Virgilius Maro Grammaticus

Virgilius Maro Grammaticus (Virgil the Grammarian, fl. c. 7th century) is the author of two early medieval grammatical texts known as the Epitomae and the Epistolae.


It is unknown exactly when or where he was active: in the eleventh and twelfth centuries he was known to Abbo of Fleury and others as Virgil of Toulouse, and subsequent scholars have tried to attribute him to Spain, the Basque Country and Gaul. Apparent traces of Hebrew have also prompted suggestions that he may have been Jewish.[1] Supposed knowledge of some Old Irish vocabulary and verse has led to the most recent attribution to Ireland, and there is good evidence that his writings were well known to early medieval Irish scholars.[2] However, the Irish evidence is not watertight, and Virgil's origins remain undetermined.

However, Virgil can be dated with some confidence to the seventh century: he knew some parts of the Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville finished around 636; and was quoted before 709/10 by Aldhelm of Malmesbury. Quotations from Virgil in certain Irish computistical texts may place him in the first half of the seventh century, specifically before 658.


His writings survive in around twenty manuscripts or fragments, dating from the eighth to the eleventh century. The three principal manuscripts (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale Latinus 13026; Amiens, Bibliothèque municipale, 426; and Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale IV.A.34) on which modern editions have been based were all written in early ninth-century France. In most manuscripts of Virgil also contain other grammatical and schoolroom texts. As a rule, the Epitomae travelled separately from the Epistolae, which are much more poorly represented in the surviving manuscripts: just one manuscript contains the entire text (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale IV.A.34), and comparison with other fragments suggests its testimony may not always be trustworthy.

Virgilius wrote at least two surviving works, the Epitomae and Epistolae. The number of books in both groups – 12 and 8 (though the last surviving Epitoma may have been numbered 15, implying there were once three more books now lost) – compares to the number of books in Donatus Ars Maior and Ars Minor. He displays knowledge of authors such as Isidore of Seville, Virgil and Aelius Donatus, but never quotes them by name. Instead one finds in his works a plethora of obscure and unlikely-sounding authorities mentioned nowhere else and quotations attributed to well-known authors which cannot be identified in their writings. Thus there are Varro, Cato, three Vergiliuses, three Vulcans, Aeneas and Origenes, and also Sufphonias, Galbungus, Sagillus, Blastus, Gurgilius, Balapsidius – the list can be expanded. Some of these names are clear fabrications, often displaying considerable knowledge of classical and patristic literature.

Although written in a similar style to late antique grammatical texts and incorporating some genuine grammatical material, there is much baffling and outlandish material contained in Virgilius' writings: he discusses twelve kinds of Latin, of which only one is in regular use, and attributes much of his lore to grammarians up to a thousand years old, who debate questions such as the vocative of ego and write texts such as De laudibus indefunctorum (In praise of the undead). Often these grammatical authorities form the centre of anecdotes: Aeneas is often referred to as Virgil's teacher; an elderly Spanish grammarian visits Virgil in the dead of night; and others wage war with thousands of men over grammatical definitions. The oddity of Virgilius' texts extends beyond ignorance or even parody, and it has been argued that his peculiar fabrications are a veiled plea for diversity and variety. However, a great deal remains uncertain about Virgilius, his origins and his real purpose in writing.


Editions and translations
Recent secondary literature


  1. (de) Bernhard Bischoff: Die „zweite Latinität“ des Virgilius Maro Grammaticus und seine jüdische Herkunft. In: Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 23 (1988), p. 11–16.
  2. Zimmer in George Calder's, Auraicept na n-éces, The Scholars Primer, being the texts of the ogham tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow Book of Lecan, and the text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster, ..., John Grant, Edinburgh 1917 (1995 repr.)

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