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Latin in Africa and Spain: The Sixth Through The Eighth Centuries

D. Norberg, Manuel pratique de latin médiéval (transl. Johnson)

Educational institutions in Africa were maintained under Vandal rule despite difficulties created by the persecutions of Arian Christians. After the Byzantine reconquest, the emperor Justinian sought to revive scholarship by paying salaries to support two grammarians and two rhetors at Carthage. Africa remained a center of ancient education during most of the seventh century. In Africa, for instance, the young Hadrian appears to have received his education before becoming abbot of a monastery near Naples, which he left in 669 when the Pope sent him, with Theodore of Tarsus, to organize ecclesiastical and educational life in England. There were also close ties between Africa and the Iberian peninsula. Many African monks fleeing the wars or the persecutions traveled to Spain with their manuscripts, where they organized centers of monastic learning, which were important for intellectual activity in the kingdom of the Visigoths. Africa contributed much to the preservation of ancient learning, eventhough the region itself was seized early from the people of the West. In 670 the Arabs attacked proconsular Africa and in 698 they seized Carthage. This marked the end of Roman institutions and of Latin civilization in an area which had played such an important role in the intellectual history of the Empire.

As other Mediterranean lands, Spain succeeded in preserving its Roman character despite invasions and internal divisions caused by the opposition between the Arian invaders and the Hispano-Roman population which remained Catholic. After the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism in 589, a period of peace and cultural exchange between the two peoples began, which lasted more than a century. This was a period of prosperity and of a cultural renaissance. While other lands were plunged into decadence, the schools of Seville, Saragossa, and Toledo flourished and produced brilliant results owing to the activity of Isidore, Braulio and the Archbishops of Toledo, Eugenius, Ildefonsus, and Julian, the greatest scholars of the seventh century. The Visigothic kings encouraged writers, and some even composed literary works themselves. The originality of Visigothic culture was reflected in the role of grammar and rhetoric. The ancient educational program had survived there; the learned bishops studied ancient poetry, for instance, without the repugnance felt by many other Christians studying a literature filled with pagan elements.

We do not know much about the spoken language of Spain in the seventh century. The tendency toward a split between written and spoken languages, which we have confirmed in Gaul and Italy, was certainly present in Spain, but it was probably less marked because of scholastic activity.

Because of this activity, written Latin in Spain during the time of Isidore preserves, in general, a thoroughly ancient stamp. To be sure, forms can be noted such as fraglabit for flagrabit, pauperum for pauperem, idem for eadem, fugire for fugere, vocitus for vocatus, capuisse for cepisse, coronaturi, remuneraturi for coronandi, remunerandi, and there appears ab haec omnia mala or an accusative absolute: hos (exorcismos) explicitos, orat episcopus. The majority of these phenomena, though, are already present in texts of the imperial period, and in Spain they are very rare. In general, Spanish authors knew their Latin grammar and they present themselves in a much more favorable light than their Gallic or Italian contemporaries. They are even capable of writing in classical meters. Braulio of Saragossa, for example, wrote a hymn in honor of St. Aemilian in iambic senarii which are perfectly classical in meter, and the versification of Eugenius of Toledo is equally remarkable. Toward the end of the seventh century, Julian still vigorously rejects the practice of rhythmic versification, which he calls vulgar, and he writes to a friend: Tua aetas . . . rithmis uti, quod plebegis (= plebeis) est solitum, ex toto refugiat, "refuse completely to adopt rhythms, which the unlearned are accustomed to use."

Since instruction in the Visigothic era was organized by the church, the Arab invasion of 711 did not immediately break the educational tradition. The Spanish continued to live in the tradition of Isidore, but, under their new masters, a decline was inevitable. One can see the result of this in two Cordovan authors, St. Eulogus and Paulus Alvarus who lived in the mid-ninth century, about 150 years after the invasion. Both wrote metrical poems and they are very proud of their knowledge of classical versification. After Julian, Paulus Alvarus opposes rhythmic and popular versification in exclaiming: pedibus metricis rithmi contemnite monstra, but he permits himself hexameters such as:

angelica cui turba virtute beata
laudibus obsequium solbit fulgenti decore

where the ancient rules of prosody have been violated several times. Spanish poets of the ninth century even accented in a completely capricious manner words which they only knew by reading, as the following forms show: sublimat, preconat, refutans, recedat, revelent, explorat, illesus, delibat. At times it appears as if they are misled by the influence of the spoken language. So the accent fuéro, which one finds in Mozarabic hymns, should probably be linked to Sp. fuera.

The artificial character of the Latin of the Cordovans appears in other cases as well. They write, for instance, verbibus, membribus, lacertibus, confusing the endings - ibus and -is, they use adverbs such as digniter, religiositer, vitiositer for digne, religiose, vitiose, they form new words such as litterizare for litteras scribere, macredo for macies, temerantia for temeritas, penitudo for poenitentia. But even such bizarre phenomena often have their origins in the Latin of the preceding era. The educated king of the Visigoths, Sisebut, adopts the adjective anguifer instead of anguineus in the phrase anguifero morsu, which Paulus Alvarus and his contemporaries imitated. In their writings the suffixes -fer and -ger lost their proper meaning, and there appeared somnifera for somnia, pomifera for poma, polifera for polus and florigera for flores. Likewise, we read even in the Lex Visigothorum and in other texts of the seventh century contumelium and infamium for contumelia and infamia. The authors of the period after the invasion continued and even expanded this usage of neuters by writing copulum, excubium, and exercitum.

Because of the heritage of the Visigothic period the literary Latin of the Mozarabic Spanish preserves a certain scholastic and bookish character. The influence of the spoken language is slight. In Spain intervocalic f tends to become vocalized. Therefore, the form versivicando for versificando appears in a chronicle of 754, and revociles for refociles, reveratur for referatur, provano for profano in the writings of Paulus Alvarus and his contemporaries, among whom one also finds the reversed forms deforamur for devoramur, adprofemus for adprobemus, referentia for reverentia. Likewise, the development percontare > Sp preguntar, of which there are many examples in Spain, seems to indicate that under the influence of the spoken language Isidore wrote praescrutare and that later authors admitted prespicere, prespicuus, prestrepere, presistere, etc.

In diplomas and charters, however, the situation is completely different. The Latin found in these documents, the earliest of which come from the eighth century, are no different, in principle, from Merovingian Latin: there is a curious blend of school Latin, fixed formulae, and features deriving from the spoken language, hyperurbanisms and errors. For a detailed and penetrating analysis of these documents, valuable observations on the development of the spoken language are available (J. Bastardas Parera, El latin medieval hispánico, pp. 269 ff.). We know that in the Iberian peninsula, for example, the accusative of the second and third declensions became a single form: in Spanish, lobo, monte and lobos, montes function as subject case (lupus, mons, and lupi, montes) as well as object case (lupum, montem and lupos, montes), while in Gaul a declension with two cases was kept. For this reason, one can find in Spanish documents phrases such as aras quas dedit mihi domino meo Petro; donatore sum; sumus filios Proelli et Juste. A characteristic feature of Castilian is the practice of introducing the direct object by the preposition a, if the object is personal. From the tenth century, one finds in Spanish documents examples such as: prendiderunt ad Sancio et a Nunno Gomiz de Septemfiniestras pro illo agro qui est in lomba de Sabuco . . .in iudicio. There are even very distinct differences between the different parts of the peninsula. In documents in Catalan, the preposition cum is often replaced by apud; cf. the following phrase taken from a document of San Cugat, of the twelfth century: omnia concessit ad uxori . . .ut si in sua viduitate sinceriter permanserit, teneat et possideat apud filios suos. In fact, cum did not remain in Catalan, which, like French and Proveçal, used apud. On the other side, documents from the west show eris instead of es, sedeat and sedere instead of sit and esse, forms which correspond to Castilian eres, sea and ser.

The glosses which are found in two manuscripts of the tenth century, come from the abbeys of San Millán de la Cogolla and Santo Domingo de Silos, showing that, even in Spain, the written language was not understood by those who had not studied it. After the year 1000 the learned language existed in Spain in practically the same condition as in Italy. Cultural isolation was replaced by fruitful contacts with other lands and the intellectual activity of the Spanish contributed greatly to the formation of medieval Western civilization and to the creation of the new latinity which we shall discuss in the following chapters.

But before taking the common road, we must make a detour through a non-Roman land.

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