The Place of Metrics in Anglo-Saxon Latin Education: Aldhelm and Bede

The Place of Metrics in Anglo-Saxon Latin Education: Aldhelm and Bede

Ruff, Carin (John Carroll University)

Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 104:2 (2005)


The Anglo-Saxons are well known for having been pioneers in teaching Latin as a foreign language and in developing materials for elementary Latin instruction to supplement the grammars they inherited from late antiquity. The Insular grammar-producing industry centered on explicating Donatus’s Ars minor and Ars maior, the sine quibus non of early medieval Latin learning. Yet, surprisingly, the earliest treatises on linguistic subjects to survive from Anglo-Saxon England are not elementary grammars, but treatises on Latin quantitative versification, Aldhelm’s De metris and De pedum regulis. In the next generation, Bede produced a De arte metrica which became the model for metrical instruction for centuries to come. Aldhelm’s and Bede’s approaches to explaining versification are as different as their stylistic temperaments. Their contrasting approaches to explaining versification shed light on what they expected of student readers, for whom metrics was an integral part of grammar and thus a model for how to approach complex Latin texts of all kinds.

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