Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 186 (Apennine Peninsula, Italy? and France, 1100-1300): Priscian, Institutiones Grammaticae (Institutes of Grammar), parchment, 96 fols., 187 x 125 mm, 1 col., c.25 lines.

Students of grammar started their education by studying DonatusArs Minor early, sometimes as young as seven years old. Not only were students expected to understand and use Latin grammar correctly, but also had to study and memorize texts by classical authors. The study of grammar had much in common with our contemporary literature studies. Advanced students of grammar continued their education by studying Donatus’ Ars Maior and Priscian’s Institutiones.

This manuscript contains parts of both advanced grammar books. It starts with book seven and eight of the Institutiones (fols. 1r - 86v) and continues with six pages of the Ars Maior (fols. 87r - 90v). Fol. 90v through fol. 96v contain two other studies on grammar. The parts of this manuscript were bound together on a later date, resulting in a strong difference between the lay-outs of each part. The beginning of this manuscript of the Institutiones contains glosses1 from the fifteenth or sixteenth century, both in the margin and between the lines. The same hand has added even more commentary on fol. 86v. Glosses are not the only things written in the margin. Throughout the manuscript you can find drawings, doodles and pen trials made by the reader(s). For example, notice an alphabet and a couple of ducks or birds on fol. 47v and a flower on fol. 12v.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 80) (Gerritsen, 2007, pp. 9-13)


  1. Before a scribe could begin to fill the quires with text, the layout of the page needed to be designed and prepared. What instruments did the scribe of this manuscript use to prepare the pages?
  2. Even though they were often planned to remain empty, the margins of the page contain all sorts of information. Scribes added corrections or additional text, but more often it is readers who scribbled signs, words or even entire sentences in the margins. Focus on the margins of this manuscript and make a rough inventory of the marginal additions. What do they tell you about how the book was used, or who the reader was? Are there any that are obviously from the scribe?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.
  2. Gerritsen, W. P. (2007). Europa’s leerschool: de zeven vrije kunsten in de Middeleeuwen. Een rondgang langs Leidse handschriften. Primavera Pers.