Medieval -- A Moral Art: Grammar, Society, and Culture in Trecento Florence by Paul F. Gehl

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A Moral Art: Grammar, Society, and Culture in Trecento Florence. By Paul F. Gehi. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 1993. Pp.x, 310. $38.95.)

In an excellent study of grammatical instruction in Florence in the fourteenth century, Paul Gehi has demonstrated the conservative nature of that century's grammatical instruction. He has also shown that the teachers of reading and the slightly more advanced teachers of grammar had blanched out most of the classical mythology and morally controversial classical authors that were part of the traditional medieval curriculum. Grammatical instruction in Florence remained infused with a moralism that derived from its monastic origins but was made even more rigid under the influences of a conservative merchant community and mendicant ideology.

Gehi has compiled a census of manuscripts of texts used by grammarians in Tuscany in the fourteenth century that serves as the evidential spine of the book. Through a statistical, codicological, and textual analysis, as well as use of other traditional sources, Gehi has shown the nature of schooling in Florence, including which texts were employed and in what sequence, and the purposes that the texts served for the grammatians. One gains the sense that he has recaptured the actual social process of the education of the seven-to-twelve-year old boys of Florence. Gehi calls his works "a case study of educational conservatism in action" (p. 1 The study of grammar was conservative in several ways. First, despite the aforementioned deletions, the curriculum remained the inherited system of the high Middle Ages with the same texts at the core. Thus, the Florentine child progressed from a prayer book for learning the alphabet followed by a short grammatical text (Donatus or Donadello) that was first memorized and then on to one or more late classical or medieval moralizing poems (Epigrammata of Prosper of Aquitaine, Fables versed of Aesop, Dittochaeon of Prudentius, Disticha of Cato). …