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Dona'tus Ae'lius

or, with all his titles as they are found in MSS., Aelius Donatus Vir Clarus Orator Urbis Romae, was a celebrated grammarian and rhetorician, who taught at Rome in the middle of the fourth century, and was the preceptor of Saint Jerome.


Latin Grammar

Donatus' most famous work is a system of Latin Grammar, which has formed the groundwork of most elementary treatises upon the same subject, from the period when he flourished down to our own times. It has usually been published in the form of two or more distinct and separate tracts: 1. Ars s. Editio Prima, de literis, syllabis, pedibus, et tonis; 2. Editio Secunda, de octo parlibus orationis; to which are commonly annexed, De barbarismo; De soloecisnmo; De ceteris vitiis; De metaplasmo; De schmatibus; De tropis ; but in the recent edition of Lindemann these are all more correctly considered as constituting one connected whole, and are combined under one general title, taken from the Santenian MS. preserved in the Royal Library of Berlin, Donati Ars Grammatica tribus libris comprelcnsa.

It was the common schoolbook of the middle ages; insomuch, that in the English of Longlande and Chaucer a donat or donet is equivalent to a lesson of any kind, and hence came to mean an introduction in general. Thus among the works of Bishop Pecock are enumerated The DONAT, into Christian religion, and The folower to the DONAT, while Cotgrave quotes an old French proverb, Les diables estoient encores a leur DONAT, i. e. The devils were but yet in their grammar. These, and other examples, are collected in Warton's History of English Poetry, sect. viii.


The popularity of the " Ars Grammatica," especially of the second part, " De octo partibus Orationis," is sufficiently evinced by the prodigious number of editions which appeared during the infancy of printing, most of them in gothic characters, without date, or name of place, orof printer, and the typographical history of no work, with the exception of the Scriptures, has excited more interest among bibliographers, or given them more trouble. Even before the invention of printing from movable types, several editions seem to have been thrown off from blocks, and fragments of these have been preserved in various collections. The three parts will be found in the collection of Putschius (Grammaticae Latinae Auctores Antiqui, Hanov. 4to. 1605), together with the commentary of Sergius on the prima and secunda editio; and that of Servius Marius Honoratus, on the secunda editio only (see pp. 1735, 1743, 1767, 1779, 1826); and also in Lindemann's " Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum Veterum," vol. i. Lips. 1831.

Commentaries on Terence

In addition to the Ars Grammatica, we possess introductions (enarrationes) and scholia, by Donatus, to five out of the six plays of Terence, those to the Heautontimorumenos having been lost. The prefaces contain a succinct account of the source from which each piece was derived, and of the class to which it belongs; a statement of the time at which it was exhibited; notices respecting the distribution of the characters; and sundry particulars connected with stage technicalities. The commentaries are full of interesting and valuable remarks and illustrations ; but from the numerous repetitions and contradictions, and, above all, the absurd and puerile traits here and there foisted in, it is manifest that they have been unmercifully interpolated and corrupted by later and less skilful hands. Some critics, indeed, have gone so far as to believe that Donatus never committed his observations to writing, and that these scholia are merely scraps, compiled from the notes of pupils, of dictata or lectures delivered viva voce; but this idea does not well accord with the words of St. Jerome in the first of the passages to which a reference is given at the end of this article.


Of the commentary on Terence, at least four editions, separate from the text, appeared during the fifteenth century. That which is believed to be the first is a folio, in Roman characters, without place, date, or printer's name, but was probably published at Cologne, about 1470-1472; the second at Venice, by Spira, fol. 1472; the third at Rome, by Sweynheym and Pannartz, fol. 1472; the fourth at Milan, by Zarotus, fol. 1476. It will be found attached to all complete editions of the dramatist.

Commentary on Virgil

Servius, in his annotations upon Virgil, refers, in upwards of forty different places, to a Donatus, who must have composed a commentary upon the Eclogues, Georgies, and Aeneid. " Scholia in Aeneida" bearing the name of Donatus, and corresponding, for the most part, with the quotations of Servius, are still extant, but, from their inferior tone and character, have been generally ascribed to Tiberius Claudius Donatus, who is noticed below. They are divided into twelve books, to which a supplemental thirteenth was to have been added ; the concluding portions of the fourth and eighth, and the commencement of the sixth and twelfth, are wanting. Their chief object is to point out the beauties and skill of the poet, rather than to explain his difficulties; but the writer, in a letter subjoined to the twelfth book, announces his intention, should a life already far advanced be prolonged, of compiling, from ancient authorities, a description of the persons, places, herbs, and trees, enumerated in the poem.


The commentaries upon the Aeneid were first discovered by Jo. Jovianus Pontanus, were first published from the copy in his library, by Scipio Capycius, Neap. fol. 1535, and were inserted by G. Fabricius in the " Corpus Interpretum Virgilianorum."

The text is very corrupt and imperfect, but it would appear that MSS. still exist which present it in a more pure and complete form, although these have never been collated, or at least given to the world. (See Burmann, in the pref. to his ed. of Virgil.)

Further Information

Hieron. ad vers. Ruf vol. iii. p. 92, ed. Bas., in Euseb. Chron. ad ann. ccclv p. c. ; in Eccles. c. i.; see also Lud. Schopfen, De Terentio et Donato, 8vo, Bonn. 1824, and Specimen emend. in Ael. Donati comment. Terent. 4to, Bonn. 1826. Osann, Beiträge zur Griechischen und Römischen Litteraturgeschichte, Leip. 1839.


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