Aelius Donatus Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Aelius Donatus (EE-lee-uhs duh-NAYT-uhs), who taught in Rome, composed a Latin grammar consisting of two sections. The first, Ars minor (n.d.; English translation, 1926), introduces beginners to the eight parts of speech in a handy, innovative question-and-answer form, and the more substantial second section, Ars major (n.d.; English translation, 1926), contains matter pertaining to literary style. Donatus also wrote commentaries on the Roman comic dramatist Terence and on the greatest of all Latin poets, Vergil. The Terence commentary, which survives only in a condensed version, presents an intriguing mixture of valuable information, good sense, and silliness. Donatus’s commentary on Vergil, the most important work of literary exegesis to be produced in late antiquity, has perished except for the introduction; however, its content is to some degree preserved in the extant commentary of Donatus’s imitator Servius.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

In the Middle Ages, Donatus’s grammar exercised a vast influence. It was printed by Johannes Gutenberg even before the Bible. Its author’s name became a synonym for the subject itself: Any Latin “grammar” was simply a “Donatus.”

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Daintree, D. “The Virgil Commentary of Aelius Donatus: Black Hole or æÉminence Grise’?” Greece and Rome 37 (1990): 65-79.

Kaster, R. A. Guardians of Language: The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity. Reprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.