one of the most celebrated grammarians of the later period of Roman literature.
From the surname Caesariensis which is given to him, we gather that he was either born at Caesareia, or at least was educated there.
The time at which he lived cannot be fixed with any great precision.
He is spoken of as a contemporary of Cassiodorus, who lived from A. D. 468 to at least A. D. 562. (Paulus Diaconus, de Gest. Longob.
According to a statement of Aldhelm (ap. Mai, Auct. Class.
vol. v. p. 501, &c.), the emperor Theodosius the younger, who died in A. D. 450, copied out Priscian's grammatical work with his own hand. Some authorities, therefore, place him in the first half of the fifth century, others a little later in the same century, others in the beginning of the sixth century.
The second is the only view at all consonant with both the above statements. Priscianus was a pupil of Theoctistus. (Prisc. 18.5.)
He himself taught grammar at Constantinople, and was in the receipt of a salary from the government, from which (as well as from parts of his writings, especially his translation of the Periegesis of Dionysius) it appears probable that he was a Christian. Of other particulars of his life we are ignorant.
Priscian was celebrated for the extent and depth of his grammatical knowledge. of which he has left the evidence in his work on the subject, entitled Commentariorum grammaticorum Libri XVIII.,
addressed to his friend and patron, the consul Julianus. Other titles are, however, frequently given to it.
The first sixteen books treat upon the eight parts of speech recognised by the ancient grammarians, letters, syllables, &c.
The last two books are on syntax, and in one MS. are placed as a distinct work, under the title De Constructione.
Priscianus made good use of the works of preceding grammarians, but the writers whom he mainly followed were Apollonius Dyscolus (“Apollonius, cujus auctoritatem in omnibus sequendam putavi,
” 14.1, vol. i. p. 581, ed. Krehl) and Herodianus (2.6, vol. i. p. 76, ed. Krehl).
The treatise of Priscianus soon became the standard work on Latin grammar, and in the epitome of Rabanus Maurus obtained an extensive circulation. One feature of value about it is the large number of quotations which it contains both from Latin and Greek writers, of whom nothing would otherwise have remained. His acquaintance with Greek as well as Latin enabled him to carry on a parallel between the two languages.
Besides the systematic grammatical work of Priscianus there are still extant the following writings :--
A grammatical catechism on twelve lines of the Aeneid, manifestly intended as a school book. 2.
A treatise on accents. 3.
A treatise on the symbols used to denote numbers and weights, and on coins and numbers. 4. On the metres of Terence. 5.
A translation of the Προγυμνάσματα (Praeexercitamenta) of Hermogenes.
The translation is however very far from being literal. The Greek original was discovered and published by Heeren in 1791.
This and the two preceding pieces are addressed to Symmachus. 6. On the declensions of nouns. 7.
A poem on the emperor Anastasius in 312 hexameters, with a preface in 22 iambic lines. 8.
A piece De Ponderibus et Mensuris, in verse. (Wernsdorf, Poet. Lat. Min. vol. v. p. 212, &100.235, &100.494, &c.)
This piece has been attributed by some to the grammarian Rhemnius Fannius Palaemon, by others to one Remus Favinus, but the authorship of Priscianus seems well established. 9. An Epitome phaenomenön, or De Sideribus, in verse.1 10.
A free translation of the Periegesis of Dionysius in 1427 lines, manifestly made for the instruction of youth.
It follows the order of the Greek on the whole, but contains many variations from the original.
In particular Priscianus has taken pains to substitute for the heathen allusions a phraseology better adapted for Christian times. 11.
A couple of epigrams. (Anth. Lat. 5.47, 139.) To Priscianus also are usually attributed the acrostichs prefixed to the plays of Plautus, and describing the plot.
The Poem on the Emperor Anastasius, the De Ponderibus et Mensuris
and the Epitome phaenomenön
have been edited separately by Endlicher (Vienn. 1828), with a preliminary dissertation.
The best edition of Priscianus is that by Krehl, which contains all but a few of the shorter poems (above, Nos. 7, 8, 9, 11).