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This paper aims to present an analysis of the different theories of Latin grammarians concerning the problem of orthographic standardization and its criteria. This is an issue that a lexicographer (both ancient and modern) has to deal with, particularly when working on a language not systematically codified.

My paper starts from an illustration of the “orthographic ideology” found in the Ars of the grammarian, rhetor and philosopher Marius Victorinus (Keil GL VI. 3-31, Mariotti 1967; see also H. Dahlmann, Zur Ars Grammatica des Marius Victorinus, Wiesbaden 1970). Marius Victorinus’ position is that of a radical theorist who advocates phonetic spelling in every context, even when it would produce unfamiliar forms (e.g. coffert, posquam p. 85 Mariotti). In this, he polemicizes both against the veteres, who were not consistent in spelling and pronunciation, and against those moderns who follow their rules uncritically. His principle is that the ear (=phonetic realization) is the most important criterion for spelling and that one must write the sound required by a word in pronunciation. As is evident, the “grammatical theory” of Marius Victorinus is quite different from what emerges from the work of earlier writers such as Aulus Gellius (cf. L. Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius, Oxford 2003: 172-92).

Secondly, my paper traces the sources and background of Marius Victorinus (who, as the evidence suggests, may have been more a compiler than an original thinker), in order to present an account of the various attempts of Latin lexicographers and grammarians to deal with such orthographic questions. Here I discuss general concepts belonging to the language of ancient grammatical theories such as ratio, consuetudo and auctoritas. Particular attention is given to the problem of inconsistency between writing and speaking and to the potential social implications that problem poses. Among the various grammarians and lexicographers referred to, my paper analyses the different orthographic proposals found in Velius Longus’ work and, above all, that of Verrius Flaccus, who suggested that the phonetic weakness of a prevocalic -m ending be indicated by writing only the first bit of the letter. Later orthographic treatises (such as Bede’s De Orthographia) are also taken into account in so far as they can be indirect sources for ancient theories on Latin orthography.

Finally, my paper adds some points on the connection of this orthographic debate with broader cultural issues. These include the opposition between analogists and anomalists in the late Republic, the effort of Augustus (apparently another supporter of phonetic spelling, cf. Suet. Aug. 88) to “control and organize” Latin knowledge, the archaizing movement of the second century, the role of grammarians in society, the influence of Greek philosophy and language theory, and finally the tension between Pagan and Christian culture in late antiquity and their approaches to the Roman past (on the term “antiquitas,” cf. U. Eigler, Lectiones vetustatis, Munich 2003) and to grammar and grammarians (cf. C.M. Chin, Grammar and Christianity in the late Roman World, Philadelphia 2008).

In this respect, the figure of Marius Victorinus, a Neoplatonic philosopher, author of a short treatise on the theory of definition (cf. A. Pronay, Marius Victorinus: Liber de definitionibus, Frankfurt am Main 1997), and an illustrious grammarian praised for his linguistic skills (for which he was awarded a statue in the forum of Trajan), but at the same time a notorious convert to Christianity, can be particularly interesting.

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