Irish/Latin Bilingual

The St Gall Priscian Glosses

Funded by the Irish Research Council for Humanities and Social Sciences 2009–2011.

This postdoctoral project, carried out by Dr Pádraic Moran, involved a study of the reception of the Latin grammarian Priscian. Priscian (Priscianus Caesariensis) was a teacher of Latin at Constantinople around AD 500. He produced a monumental treatise on Latin grammar (over 1000 pages in the modern edition) that synthesised and supplemented the entire Graeco-Roman linguistic tradition. The work was held in such esteem that Priscian’s name later became synonymous with grammar itself.

Priscian's Ars Grammatica (traditionally known as Institutiones Grammaticae) was well known to Irish scholars in the early Middle Ages. Among the oldest and most important manuscript witnesses are four codices written by Irishmen in the ninth century, now held in Paris, Karlsruhe, Leiden and St Gall. These manuscripts contain a remarkable body of interlinear glosses — more than 9,400 in the St Gall codex — that served to explicate both the literal sense of the text and the significance of its teaching, but also represent a learned commentary on Latin literary culture.

The prolific extent of these glosses attests to the seriousness with which Latin grammar was studied in medieval Irish schools. However, the same manuscripts are highly prized by modern scholars for an altogether different reason: more than one-third of the glosses are written in Old Irish, and as such constitute one of our earliest and most important sources for the early history of the Irish language.

This project examined the working methods of the glossators, their sources, their knowledge of Greek and the nature of language interaction in the glosses. The results have appeared in a series of articles, and the research programme is still ongoing.

The project also produced an innovative new digital edition of all the glosses, with links to manuscripts images and other tools: