Domna grammatika: a surprise from Michel Zimmermann

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

Cover of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle)

I am now, nearly, finished reading Michel Zimmermann’s huge book Écrire et lire en Catalogne that has given me so much difficulty along with its information, only the bibliography and appendices (themselves two hundred pages) to go.1 One of the problems with understanding what is going on with this work is its pedigree. It is a version, little revised, he says at the outset, of his thèse d’état, a huge-scale thing akin to a German Habilitationsschrift that doesn’t really exist in the UK or US systems and doesn’t, any longer, in France either. Firstly, this means that a lot of it dates from a long time ago and when one comes across references to ideas published ‘recemment’ in 1978, one begins to wonder how much it was updated to reflect Zimmermann the learned professor as per 2002 rather than Zimmermann the young scholar as per 1982.2 Furthermore, these beasts could easily be the fruits of a decade’s work and then here he is updating it in the 2000s, so there’s prospect for quite a lot of change of opinions and knowledge even between its chapters. This may explain a thing I found in the last chapter which I didn’t expect, either from the material or the writer, and which for balance I thought I had to mention here.

The last chapter, a mere slip of a thing at 140 pages, is about what people learned in Catalonia and how, ninth to thirteenth centuries. This work gave rise to several other articles for its author in the eighties and if you put them back in somehow this would be a respectable little book by itself, and a useful one. It ineluctably duplicates some of the rest of the book as well, though not as much as the previous chapter, almost all of which is already present in the first volume somewhere.3 Here the author worked harder to eliminate what was redundant, and the citation is also more thorough and it generally reads more easily. I don’t know whether this makes it earlier or later in the book’s process, but it’s pleasant. There is, anyway, a substantial section on cathedral schools and teachers and one of the first things this does is to analyse the titles that are used of teachers in the documents. Caput scolae is the one we see most of, as below, ‘headmaster’ almost, but behind that (and I would say, largely later) we also see scholastici (advanced students?) and grammatici, and the surprising thing is that among that latter group there are two women.4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic, named on the first line (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297, with my fingers at the corner

These records are not quite as unambiguous as one might wish.5 We only have the name of one of them, Guisla grammatica, and the other appears as only homo domna gramatika, which looks as if it must be a scribal error in some direction or other, possibly for Hemmo, Emma; the Greek spelling of ‘gramatika‘ gives me strange memories of a lady I met once in Cambridge but also makes me wonder if the scribe thought the word couldn’t be declined, like Hebrew terms, though in that case why did he only know it in the feminine? Moreover, the first is potentially to be identified with a Guisla who was the wife of one Guillem, and he may be one of the other grammatici around the cathedral of Vic at this time, as they certainly had one of that name. In other words, Zimmermann suggests, she might be a grammaticus‘s wife using the family title, rather than actually having any teaching role herself; the cathedral’s grammarians certainly seem to have passed the title down to their heirs, but those heirs presumably also inherited the teaching? We don’t know for sure. But it’s interesting, and it’s also something that based on other parts of the book I wouldn’t entirely have expected M. le Prof. Z. even to have mentioned. Vic was somewhere with a history of encouraging female learning and study in a small way, and it’s nice to think that might have briefly been institutionalised as lay instruction took off more widely in the mid-eleventh century.


1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles, Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols.

2. Ibid., II p. 889 notes work published in 1978 by Colette Jeudy as having been made public ‘recemment’. Now, I struggle myself with admitting that the 1980s no longer counts as ‘recent’ (it’s still a horrible memory for me) but I think my working practice now is, don’t call anything recent which didn’t come out during the youngest likely readership’s lifetimes…

3. We do, admittedly, get the third run-through in the book of the inventories of the libraries of Ripoll and Vic, which also appear in the appendices, but here it’s just for books containing scientific material that Gerbert of Aurillac might have been able to see. This includes MS Ripoll 106, which we discussed here a while back; it’s kind of nice to think that he probably also flipped through it. (Though, to him, it would have been ‘recent’…)

4. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, II pp. 870-886 and here esp. pp. 878-881 for what follows.

5. Even in citation, alas: Zimmermann references these documents as Arxiu Capitular de Vic, nos 1052 and 1060, and gives a date for one of them that seems to preclude these numbers being dates, not shelfmarks. They’re not complete shelfmarks, however, says I as one who knows the ACV a little bit, and though the documents may be in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2006-), I haven’t gone and looked, I admit, as for some reason no library in this country has more of it than fascs 1 & 2, even though I know darn well the thing is finished because I got given its plates in an adventure I have yet to tell you about

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4 responses to “Domna grammatika: a surprise from Michel Zimmermann

  1. Or she could be a teacher in a private school, like many other women in High and Late Middle Ages (cfr. Régine Pernoud, “La femme au temps des Chatedrales”).

    • I suppose that’s true! I’d have trouble envisaging an actual established school but she could easily be a private tutor. This would be the first sign anyone’s spotted of this here so early but with attitudes to women’s literacy such as those otherwise epitomised by M. le Prof. Z., that’s probably not surprising! Worth thinking about, thankyou…

  2. A familiar problem in the sense of the many women described in early medieval sources as episcopa, presbytera, diaconissa, comitissa and so on. Did they hold these positions in their own right, or are they the wives of men who held these positions? Brian Brennan did an article on Episcopa in Merovingian Gaul back in the 80s, which will no doubt have several comparanda.

    • Now, about that I had no idea! Episcopae, at least. My area and period are quite good for comitissae (I have one particular charter in mind with three dowager countesses giving to I think Montolieu; that must have been a considerable meeting!) and as for presbyterae, well, the Carolingians reissue the canons of Laodicæa against women priests, no smoke without fire amirite etc. OK, maybe not. (But maybe!) I shall have to add that Brennan article to the list, thankyou.

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