Cassiodoro De orthographia, Tradizione manoscritta, fortuna, edizione critica a cura di P. Stoppacci, Florence 2010.
Former edition: Grammatici Latini, VII. Scriptores de orthographia. Terentius Scaurus Vellius Longus Caper Agroecius etc., ex recensione H. Keilii, Hildesheim 1961, 143-210 (reprografischer Nachdruck der Ausgabe Leipzig 1880)
Cassiodorus himself explains the circumstances that inspired his De orthographia (c. 580 AD) in the preface to that work: the best-trained monks at Vivarium were assigned to the tiresome job of copying the monastery’s books. This included not only the volumes that had been collected in the library, which we know of from the Institutiones, but also those which they were engaged in producing, i.e. translations of works from Greek into Latin or entirely new compositions. These most learned men, who differentiated themselves from those who were only capable of tending the fields, nevertheless sought Cassiodorus’ aid because they did not feel they were up to the task of copying his penultimate work, the Complexiones in Epistolas et Acta Apostolorum et Apocalypsin, a commentary on a few passages from those texts: “What good does it do us to know what the ancients wrote or what things your shrewd eye took diligent care to learn must be added to them, if we are entirely ignorant of how we ought to write those things out? We can hardly speak aloud something that we are incapable of understanding in the Scripture” (quid prodest cognoscere nos vel quae antiqui fecerunt vel ea quae sagacitas vestra addenda curavit nosse diligenter, si quem ad modum ea scribere debeamus omnimodis ignoremus? nec in voce nostra possumus reddere quod in scriptura comprehendere non valemus). Cassiodorus acknowledged the problem, requested that a dozen manuals on orthography be brought to him, and made a brief summary of them that he intended to be simple, clear, and faithful to the originals. The work was originally completed in two drafts, with some integration in the second; it was then definitively transcribed by a copyist; and it was finally reviewed by the author. About ten manuscripts have come down to us; these can be divided into two families, both of which derive from the final copy prepared at Vivarium and signed, as it were, with a colophon by Cassiodorus himself.
By this time Cassiodorus had already lived ninety-two years, and he wrote at the end of his preface that he was aware he was completing his final work: iam tempus est ut totius operis nostri conclusionem facere debeamus. Immediately after providing a list of works that he completed following his ‘conversion’ of 538-40, i.e. the grammatical and religious texts that he wrote at Constantinople and Vivarium, he lists by way of an appendix to the preface certain problems related to the evolution of Latin writing (and pronunciation), and insists on the importance of punctuation. The transition to the text proper is signaled in the manuscripts by an inscriptio containing the title, as well as by six distichs that Phocas had attached to his manual and that appealed to Cassiodorus so much that he wanted to make them his own, albeit while dutifully citing his source.
Cassiodorus utilized twelve texts in compiling his De orthographia (number twelve equals the number of the Apostles but it holds also astronomical significance); these works include that of Annaeus Cornutus, the teacher of Persius, who wrote a De enuntiatione vel orthographia; Velius Longus, a Hadrianic author who wrote a De orthographia; Curtius Valerianus, the author of a work on the same theme, who lived in the second half of the 5th c.; Papirianus, who lived in the 4th or early 5th c. and was also known for a De orthographia and perhaps other treatises on the same subject; “Adamantius Martyrius,” under whose name must lie two distinct grammarians, a father (Adamantius) and a son (Martyrius, who lived in the 6th c.): the latter, utilizing inherited material, offered an extensive treatment of the letters ‘b’ and ‘v’ in various collocations within words, which occupies four distinct sections in the book; Eutychus of Constantinople, the author of a De aspiratione, who lived in the first half of the 6th century and was probably a student of Priscian; men identified as “Cesellius Orthographus” and “Lucius Caecilius Vindex” receive the tenth and eleventh places, but are almost certainly to be identified with L. Caeselius Vindex, the Hadrianic author of a Stromateus: appears a title in the tenth chapter, De divisione syllabarum, which is perhaps related to one of the summarized works; and lastly Priscian, who was included because Cassiodorus was not ignorant of the need to keep his bibliography up-to-date, as is evidence by his inclusion of various 6th century sources (ex Prisciano moderno auctore decerpta sunt): in particular, he utilized the first book of the Institutiones de arte grammatica.
Occasionally the epitomized texts have not come down to us through a direct transmission, and the De orthographia is now the only testimony available; in other cases we are able to compare the original work with Cassiodorus’ summary, and this allows us to reconstruct the method that he employed in epitomizing them: he eliminated the parts that were excessively difficult, e.g. those in which Greek words recur, and abbreviated the explanation as much as possible; even so, he did not refrain from adding to or expanding the original text when he wanted to indulge a personal interest or directly address those whom he assumed would make use of his manual. [G. Polara; tr. C. L. Caterine].