiis, aenigmatibus, clausulis de repente praecisis. Tantum habenda ratio qua de re, cui scribas. Non damnabitur libertas, si non destituat nos consilium, cui decet artem ubique cedere.

p. 17-18
“This is not to deny that in all forms of language clarity is of the utmost importance. For of what use is language that is not understood? Yet just as in certain circumstances clearness and simplicity of style is not only to be commended but is indeed necessary – for example in making a serious request of a half-educated, difficult, or extremely busy person – it is also true that no other genre admits so freely of obscurity, as when one scholar fences with another in literary witticisms that he does not want everyone to understand. For instance, I myself once played such a game with the learned scholar Thomas Linacre. I wrote him a letter in trochaic tetrameters, but with their arrangement so contrived that a casual reader might not suspect that it was verse. I had warned him in the opening of the letter to be on his guard, as it was my intention to trick him in this letter, and at the end I added that, unless I was deceived myself, I had already succeeded in deceiving him. The good man did not notice the deception until I pointed it out to him. I am rather fond of the saying of Augustus: ‘One should avoid an unusual word in speech as he would a reef at sea.’ And in our own times certain imitators of Apuleius who use archaic affectations are rightly ridiculed. Speech made up of familiar words has a unique charm, but I should like to ask the proponents of this idea what words they consider ‘familiar.’ Surely not words taken from the highways and byways. That is all right if one has to write in French or German; but if in Greek or Latin, what could be less appropriate than to seek elegance from those authors in whom there is nothing but sheer dross? At one time popular usage had the right to reject some terms and to confer the charm of novelty upon others. Yet even then the learned did not approve all the expressions commonly bandied about in assemblies, theatres, or the military camp, and there were things in the books of the learned which would confuse the ordinary reader. Nowadays, however, correct Latin usage is not to be found in the public squares or meeting-places of the common people, but in the approved authors. Consequently, no word found in the works of an elegant and refined writer should sound unfamiliar. What is clearer or more straightforward than the language of Cicero? Yet to some he seems wrapped in Cimmerian darkness. What is more lucid than the language of Terence? Yet many do not understand him even with the aid of commentaries. When one who is used to less elegant authors chances upon Quintilian, he protests that it all seems Greek or Arabic to him. We must take pains to be clear, yes, but clear to the educated. No one should be upset by a charge of obscurity if he shares it with Cicero or Livy. You repeatedly protest that Horace’s diction is abstruse, but for the educated his learned clarity is what is most admired. I think you will conclude that the darkness exists in you, not in the author. It does not matter which writers you encounter of those I have just cited, you carry that cloud of darkness around with you. You protest loudly that a book is thorny, but the thorns are in your own feet, not in the text. You grope blindly in the sunlight, and to your owl’s eyes light itself seems like darkness. The style must be amended, you say, but no matter how it comes out, still it is not understood. Yet how much more logical it would be, and more advantageous to yourself as well, to amend your own defects than to make all educated men adapt their speech to your deficiencies. There are a thousand ways of speaking barbarously, and new ones are continually cropping up. Hence it would be far simpler and easier for everyone to learn a single mode of correct speech than for each of us to learn the multiple varieties of idiom which barbarism permits. Or do you think it right that the learned should allow the Roman tongue, to which so many excellent branches of learning and the Christian religion itself have been entrusted, to die out in order not to give offence to the ignorant conceit of these individuals? Surely you do not think it fair that Cyprian, Jerome, and Augustine – not to mention Cicero, Quintilian, and others like them – should be condemned to oblivion so that in their place the Catholicon, Holcot, Bricot, and Gorra may be read? Will the nightingale exchange its melodies with the cuckoo just because in the ass’s judgment the cuckoo’s song is clearer and more intelligible? But it would be even more unfair if the educated were forced to unlearn correct speech so that they could babble away incoherently with this motley crowd, especially since the latter have it in their power, and indeed have every reason, to learn what they now, to their own great disadvantage, hold in contempt. I myself am always eager to learn, and I am not bothered even by those who unearth old words that Cicero himself did not use. Perhaps if all that he wrote were still extant we should discover that Cicero used them too. I do not resent being confronted with something that I do not understand; rather I am pleased to have the opportunity to learn something new. You, on the contrary, prefer to criticize someone else’s learning rather than modestly acknowledge your own ignorance or wisely correct it. You prefer to bring charges against the sun rather than have your blear eyes treated by Licinus the barber. Just reflect for a moment how deliberately unfair you are towards us; you who cram your own writings with atrocious examples of the most corrupt speech claim to be perfectly clear and accuse others of obscurity, although you are truly impenetrable even to readers with clear vision. The contest is not fair; if you are unable to find fault with your own eyes, at least you could have overlooked our supposed faults, since you even desire to be praised for your own very real and hideous defects. In your wisdom you do not deign to learn the Latin tongue so that you might be able to understand St Jerome, to name but one among many, and yet you want us to become experts in your low, kitchen jargon so that we may understand the ravings and pathetic mumblings of you and your confreres? Good reader, I do not dwell on this at such length because I look down upon learned simplicity of speech, which in my view frequently has more artistry than the most elaborate syntax, but to draw the line between true clarity and true obscurity. One must defer to the ear, but to the learned ear, at least in works that we wish to be read by the learned. What one man finds obscure is perfectly intelligible to another; but while the former has poor sight, the latter is clear-eyed. Yet there are some things that are clear of their own nature, to perceive which the eyes must be cleansed. Besides — to return to the theme — though obscurity is always harmful and must always be avoided by a speaker or a writer, I am inclined to believe that letter-writing is the one genre in which it is most permissible, provided the obscurity is not unlearned. With Cicero as precedent one may occasionally mingle Greek and Latin, and make use of obscure allusions, ambiguities, hidden connotations, proverbs, enigmas, and abrupt endings. One must but take into account the subject and recipient of the letter. One can break rules, but not the bounds of good sense within which art must everywhere be confined.”

3: p. 222-4 / 349-50
Magna olim inter eruditos sententiarum uarietas fuit, quod dicendi genus maxime probaretur, Atticum, Rhodiense, an Asiaticum. At Fabius existimat eum optimum dicendi genus sequi, qui pro re, pro loco, pro tempore, pro qualitate auditorum quam appositissime dicit: ut inepte faciant, qui dictionen ad certas leges astringunt. Itidem et ego eam epistolam optimam iudico, quae a uulgato hoc et indocto literarum genere quam longissime recedat; quae sententiis exquisitissimis, verbis electissimis, sed aptis constet; quae argumento, loco, tempori, personae, quam maxime sit accommodata; quae amplissimis de rebus agens, sit grauissima, de mediocribus concinna, de humilibus elegans et faceta; in iocis acumine delectet ac lepore, in encomiis apparatu, in exhortando uehemens sit et animosa; in consolando, blanda sit et amica; in suadendo, grauis sit et sententiosa; in narrando, lucida et graphica; in petendo, verecunda; in commendando, officiosa; in rebus sequundis, gratulabunda; in afflictis, seria. Denique (ne quae sunt infinita persequar) sit versipellis, ac polypus quemadmodum semet ad omnem subiecti soli habitum, ita sese ad quemuis argumenti, reliquarumque circumstantiarum habitum attemperet. Neque enim rei solum obsequundabit epistolae stilus, verum ut dignum est egregio quopiam Mercurio (nam nuncii vice fungitur epistola) temporum personarumque rationem habebit; nec eadem de re quouis tempore, nec apud quosuis loquetur; alia specie sese offeret senibus, alia iuuenibus, alia tetricis ac seueris, alia iis qui festiuiore sunt ingenio, alia aulicis, alia philosophis, ahia familiaribus, alia ignotis, alia vacuis, alia negociosis, alia fidis sodalibus, alia fictis amicis, ac parum bene volentibus. Sed interim et illud spectabit, unde ueniat, non solum ad quem ueniat, aut quibus de rebus legata. Proinde Mercurium quendam aget, semet pro re praesenti in omnem transfigurans habitum; sed ita tamen, ut in tanta uarietate unum quendam tenorem obtineat, uidelicet vt semper munda sit, semper erudita, semper sana. Ab his si non fuerit recessum, nullum est praeterea delictum in epistola, cui non sit parata venia. Erit loquacior, scripta dicetur tum auido, tum ocioso. Elaboratior erit, et lucernam olens, scripta est erudito. Habebit artificium, talem decebat mittere artifici. Carebit artiflcio, scripta putabitur ei cui placebat simplicitas, aut imperitiori. Laconismum habet, occupatus scripsisti occupato. Fucatior erit ac picturatior, scripta dicetur curioso, priscis uerbis antiquario, blandior amico, licentior familiari, asperior improbo, adulantior ambitioso putabitur. Denique quicquid alibi non uacasset crimine, hic uel a re, uel a persona scribentis, uel a moribus fortunaque et aetate eius cui scribitur defensionem inueniet. Quin et alias damnanda phraseos, et argumentorum uarietas, et inaequalitas, hic uel praecipuam habet gratiam. In Noctibus ac Miscellaneis argumento subinde nouo datur uenia, stilo subinde diuerso non datur. In epistolis iuuat etiam uidere, quantum oratio iuuenilis differat a senili, quidue aetas stilo uel adiecerit, uel detraxerit. Quare qui unam quampiam formam ac faciem huic generi tribuere conantur, hi non solum inanem, uerumetiam ridiculam operam sumunt.

p. 19-20
“There was once a great diversity of opinion among the learned about the style of speech to be preferred, Attic, Rhodian, or Asiatic. Quintilian, however, considers the best style to be that which is most suited to the topic, the place, the occasion, and the character of the listeners, and consequently that it is foolish to bind utterance to fixed laws. In the same way I judge the best letter to be that which is most removed from a hackneyed and ignorant kind of writing: it should consist of carefully considered thoughts and well-chosen, appropriate words; it should be adapted as much as possible to the subject, the place, the occasion, and the person; when dealing with great matters it should be dignified; in matters of less importance, unpretentious; in matters of little importance, elegant and amusing; in pleasantries it should give delight with subtlety and wit; in eulogies it should have a degree of pomp; it should be powerful and spirited in exhortations; soothing and friendly in consolation; effective and pithy in persuasion; clear and vivid in description; modest in making requests; conscientious in recommendation; in success congratulatory; in distress grave. Finally, not to pursue an endless list, it should be flexible, and, as the polyp adapts itself to every condition of its surroundings, so a letter should adapt itself to every kind of subject and circumstance. A letter’s style will not only conform to the topic, but, as befits any good go-between (for a letter performs the function of a messenger), it will take account of times and persons: it will not speak of the same subject on all occasions or to all persons alike; it will present itself in one guise to the old, in another to the young; its aspect will vary according as the person addressed is stern and forbidding, or of a more jovial nature; a courtier or a philosopher; an intimate acquaintance or a total stranger; a man of leisure or one engaged in active pursuits; a faithful companion or a false friend and ifi-wisher. At the same time the style will also keep in mind the writer and not merely the recipient or the purpose for which it was sent. Therefore it will play the part of a Mercury, as it were, transforming itself into every shape required by the topic at hand, yet in such a way that amid great variety it retains one feature unaltered, namely that of being always refined, learned, and sane. So long as there has been no departure from these requirements, there is no other failing in a letter which cannot readily be excused. If it is somewhat verbose, we shall say that it was written either for an inquisitive person or a man of leisure; if it is a bit elaborate and reeks of the lamp, then it was written for a scholar; if it is technical, this kind of letter befits an expert; if uncomplicated in style, it will be regarded as being written for one who liked simplicity or for one who is uninitiated; if it is laconic, it is the letter of one busy person to another; if rather artificial and embroidered, let us say it was written for a man of fastidious tastes; if couched in an archaic style, it will have been destined for an antiquarian; if it is too effusive, for a friend; if too familiar, for a close acquaintance; if too harsh, for a scoundrel; if too flattering, for a social climber. In short, whatever would not have escaped criticism in other forms of writing can be defended here either in consideration of the topic, or the person of the writer, or the character, condition, or age of the recipient. In fact, variation and unevenness of style and subject-matter which would merit condemnation elsewhere here have a peculiar charm. In Gellius’ Noctes and other miscellanies one can pardon constant changes of subject, but not a repeatedly shifting style, whereas in letters it is delightful to see how much a young man’s language differs from that of an old man, and to note what age has added or taken away from the style. So those who try to impose a single form and style on this branch of writing are taking on a task that is both fruitless and absurd.”

4: p. 266-8 / 364
Iam uero consuetudinem insulsissimam quidem illam, sed aliquot iam seculis mire receptam, unum hominem multitudinis numero compellandi, non tam dedocendi sunt iuuenes quam animandi, ut ausint contemnere, certe quoties cum his agitur, unde nihil sit periculi. Mea certe aetate iam haec ineptia magna ex parte obsoleuit, paulatim subolescentibus bonis literis. Quanquam supersunt et hodie non pauci uossissatores, qui quod pueri male didicerunt, non solum ipsi mordicus tenent, uerumetiam ab aliis exigunt. Inexpiabili contumeia se putant affici, si quis unum singulari numeto salutet; ac plane rem putant iniuriarum actione dignam, ac legibus uindicandam. Tu pro tua prudentia quid sit optimum dispicito. Hic mihi continuo Tragicum uociferans in re nihili: Quid tu, inquit, me tuissas? tuissa famulas tuos. Ego sum et te et tuis omnibus melior. Quid ais hominis monstrum, tu sic appellari dedignaberis, quomodo olim reges suos appellabant parasiti; quomodo summos orbia monarchas olim affabantur libertini, aut e plebe cerdo quilibet? Denique quomodo tu ipse deum Opt. Max. compellas? Quur non ut unum alloquar, quum unum uideam, etiamsi Polyphemo maior esses? An ideo Athonem montes dicam, non montem, qund ingens sit? An ideo non est mare Oceanus, quod uaste pateat? Adeo qui uix sunt homines, iis non satis est, si unius hominis loco ducantur. Caesari totius orbis monarchae loquimur: Superi bene uertant quod agis Caesar. Et hic indignatur, nisi dixeris: Bene uertant quod agunt uestrae dominationes; perinde quasi non unum hominem, sed Hecaten quampiam triformem, aut Hermetem trimegistum, aut Geryonem tricorporem alloquamur. Hoc fortassis in muliere grauida sit tolerabilius, aut etiam, si mauis, in scropha. Quur a grammaticis distincti sunt numeri, singularis, dualis, et pluratiuus, nisi ut uteremur? Honoris, inquit, gratia abutimur: apte dictum abutimur. Nam istud est plane abuti, perinde quasi quis soleam utramque eidem inducat pedi? Sed quis istuc iuris uobis donauit? An aequum putatis, ut honoris uestri gratia, praeter ueterum consuetudinem barbare loquantur homines?

p. 45
“As for that absurd practice, curiously in vogue now for several centuries, of addressing a single person in the plural, young men should not so much be untaught this vice as encouraged to scorn it altogether, at least in dealing with those with whom there is no risk involved. In my lifetime, at least, this folly has now largely fallen into disuse with the gradual coming of age of sound learning. Yet even today a good many users of the vos form of address, who not only hang on tenaciously to what they wrongly learnt as boys but also require it of others are still with us. They consider it an unforgiveable insult if someone greets them in the singular; indeed, they deem it deserving of an action for damages and punishable by law! ‘Thou judge in thine own wisdom what is best.’ Immediately he responds, bawling in tragic tones over a matter of no importance: ‘Why are you thouing me? Thou your servants. I am better than thee and all thy lineage.’ Look here, you abomination, do you disdain to be addressed as parasites once addressed their patrons, as freedmen or ordinary labourers once spoke to the greatest monarchs of the earth? And then, how do you yourself call upon almighty God? Why should I not address you as one person when I see only one, even if you were bigger than Polyphemus? Or am I to call Mt Athos ‘mountains’ instead of ‘mountain’ because it is so huge? or the sea ‘Ocean’ because of its vast expanse? Is it not enough for those who hardly deserve the name of man at all to be counted as a single man? We say to Caesar, ruler of the whole world, ‘May the gods prosper thy deeds, O Caesar.’ But this curious individual is insulted unless you say ‘Success to the deeds of your lordships,’ as if we were addressing not a single person but a triform Hecate, or Hermes Trismegistus, or three-bodied Geryon. This might be more tolerable perhaps in the case of a pregnant woman, or even, if you wish, of a breeding sow. Why have grammarians drawn distinctions among the numbers, singular, dual, and plural, except that we make use of them? He replies: ‘We use them honoris causa.’ ‘Misuse’ is the proper term. It is clearly misuse – like putting both shoes on the same foot. But who gave you this right? Do you think it just that out of deference to you men should speak barbarously and contrary to the practice of the ancients?”

5: p. 310-315 / 379-81
Rhetorum plerisque tria causarum genera placuerunt, suasorium, encomiasticon et iudiciale. Ad haec tanquam ad fontes pleraeque literarum formae referuntur ut suasorio has fere partes subiicias: conciliationem, reconciliationem; exhortationem, dehortationem; suasionem, dissuasionem; consolationem, petitionem, commendationem, monitionem, amatoriam. In demonstratiuo genere uersantur descriptiones personarum, regionum, praediorum, arcium, fontium, hortorum, montium, monstrorum, tempestatum, itinerum, conuiuiorum, aedificiorum, pomparum. Ad iudiciale genus, haec fere referuntur: Accusatio, querela, defensio, expostulatio, expurgatio, exprobratio, comminatio, inuectiua, deprecatio. His tribus quartum genus accersere licebit, quod si placet, familiare nominemus. Eius eiusmodi ferme species esse possunt: Narratoria, qua rem apud nos gestam, longe positis exponimus. Nunciatoria, qua nouarum rerum quippiam annunciamus, siue de publicis, siue priuatis, siue etiam domesticis. Gratulatoria, qua amicorum felicitatem nobis iucundam esse testamur. Lamenataria, qua uel nostra, uel necessariorum incommoda deploramus. Mandatoria, qua negocii quippiam alii nostro nomine gerendum committimus. Est quae gratiarum habet actionem, qua nobis gratum fuisse benemerentis officium declaramus. Collaudatoria, qua puerum, aut qui in nostro sit imperio officio functum laudamus. Officiosa, sic enim uisum est appellare, qua operam ac studium ultro pollicemur amico. Iocosa, qua cuiuspiam animum festiua urbanitate delectamus. Verum de his prudens supersedebo, propterea quod ut incantatores certas quasdam preculas, ita isti formulas quasdam praescriptas habent, ut ne apicem quidem sine summo rerum humanarum diuinarumque discrimine putent de mutari posse. Nos eorum conatus, nostris praeceptionibus adiutamus, qui ad optimum scribendi genus adnituntur, non qui uel arrogantissima superstitione, quod semel arripuerunt, id pro optimo defendunt, uel ad sordidissimum lucellum toto pectore inhiantes, pro optimia pessima sequi malunt. Quid enim iis praecipias, quibus ea demum epistola optima est, quae quaestuosissima? His disputatoriam, sciscitoriam, doctrinalem adiicias licebit. In quibus et theologicae, et ethnicae contineri possunt. Neque uero me praeterit, apud Graecos esse, qui epistolarum genera diuidat hunc in modum, ut φιλικὴ dicatur, quam amicus scribat amico. Συστατικὴ, qua quempiam alteri commendamus, μεμπτικὴ, qua desideramus in aliquo officium. Ὀνειδιστικὴ, qua cuipiam exprobramus ingratitudinem. Παραμυθικὴ, qua consolamur afflictos in rebus aduersis. Ἐπιτιμητικὴ, qua increpamus aliquem lapsum. Νουθετικὴ, qua libere admonemus, quid sit agendum, quid non. Ἀπειλητικὴ, qua comminamur alicui ac metum iniicimus. Ψεκτικὴ, qua morum improbitatem alicui exprobramus. Ἐπαινετικὴ, qua collaudamus aliquem officio functuro. Συμβουλευτικὴ, qua consulimus, quid nobis uideatur optimum factu. Ἀξιωματικὴ, qua deprecatores itercedimus pro aliquo, qui deliquit. Ἐρωτηματικὴ, qua sciscitamur aut percontamur ab alio quod scire cupimus. Ἀποφαντικὴ, qua percontanti respondemus. Ἀλληγορικὴ, qua tectit uerbis significamus cuipiam, quod ab eo solo, cui scribimus uolumus intelligi. Αἰτιολογικὴ, qua reddimus causas, cur aliquid aut factum non est, aut non est futurum. Καθηγορικὴ, qua quempiam incusamus. Ἀπολογητικὴ, quo nos purgamus. Εὐχαριστικὴ, qua gratulamur amico suam felicitatem. Εἰρωνικὴ, quum diuersa scribimus, ac sentimus. Ἀπευχαριστικὴ, qua gratias agimus pro officio in nos collato. Has epistolarum formas tantum recensent, et exemplum qualecunque subiiciunt, nec indicant qua ratione genus unumquodque tractandum sit. Quod si maxime facerent, tamen ipsa generum distributio, non uidetur ab ulla ratione profecta. Nam quod appellant φιλικὸν, non ab argumento sumptum est, sed a persona. Alioqui quos familiatiter amamus, hos admonemus, obiurgamus, exhortamur: cum his iocamur, aut expostulamus. Extat et Philostrati praefatio, de charactere epistolae, admonens nos, quod epistolam non oporteat nec atticam esse plus satis, nec omnino carere atticismo; quod hoc ipso figurata sit, quod figurata non est; quod tametsi ciuilis sit, tamen non abhorreat a mollitudine; quod in breuioribus epistolis liceat circulum absoluere, in prolixioribus non item, nisi uel calce, uel in epilogo, uel in epiphonemate; quod perspicuitas praecipue congruat epistolae. Haec ut sunt ab illo festiuiter graece scripta, ita non uideo, quid adiuuent adulescentes ad recte scribendum. Nos igitur iuuentutis industriae consulere pro uirili cupientes, diuersam generum distributionem sequi maluimus. Sed ecce properantem alio, me uelut e cursu reuocat, auremque uellicat secretariorum chorus, qui principibus sunt ab epistolis. Itane nostri, inquiunt, ὥσπερ τῶν μεγαρέων οὐδεὶς λόγος; Verum his difficile sit aliquid praescribere, quorum calamus liber non est. Sed quemadmodum praecipit Martialis, ut coquus habeat gulam domini, itidem isti coguntur affectui principum seruire: quos illud tantum obiter admonebo, ut ubique doctam sermonis facilitatem, ac perspicuitatem sectentur, ac decori cum primis meminerint. Id metiendum erit, non ab ipsorum animo, sed ab eorum fortuna, moribusque, quorum nomine scribunt. Hactenus igitor epistolarum genera quatuor proposuimus, et suas cuique generi formas subiecimus: nunc ordine de unaquaque specie praecipiemus.

p. 71-73
“The majority of rhetoricians have approved of three classes of subject: persuasive, encomiastic, and judicial. To these as to their sources most forms of letters are assigned, so that under the heading of ‘persuasive’ one usually places these subdivisions: conciliation, reconciliation, encouragement, discouragement, persuasion, dissuasion, consolation, petition, recommendation, admonition, and the amatory letter. In the demonstrative category belong accounts of persons, regions, estates, castles, springs, gardens, mountains, prodigies, storms, journeys, banquets, buildings, and processions. The judicial class usually comprises accusation, complaint, defence, protest, justification, reproach, threat, invective, and entreaty. To these three it will be possible to add a fourth class which, if you please, we shall call the familiar. It may include the following types: narrative, when we describe for those at a distance an event that has taken place near us; informative, when we announce a piece of news, whether of a public, private, or domestic nature; congratulatory, when we are pleased at our friends’ happiness; mournful, when we bewail either our own troubles or those of our acquaintances; mandatory, when we entrust to another a piece of business to be carried out on our behalf. There is also the type which contains the giving of thanks, when we show our gratitude for the action of a benefactor; the laudatory letter, when we praise a child or someone under our authority for doing his duty; the obliging letter, (this is the term I have devised for it) when we voluntarily promise a friend our support and interest; and the humorous one, when we entertain someone’s spirit with amusing wit. But about these latter I shall keep judicious silence, because just as sorcerers have certain definitive forms of incantation, so too rhetoricians have certain forms laid down, so that they believe not even a stroke can be altered without great peril to things human and divine. By my instructions I am aiding the efforts of those who strive after the best kind of writing, not those who through the most arrant superstition defend what they have once grasped as being the best, or in their avidity for the most contemptible gain, prefer to follow the worst rather than the best. For what can you teach those who consider the best letter to be the one that is most profitable? To this list you may add the disputatory, the investigatory, and the doctrinal letter, among which theological and ethical letters may be included. I am well aware that among the Greeks there is an authority who divides up the classes of letters in the following way: ‘friendly’ is the name given to the letter in which one friend writes to another; ‘introductory’ when we recommend someone to another; ‘chiding’ when someone is remiss in duty towards us; ‘reproachful’ when we charge someone with ingratitude; ‘consolatory’ when we comfort those in adversity; ‘critical’ when we chide someone who has erred; ‘admonitory’ when we give outspoken advice about what should be done and what should not; ‘threatening’ when we threaten anyone and inspire fear; ‘censorious’ when we charge someone with moral depravity; ‘laudatory’ when we praise someone who has done his duty; ‘deliberative’ when we consider the best course of action; ‘supplicatory’ when as intercessors we intercede for someone who has done wrong; ‘interrogatory’ when we enquire or ask of another what we want to know; ‘declaratory’ when we reply to an enquirer; ‘allegorical’ when in veiled words we give a message to someone that we wish to be understood only by the person to whom we are writing; ‘explanatory’ when we give the reasons why something has not happened or is not going to happen; ‘accusatory’ when we find fault with someone; ‘apologetic’ when we exculpate ourselves; ‘gratulatory’ when we congratulate a friend on his happiness; ‘ironical’ when we write otherwise than we feel; ‘grateful’ when we give thanks for a service rendered to us. These forms of letters are simply listed with an example under each heading but there is no indication of how each class should be handled. Yet even if this were adequately done, the distribution into classes does not itself seem to have any rational basis. For what they call ‘friendly’ is not derived from the subject, but from the person. Besides, we also give advice, reproof, and encouragement to our close friends, and we joke or dispute with them. There is extant as well the preface of Philostratus about the nature of the letter, admonishing us that a letter should be neither too Attic nor completely devoid of atticism; that it is figurative for the very reason that it has no figures; that even if it is formal it should not lack a certain humanity; that in short letters it is possible to round off the discussion, but not in long ones, except at the end or in the epilogue or in a conclusion; that clarity is particularly fitting in a letter. Although he expressed this in a lively manner in Greek, I do not see how it can help the young to write correctly. Therefore, in my anxiety to give guidance to the energies of the young, I have preferred to follow a different distribution of classes. But then as I was hurrying off in another direction, I am called back from my flight, as it were, and have my ear tweaked by a band of secretaries who are charged with the correspondence of princes. ‘What about us,’ they say, ‘not worthy of mention, like the Megarians?’ The truth is that it would be difficult to give any direction to those whose pen is not free. Just as Martial directs that a cook should have his master’s palate, so they are compelled to defer to the whims of princes. I shall only give them this passing advice, to pursue on all occasions a learned readiness and clarity of speech and particularly to keep decorum in mind. This will have to be measured not according to their own inclination, but by the fortune and character of those in whose name they write. So far then I have identified four classes of letters, and have added the forms for each class. Now I shall give instructions about each form in turn. “

De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntiatione

6: p. 50-1 / 934
VRSVS: ... Iam est peculiaris quidam cuique genti oris sonus, quem propriis uocabulis notare difficile sit. Quanquam enim Latini et Graeci iisdem pene litteris utuntur, tamen agnoscas Graecum etiam Latina sonantem, et contra Graecus agnoscit Latinum Graeca sonantem. Hanc ob causam Fabius suadet quidem, ut puer prius Graecis imbuatur; non uult tamen diutius in his haerere, ne peregrinus oris sonus prosequatur etiam Latine loquentem. Foedum est enim hominem in ea lingua uideri hospitem, in qua natus est. Quod si negligentia acciderit, desidiae crimen est; si affectatione, stultitiae tribuitur. Nec desunt tamen qui hoc ceu bellum et elegans affectent, sic redeuntes nobis ex Galliis ut Latine sonantes uix intelligantur, et si quid habeat ea gens in dicendo uitii, puta uolubilitatem linguae, confusos accentus, aut uoces nihil significantes interiectionum uice subinde mixtas Latinis, id studiose repraesentent, quo ualde Galli uideantur. Nos quoniam Graeca fere discimus in hoc ut ueterum libros euoluamus, potiusquam ut cum uulgo Graecorum fabulemur, praestiterit utriusque linguae rudimentis semel traditis in Latinis potissimum exerceri, donec confirmatus adolescens iunctis utriusque litteraturae studiis tuto progredi possit.

p. 409
“BEAR: Every people has its characteristic speech habits, which are not easy to describe in words. For example, though speakers of Greek and Latin employ almost the same letters, it is possible to pick out a Greek speaking Latin; similarly a Greek can recognize a Latin speaker talking Greek. This is why Quintilian advises learning Greek first, but not for too long in case the foreign intonation infects a boy’s Latin in later life. It would be quite wrong to sound like a foreigner in one’s native tongue. Should this happen accidentally, someone is to blame for negligence. Should it be contrived, it is due to perversity. Foreign accents can be sought after as being somehow attractive or sophisticated. People back from France may speak almost unintelligible Latin, copying every French failing, letting their tongue roll about, confusing their stresses, interjecting meaningless sounds between the Latin words, and doing all they can to pass themselves off as French. But since today our sole object in learning Greek is to be able to read ancient literature, not to converse with ordinary Greeks, it follows that once our children have been taught the rudiments of the two languages their main training should be in Latin until they are older and can safely go forward with the study of both languages in equal harness.”

7: p. 52-3 / 935-6
VRSVS: E simili modo profertur, nisi quod ore parcius diducto uox non erumpit sursum in coelum oris, sed in linguam infimam, quae leuiter ferit utrinque dentes molares, reductis introrsum labiis. Inter haec duo elementa medium est η Graecorum, quod effertur rictu minus diducto quam in α, hiantiore tamen ac minus in ima depresso sono quam in e. Cognationem arguit primum, quod apud Graecos α frequenter uertitur in η et contra, ut Πρίηπος pro Πρίαπος et ἰητρός pro ἰατρός; contra τάν pro τήν. Apud Latinos fere uertitur in e longum, ut Κρῆτες Cretes et σπλήν splen. Id si crassiore Minerua tibi demonstrari cupis, – LEO: Crassissima, si potes, atque adeo, si libet, adipali. VRSVS: Iustum est a, quod sonant Itali. Immodice diducto uel rotundato magis ore sonant Vuesphali, referentes Ionicum quiddam, qui pro alpha sonabant ω mega, dicentes θωῦμα pro θαῦμα et ωὐτός pro αὐτός; ut alii contra ω uertunt in alpha, pro τῶν νυμφῶν dicentes τᾶν νυμφὰν, Μουσᾶν pro Μουσῶν, πρᾶτος pro πρῶτος. Item ε uertitur in η ut ἠύς τε μέγας τε et pro ἐβουλόμην ἠβουλόμην Haec nimirum arguunt his litteris uicinitatem quandam in sono fuisse. η uero sonuisse uidetur apud Graecos, quod nunc sonat a Scotorum aut Hollandorum quorundam; neque enim omnes eodem modo promunt, ac de uulgo nunc loquimur, ne quis eruditus existimet haec ad se pertinere. Quum enim hi dicunt ama, mediam uocem audis inter ama et eme Italorum more pronuntiata, quemadmodum alii, quos diximus Ionicum quiddam referre, pene sonant omo. Nunc fac ut oculis os, auribus sonum obserues; dicam primum Italice, mox Scotice, postremo Vuesphalice. LEO: Isthic sum. VRSVS: Ama, ama, ama. Fama, fama, fama. Ianua, ianua, ianua. LEO: Crassissime profecto dicis, sed tamen ad docendum apposite. Verum age dic, discernunturne haec apud Graecos? VRSVS: Vix sentias, sed iam admonui pronuntiationem esse corruptam. Siquidem quam nunc habent eruditi, non aliunde petunt quam a uulgo, scis quali magistro. Verum de his mox. Iam in e pronuntiando non leuiter peccat uulgus. LEO: Quid ita? VRSVS: Quia litteram eandem aliter atque aliter sonant, nunc ore contractiore, nunc diductiore. De nostratibus loquor; nam Italorum hic, ut in aliis plerisque, correctior est enuntiatio. LEO: Expecto exemplum. VRSVS: Dicam in genere. Quum e finit syllabam, sat recte sonant; quum adhaeret illi consonans, uel a sonant pro e uel η, hoc est, a Scoticum. Demo probe sonant, et peto; at perago, peruia, sperma diductius resonant quam par est, et in lego contractius efferunt quam in lex, in rego quam in rex, in rebus quam in res. Verum id potissimum accidit, quum e excipitur a consonante r: quum enim dicunt aspergo, secunda syllaba nihil aliud sonare uidetur quam in sparta prior, et in peruius prima minimum aut nihil discernitur ab ea quae praecedit in paruo. Item in pertundo et partu, erro et arra, uerro et Varro. Idem uitium sequi solet etiam Graeca sonantes, ni fuerint diligenter admoniti. Vix enim in πέρθω et παρθένος discernunt primas syllabas. Quanquam haec felicissime discernunt Itali. Vix in alia littera magis errat Gallorum uulgus, a pro e sonantium, si quando uocalem excipiat n aut m. Nam pro quendam sonant quandam, pro ualens ualans, pro redemptus redamptus, pro emblemata amblemata, pro uendo uando, pro uentosus uantosus, pro tempus tampus. Hunc errorem subinde deprehendimus etiam in codicibus Gallorum manu descriptis aut excusis. Hic tamen emendatior est Picardorum enuntiatio, nec ulli magis peccant, quam qui sibi mire Gallice uidentur loqui. Quod non in aliud monemus, nisi ut haec protinus dediscant pueri, ne prauus usus haereat Latina Graecaue sonantibus, neue pro ἔμπορος enuntient ἄμπορος, pro ἔντερα ἄντερα. LEO: Prorsus ita res habet.

p. 410-2
“BEAR: e is produced in a similar manner, except that the mouth is slightly less wide open and the voice is not thrown to the top of the mouth but on to the lower part of the tongue, which is made to rest lightly on the molars on each side, while the lips are drawn back. η in Greek is half way between the two. The mouth is not open as wide as in a, but it is further apart and the voice is not so firmly kept down at the bottom of the mouth as with e. The first proof of the close connection between them is that in Greek a is often changed into and the other way round, for instance Πρίηπος for Πρίαπος, ἰητρός for ἰατρός, and conversely av τάν for τήν. In Latin is turned into a long e, as Cretes for Κρῆτες and splen for σπλήν ‘spleen.’ If you would like a more down-to-earth example... LION: A ground-level one if you can manage it. BEAR: The proper a is the one made in Italian. The Germans in Westphalia make it with their mouth too wide open and too rounded, reminding one of the lonian Greek for a in such words as θωῦμα for θαῦμα ‘miracle,’ ωὐτός for αὐτός ‘self.’ Conversely others change into a, saying τᾶν νυμφᾶν for τῶν νυμφῶν ‘of the nymphs,’ μουσᾶν for μουσῶν ‘of muses,’ πρᾶτος for πρῶτος ‘first.’ Again, e is changed to η in ἠύς τε μέγας τε ‘brave and big,’ ἠβουλόμην for ἐβοθλόμην ‘I wanted.’ These cases show clearly enough that the letters must have had a close similarity of sound. It would seem that the ancient Greek sounded like the a heard today in Scotland and parts of Holland. Pronunciation differs of course, and I should hasten to explain that I am referring to the speech of the common people in case any scholar takes it as applying to him. When they say ama, what you hear is something intermediate between ama and eme, as these would be pronounced in Italian. The others, those that we have compared to the Ionians, would say something more like omo. Now watch my mouth and listen carefully. I shall pronounce first in Italian fashion, then in Scottish, and lastly in Westphalian. LION: I’m ready. BEAR: ama ~ ama ~ ama, fama ~ fama ~ fama, ianua ~ ianua ~ ianua. LION: That was certainly a street-level demonstration, but it was just what I needed. Tell me, though. Are these distinctions to be heard when Greeks speak? BEAR: Hardly. Nevertheless, as I have pointed out, their pronunciation has been corrupted. The educated speech of Greeks today has been taken over from that of the common people, and you know what sort of a model they are. But let us come back to this later. The common pronunciation of e is at fault. LION: Why? BEAR: Because the same letter is sounded in so many different ways. The lips are sometimes closer together, sometimes further apart. I refer to the speech of our own countrymen. Italian pronunciation, here as elsewhere, is much more correct. LION: You must give me an example. BEAR: Our local pronunciation is in general correct enough when the e comes at the end of a syllable. But when it goes closely with the following consonant it is pronounced either as an a or as an η, that is to say a Scottish a. Demo and peto are therefore spoken correctly, but the pronunciation in words like perago, pervia, and sperma is too open. Again in lex, rex, res the e is made more open than in lego, rego, rebus. A too open pronunciation is particularly noticeable when the following consonant is an r. The second syllable in adspergo is made just like the first in sparta, and the first syllable in pervius and parvo are made to sound almost or quite identical. The same holds for pertundo and partu, erro and arra, verro and varro. Unless specific care is taken to prevent it the fault can be carried over into Greek, so that the first syllables of pérthō ‘I destroy’ and parthénos ‘a virgin’ are virtually indistinguishable. The Italians, however, make a proper distinction between the two. In France the common pronunciation of e is worse than that of almost any other letter. It is pronounced as an a whenever the syllable where it occurs ends in n or m. Quandam is said for quendam, valans for valens, redamptus, amblemata, vando, vantosus, tampus, for redemptus, emblemata, vendo, ventosus, tempus. This mispronunciation can be detected even in books when they are written in a French hand or printed in France. The worst offenders are those who pride themselves on the excellence of their French pronunciation: in Picardy the pronunciation of e is rather more correct. My reason for pointing all this out is simply to encourage boys to unlearn their wrong pronunciations as soon as possible. Otherwise their bad habits will become entrenched in their Greek and Latin pronunciation, and they will make mispronunciations like ἄμπορος for ἔμπορος or ἄντερα for ἔντερα.”

8: p. 54 / 936-7
VRSVS: ... Pro u uero formabis u Gallicum, si labia paululum exporrecta iunxeris. Eandem litteram rotundiore mugitu sonant Germani, immodico Vuesphali. Nec desunt tamen apud Italos, qui Gallorum more sonent, ueluti Bergomates. Nonnulli contra labiis ad trium digitorum spatium indecore porrectis, nimirum Batauis contrarii; Romani | modice. Nec omnibus feliciter cedit huius uocis affectatio. Nostrates enim quum affectant Vuesphalorum imitari mugitum, non possunt id perpetuo facere, subinde lingua relabente ad inolitam uelutique natiuam consuetudinem. Hanc inaequalitatem frequenter animaduerti in sacrificis Britannis. Nos in hac pronuntianda parum etiam nobis ipsis constamus, nonnunquam in eadem dictione, uelut in nullum, mullum, et Tullium. In prima siquidem audis u Gallicum, in postrema u Vuesphalum. Idem sentire licet in huc et hunc, in illud et illum. Sona Batauice fontes. LEO: Fontes. VRSVS: Sona fundere. LEO: Fundere. VRSVS: Quod discrimen audis inter utriusque dictionis primam syllabam? LEO: Nullum. VRSVS: In rhombo et plumbo quid interest inter u et o? LEO: Profecto nihil...

p. 414
“BEAR: ... u should be made like a French u, with the lips closer together and slightly more forward. The Germans make the letter with a more rounded moo-sound, excessively so in the case of the Westphalians. In Italy there are speakers, for example in Bergamo, who pronounce it in the French manner. Other Italians, though, push their lips out an unseemly three fingers worth, the absolute reverse of what the Dutch do. In Rome they are less extreme. Attempts to acquire the vowel-sound are not always successful. When our countrymen try to copy the Westphalian moo, they cannot maintain the effort and their tongue rapidly relapses into its familiar and as it were innate habits. I have often noticed a similar instability of pronunciation in British priests. There is also an inconsistency in our pronunciation of u. It can manifest itself even within a single word, as in nullum, mullum, Tullium. In the first syllable of each of these words you hear a French u, in the final syllable a Westphalian one. The same with huc compared to hunc, illud compared to illum. Say fontes as a Dutchman would. LION: Fontes. BEAR: Now say fundere. LION: Fundere. BEAR: What difference can your ear detect between the first syllables of the two words? LION: None. BEAR: In rhombus and plumbus can you distinguish between the o and the u? LION: No ...”

9: p. 58-9 / 939
VRSVS: Iam αι diphthongum euidenter audire licet in lingua Germanorum, quum nominant Caesarem, quanquam hic Bataui propius accedunt ad sonum e uel η, quod pene faciunt, ut dictum est, perpetuo in a uocali. Neque non sentitur apud nos diphthongus et, si Hollandice dicas ouum, paratus, uersutiae, Maius, facinus, seductus, caro. Apud Gallos haec rarius auditur. ου uero arbitror priscis fere sonuisse, quod Batauus sonat senex, frigidus et aurum, aut eam tunicae partem quae tegit brachium. Rursum Latinam diphthongum ae audis, quum sonat malus, uadit, consilium, sapor; oe uero quum sonat panem, nudum et rubrum, callidum et fragile aut necessitatem; aut si dicas Gallice tribus uicibus, Britannice nix. Quanquam in his linguis deprehendas et alias diphthongos a Graecis pariter ac Latinis dissonantes, ueluti quum Gallus dicit melius, parum aut fastidiosum aut periculosum. Item quum Batauus dicit mendacium, ceruical aut ianuam aut Iudaeum; quum Galli florem aut honorem. Cui non dissimilem habent Hebraei. In nonnullis audias tres uocales, ut quum Galli dicunt formosum patrem, in formoso audis e, a et u, quum dictio sit monosyllaba. In aliis diphthongum inuersam, ut quum Batauus sonat arundinem, aut Margaritam pro foemina; audis enim i ante e. Item quum Coloniensis dicit salutem, audis u ante e. Rursus quum Hollandice dicis dulce aut bonum, audis diphthongum nouam, nullis litteris exprimendam, sed sonum quendam medium inter o et u. Quum dicis domum aut murem, audis i post u in eadem syllaba; aut quum Gallus sonat famam aut fructum. Verum haec persequi non est huius instituti, praesertim quum nationes quaedam nihil omnino sonent absque diphthongo. Ex his autem quae retulimus satis est intelligi, et diphthongos posse sonari et olim sonari solitas. LEO: Quae res abiecit eas? VRSVS: Nihil aliud opinor quam loquendi deliciae. Nam mulierculae quondam elegans habebant, semicluso ore uixque motis labiis sonare uerba, sic ut uix audiretur exitus. Diphthongi uero fere torquent os multumque resonant, quod nunc habetur indecorum, et ut rusticanum ridetur. Inde primum apparet exortas diphthongos improprie dictas, deinde paulatim idem in aliis nonnullis ausae sunt illitteratorum deliciae.

p. 418-9
“BEAR: The diphthong ai can be clearly heard in German in the name of the emperor. Here in Holland however the sound approximates to that of an e, or an η, which as we have seen is how the Dutch tend to make an a vowel. But we do have a diphthong ei. You will hear it if you say the Dutch words for ‘egg’, ‘ready’, ‘trickery’, ‘May’, ‘deed’, ‘seduced’, ‘flesh’. The sound is little heard in French. ou would seem to have sounded in antiquity like the sound one hears in the Dutch words for ‘old’, ‘cold’, ‘gold’, ‘sleeve’. The Latin diphthong ae is heard in ‘bad’, ’goes’, ‘advice’, ‘taste’. oe is heard in ‘bread’, ‘bare’, ‘red’, ‘cunning’, ‘fragile’, ‘need’. Also in French ‘three times’ and the English ‘snow.’ Diphthongs that are not to be found either in Latin or Greek can be found in these languages. For example the French for ‘better’, ‘little’, ‘disdainful’, ‘dangerous’. Also in Dutch ‘lie’, ‘pillow’, ‘door’, ‘Jew’, and the French for ‘flower’ and ‘honour’. There is also a similar sound in Hebrew. In some diphthongs you can hear three vowels. For example in the French for ‘father-in-law’: in the first part you can hear all three vowels, though their combination forms a single syllable. Reversed diphthongs can also exist, as in the Dutch for ‘reed’ or the woman’s name Margarita. In these you can hear the i before the e. Similarly when a man from Cologne says ‘greetings’ you can hear a u before the e. And in the Dutch ‘sweet’ and ‘good’ there is a new diphthong, one which cannot be rendered in our alphabet but which has a sound intermediate between o and u. When you say ‘house’ or ‘mouse’ you hear an i after the u in the same syllable. So you do in the French for ‘rumour’ and ‘fruit’. Further exploration of this would however carry us too far afield, especially as in some languages pretty well every utterance contains a diphthong. But the instances we have given will be enough to establish the possibility of pronouncing diphthongs, and the fact that they used to be pronounced. LION: What caused them to be abandoned? BEAR: Fastidiousness, I imagine, quite simply – women thinking it ladylike to open their mouths and move their lips as little as possible when forming their words and speaking in such a way that one could hardly hear the sound emerge. Also, diphthongs distort the features, and their production necessitates a volume of noise which is nowadays considered inelegant and dismissed as the way peasants talk. It would seem that the first effect of these pressures was to produce the so-called false diphthongs, and that from them the decay spread to others – all due to the fastidiousness of those who cared nothing for letters.”

Caesarem = Germ Kaiser ~ Du keizer “emperor”
ouum = Du ei “egg”
paratus = Du bereid “ready”
uersutiae = Du leep “trickery”
Maius = Du mei “May”
facinus = Du feit ”deed”
seductus = Du verleid “seduced”
caro = Du vlees “meat”
senex = Du oud* ”old”
frigidus = Du koud* “cold”
aurum = Du goud* “gold”
eam tunicae partem quae tegit brachium = Du mouw* “sleeve”
malus= Du kwaad* “bad”
uadit = Du gaat “goes”
consilium = Du raad “advice”
sapor = Du smaak “taste”
panem = Du brood “bread”
nudum = Du bloot “bare”
rubrum = Du rood “red”
callidum = Du loos “cunning”
fragile = Du broos “fragile”
necessitatem = Du noot “need”
tribus uicibus = Fr trois fois “three times”
nix = E snow
melius = Fr mieux*
parum = Fr peu* “little”
fastidiosum = Fr dédaigneux “disdainful”
periculosum = Fr dangéreux “dangerous”
mendacium = Du leugen “lie”
ceruical = Du peuluw “pillow”
ianuam = Du deur “door”
Iudaeum = Du Jeud “Jew”
florem = Fr fleur “flower”
honorem = Fr honneur “honour”
formosum = Fr beau père* “father-in-law”
arundinem = Du riet* “reed”
Margaritam = Du Margriet
salutem = Germ Gruß*
dulce = Du zoet “sweet”
bonum = Du goed “good”
domum = Du huis* “house”
murem = Du muis “mouse”
famam = Fr bruit* “rumour”
fructum = Fr fruit* “fruit”
* = vernacular form written in the margin by the 1528 publisher (here quoted in modern standard orthography)

10: p. 62-3 / 941-2
VRSUS: Quatuor enim rationibus curatum est a priscis, ut omnes syllabae, quantum licet, clarius audiantur, ne qua suffugiat aures: aspiratione, tono, productione et diphthongo. Clarius enim auditur prima in hero quam in ero, et magis auditur li in ligo quam in intélligo, et sonantior est prior in μῶμος quam in μόνος. Itidem in amauerimus sonantior esse deberet ma secunda quam a prima, ut in ama sit iambus, uerimus tribrachus, nisi quod prima trium acuitur, et ob hoc sonantior, quasi musicus per breuem longam et tres breues sonet re re fa re re, ămāuérimŭs. In hac dictione sonantiores sunt secunda, quia producta, et proxima tono acuto, licet breuis. Quoniam autem uocales principes sunt sonorum, diphthongum audibiliorem faciunt duae res, gemina uocalis et productio morae. Sonantior enim est prima in audio quam in adeo et udus, in οἶνος quam in ὄνος et ἴδω. Iam intensio uocis et productio percipi non potest, nisi ex aliarum comparatione. Potest enim eadem esse breuis et longa, grauis et acuta, si ad alias atque alias comparetur, ueluti uox pueri grauis acutior est uoce uiri acuta, et syllaba breuis sic pronuntiantis ut Cartusiani pronuntiant psalmos festis diebus productior est longa uolubili lingua pronuntiantis, quemadmodum sacrifici quidam expediunt preces solennes, dum ad alia quae magis sunt cordi festinant ... E proximis igitur petenda est et tonorum et morarum differentia.

p. 423-4
“BEAR: Antiquity had four ways of ensuring that as far as possible every syllable was clearly heard and none escaped the ear. These were aspiration, accent, length, and diphthongization. For instance in hero the first syllable is more clearly heard than it is in ero. The i is stronger in ligo than in intelligo. There is more sound in the first syllable of μῶμος ‘reproach’ than in that of μόνος ‘alone,’ and in amavérimus the second a should be more fully sounded than the first — the ama- forming an iambus and the -verimus a tribrach, with the slight difference that the first of the three short syllables is raised by the accent, and to that extent more fully sounded. It is as if a musician were to play re re fa re re in the time of short, long, short, short, short — ămāvĕrĭmŭs. There are two syllables that are more fully sounded, the second because of its length and the third because though short it carries a raised accent. Finally, since vowels are the main vehicles of sound, a diphthong is particularly audible. For it consists of two vowels as well as forming a long syllable. Thus the first syllables in audio and in οἶνος ‘wine’ are more fully sounded than those in adeo and udus or in ὄνος ‘donkey’ and ἴδω ‘I see.’ If none of these distinctions were to be observed, speech would be nothing but a random sequence of noises. The accentuation and lengthening of some syllables can of course only be perceived in relation to others. Absolutely considered, shorts can be long and highs low if we change our point of reference. For example a child’s low will be higher than a man’s high, and a short syllable uttered by a Carthusian singing a psalm on a feast-day will be longer than the long syllable made by the darting tongue of a fast talker, like a priest racing through his scheduled prayers so that he can get on with the things he enjoys doing better ... Contrasts, therefore, whether of accent or quantity, must be measured within their own contexts.”

11: p. 71 / 947
θήρ uox natura longa excepta prima littera quid aliud sonat hodie quam apud Latinos uir? quae natura breuis est. Item πῦρ nos sequuti Graecos male pronuntiamus, quum Germani uocem eam a Graecis sumptam recte sonent, nisi quod tenuem uertunt in aspiratam, Bataui in u consonans. πᾶς nos male sonamus, Galli recte, quum humile dicunt aut passum ... Iam in θήρ quod ipsum ad nos fluxit a Graecis, Batauica lingua, dum sonat dier, θ mutato in δ declarat quid sonuerit apud Graecos θήρ.

p. 433-4
“The vowel in θήρ ‘animal’ is naturally long: yet except for the first letter it is today pronounced exactly like the Latin vir ‘man’ where the i is short by nature. πῦρ ‘fire’ is another word which in the fashion of the modern Greeks we pronounce wrong. The Germans, who have borrowed the word from Greek, pronounce it right except for changing the original smooth consonant for an aspirate. The Dutch change it to a v. πᾶς ‘all’ is another word we vocalize wrong, but the French have it right in their words for ‘low’ and ‘step’ ... To come back to θῆρ ‘animal.’ The word has been taken over into Dutch from Greek, and our form of it, dier – the initial θ having been changed to d – shows what the ancient Greek pronunciation must have been like.”

12: p. 85 / 956
VRSVS: ... Contra quum apud Latinos habetur f, Phrysones et Angli quidam uertunt in f, nos in u consonans, ut hodie sonant Latini, uelut in fluere, fluctu, pisce et similibus innumeris. Nam in pisce et hinc deriuatis p tenue mutauimus in ph, pro qua scribebant f; nos rursus f uertimus in u consonans, ut nunc quidem profertur LEO: Certa narras, mira tamen, et haud scio an omnibus credenda. VRSVS: Hinc est quod Germani spirantiores Latine loquentes confundunt interdum has litteras, u consonans et f, quum efferunt conuidit pro confidit et fideo pro uideo. Nec mirum uideri debet, si quod tradidimus non est perpetuo uerum, sed fallit in quibusdam dictionibus, quum non ignores quanta sit sermonis uulgo crediti uolubilitas et inconstantia.

p. 451
“BEAR: … Latin f is treated differently. It is preserved by the Frisians and by some English speakers, but we Dutch turn it into a v of the type used in spoken Latin today, as in the words for ‘flow’, ‘flood’, ‘fish’, and a great many others. For example in adopting the Latin piscis and its derivatives we first changed the smooth p into ph. This was then written f. We then changed the f into v as it is now pronounced. LION: You must be right, But it is a strange story, and I do not see everybody believing it. BEAR: It explains why the Germans, who tend to overaspiration, sometimes confuse f and v when they speak Latin. They say things like convidit for confidit, and fideo for video. Nor must you be surprised if the theory does not prove true in every instance. There may well be words where it will turn out wrong. Once a language passes into the hands of the uneducated there is, as you will understand, bound to be change and inconsistency.”

13: p. 89-90 / 958-9
VRSVS: ... De spiritu satis uidemur nugati. Addamus his, si uidetur, reliquas semiuocales l, m, n, et r, inter quas ρ Dionysius γενναιοτάτην appellat, quum sit asperioris soni. Nam linguae fastigio in palatum superius uibrato tremulis ictibus fragorem reddit, qualem audimus in lapide magno impetu perpulso funda aut iaculo balista excusso aut baculo uirgaue celeri motu per aërem acto. Vnde in dictionibus quibus celeritatem, impetum aut asperitatem significare cupimus, hanc litteram admiscemus, ueluti Graecis in ῥεῖν, ῥιπή, κρύω, χειμάῤῥους, τρέχω, τραχύς, τρόμος, βρέμω; Latinis in rapio, ruo, roto, fulgur, tonitru, torrens, ructus, horror, fremo, frendo, strido. LEO: Itane uoces ad rerum quas significant similitudinem effictae sunt? Arbitrabar fortuito natas, aut certe pro arbitratu instituentium repertas. VRSVS: Imo referunt ipsis elementis ipsoque sono quod significant, uerum nihil est necesse rem totam, ut est, uoce repraesentari; satis est aliquam similitudinem apparere. Quae si non appareat, tamen aliquid causae subest, cur huic rei uocabulum hoc sit impositum. Bellum apud nos ominis gratia blanda uoce sonatur, quemadmodum apud Graecos Furiae dicuntur Eumenides. Ita qui lenitatem aut lentitudinem declarant, amant l, ut Graecis λεῖος, λίχειν Latinis lentus, labi, lenis, lubricus; quae uero magnitudinem, m, qua nulla spatio maior littera, gaudent, ut Graecis μέγας, μακρός, apud Latinos magnus, mons, moles. LEO: Quur igitur leonem dicimus potius quam reonem? VRSVS: Vel ominis causa, uel quia in longum porrectum est animal nullius proceritatis. LEO: Si uera narras, oportebat cuiuslibet rei in quauis lingua idem esse nomen. VRSVS: Nihil est necesse. Quum enim sufficiat qualiscunque rei repraesentatio, potest eadem aliis atque aliis modis effingi, ueluti quum Graece dicis χαίνω, Latine bio, Batauice chapen, in singulis sentis expressam oris diductionem. LEO: At quur μακρόν et μικρόν, quum diuersa significent, eandem habent consonantem? VRSVS: Affinitas inter contraria poscebat hac, sed per a, quod ample sonat, et i, quod exiliter, notatur discrimen. Ad haec quoniam eiusdem rei multae sunt qualitates, satis est si ab una quapiam harum sumatur uocabulum; nec absurdum sit, si res eadem lingua pluribus uocabulis signetur. Verum satius est ut hanc disputationem in aliud tempus reiiciamus, uel quia uix habet exitum argutatio, uel quia ad id quod instituimus nihil habet momenti. Alias dabitur ocium, si libebit.

p. 455-6
“BEAR: ... But we have ranged too far afield on the question of the aspirate. It is time for the remaining letters, the semivowels l, m, n, r. Dionysius calls the r the noblest of them, because it has the roughest sound. It is produced by the vibration of the tip of the tongue on the upper palate: the repeated tremulous blows make a rattle or whirr like a stone flung with great impetus from a sling or a javelin leaving a ballista, or a cane or rod swished through the air. Consequently the letter forms part of words in which we hope to convey some sense of speed, rush, or roar. For example, in Greek ῥεῖν ‘flow,’ ῥιπή ‘rush,’ κρύω ‘knock,’ χειμάρρους ‘torrent,’ τρέχω ‘run,’ τραχύς ‘harsh,’ τρομός ‘terror,’ βρέμω ‘roar,’ and in Latin rapio ‘snatch,’ ruo ‘rush,’ roto ‘rotate,’ fulgur ‘lightening,’ tonitrus ‘thunder,’ torrens ‘torrent,’ ructus ‘belch,’ horror ‘bristling,’ fremo ‘roar,’ frendo ‘gnash,’ strido ‘grate.’ LION: But are words really created to sound like what they mean? I had always thought that their origin was accidental, or at best due to the whim of whoever inaugurated them. BEAR: No. Their constituent parts and the sounds they contain bear reference to their meaning, though there is no need for the meaning in its entirety to be phonetically represented. The presence of some similarity is enough. Even where none is apparent there must still be some reason why a particular word is allotted a particular meaning. Bellum ‘war’ is a graceful-sounding word out of euphemism, like the Greek word Eumenides ‘comforters’ for the Furies. Words for things soft and smooth and supple show a fondness for l as in the Greek λεῖος ‘smooth,’ λείχειν ‘lick,’ and the Latin lentus ‘slow’ or ‘supple,’ labi ‘slip,’ lenis ‘smooth,’ lubricus ‘slithery.’ Words for big things like to contain an m, which is the biggest letter. For instance the Greek μέγας ‘big,’ μακρός ‘long,’ and the Latin magnus ‘big,’ mons ‘mountain,’ moles ‘mass.’ LION: In that case why is the word for a lion leo, leonum, instead of reo, reonum? BEAR: Euphemism perhaps. Or perhaps because the animal has a long body, but no great height. LION: If your theory is true, then every object ought to have the same name in every language. BEAR: Not at all. Since the representation need only be of a particular aspect of the whole meaning, the same totality can be represented in many different ways. For instance the Greek says χαίνω, the Latin hio, the Dutch chapen, yet from the sound of each you can sense the meaning – opening the mouth. LION: But μακρός ‘long’ and μικρός ‘little’ mean the opposite of each other, yet have the same consonants. Why? BEAR: Because of the affinity between opposites. But the a and the i differentiate them, the former having an open sound and the latter a narrow one. What is more there would be no absurdity in one and the same thing having several different names in the same language since everything possesses many separate qualities, and the word for it need only be derived from one of them. But we should postpone the question. The debate can be endless, and it has no relevance to our original subject. We can make another time if you like.”


Barnett, M. J. 1996: ‘Erasmus and the Hermeneutics of Linguistic Praxis’, Renaissance Quarterly 49, 542-572.

Chomarat, J. 1981: grammaire et rhétorique chez Erasme. 1-2. Paris 1981.

Drerup, E. 1930: Die Schulaussprache des Griechischen von der Renaissance bis zur Gegenwart. 1-2. Paderborn.

Henderson, J. R. 1983: ‘Erasmus on the Art of Letter-Writing’, in: Renaissance Eloquence. Studies in the Thoery and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. 331-355.

Henderson, J. R. 1992: ‘Erasmian Ciceronians: Reformation Teachers of Letter-Writing’, in: Rhetorica 10:3, 273-302.

Henderson, J. R. 2001: ‘Valla’s Elegantiae and the Humanist Attack on the Ars dictaminis’, in: Rhetorica 19:2, 249-268.

Hinge, G. 2005: ‘Herodot zur skythischen Sprache’, Glotta 81, 86-115.

Kock, C. 2003: ‘Retorikkens relevans’, in: Ø. Andersen & K. L Berge (eds.): Retorikkens relevans. Oslo, 17-29.

Kramer, J. 1978: Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami De recta Latini Graecique sermonis pronuntatione dialogus (Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie 98). Meisenheim am Glan.

Navarro, J. M. 1990: ‘Sprachbewußtsein und Sprachtheorie in Juan Luis Vives, Vorläufer der Pragmalinguistik’, in: K. H. Wagner & W. Wildgen (eds.): Studien zur Grammatik und Sprachtheorie (Bremer Linguistisches colloquium 2). 37-46.

Schoch, G. 1988: Die Bedeutung der Erziehung und Bildung aus der Sicht des Erasmus von Rotterdam. Zürich.

Ward, J. O. 2001: ‘Rhetorical Theory and the Rise and Decline of Dictamen in the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance’, Rhetorica 19:2 (2001) 175-223.

Witt, R. G. 1976: Coluccio Salutati and his Public Letters (Travaux d’Humanisme et Renaissance 151). Geneva.

[1] Ward 2001.

[2] Witt 1976: 26-28.

[3] Drerup 1930: 49-51.

[4] Drerup 1930: 55 n. 1.

[5] Demokritos in Proklos, cf. Hinge 2005: 108.

[6] Barnett 1996: 557-8: “A particular linguistic performance makes present one aspect of meaning, not its totality. Another performance (and another) may summon another aspect of that meaning.”