to correct Etymologies‚Ä™ (codicem . . . inemendatum prae ualitudine) and (2)
the King is not minded to prefer Braulio‚Ä™s nominee. The good news is (2)
that the King hasn‚Ä™t yet made up his mind for sure, and (1) that Isidore
is Ô¬Ānally ‚Ä˜coughing up the manuscript, in a clutch of manuscripts, posted
en route‚Ä™ (codicem Etymologiarum cum aliis codicibus de itinere transmisi).
Always provided, that if in the middle of life, that providence means for
him to ‚Ä˜reach the fateful arena set for the Synod‚Ä™ (si ad destinatum concilii
Since said Council took place in 633, and Isidore was to die in 636 aged
seventy-six, we may take it that this equable covernote, short and sweet as
ever but at last allowed to be informative, deÔ¬Ānitively places the Etymologiae
where they belong, among the Bishop‚Ä™s entire oeuvre, blessed as the Ô¬Ānal
culmination of his writing for Christendom. This is important to register.
Authorship of dictionaries and encyclopedias, as of other monumental
compositions, regularly construes as a special category of author-ity. It
requires a long life of privileged prestige. Finishes off its servant and scribe.
Embodies the sum of scholarly devotion and privilege.
And as Ô¬Ārst reader, Braulio has been deliberately, even ponderously, con-
scripted to join in with clinching this crowning achievement, for, as we‚Ä™ve
seen, Isidore‚Ä™s bargain with himself had been to ‚Ä˜offer it‚Ä™ to Braulio ‚Ä˜for
proofreading‚Ä™ (ad emendandum . . . offerre), if Isidore made it to Toledo
for the Council (to end all Councils: si ad destinatum concilii locum peru-
enissem). There, the assembled bishops of Spain were indeed imperiously
instructed to establish seminaries in their cathedral cities on the model of
the school at Seville where the boy Isidore had himself long ago worked
through the liberal arts programme under his brother Leandro‚Ä™s supervi-
sion.20 The Etymologiae address themselves, not just to Braulio‚Ä™s Saragossan
see, and to every other site of learning in the land, but to the promulgation
of a national policy promoting classical education; and these introductory
letters Ô¬Ānd their own caring idiom to intimate as much.21
After this momentous prefatory correspondence, the one short sentence
(mightily confusing many of the scribes before they even got started) of
20 See Canon 24 of the fourth Council of Toledo (Migne PL 84: 374). On Leandro: Navarra (1987).
21 See Aherne (1966).
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 161
Isidore‚Ä™s (earlier: original?) dedication to King Sisebut, the Christianised
Vizigoth dynast whose claim was to have uniÔ¬Āed Spain in partnership with
its Church Fathers,22 need not, and does not, insist on its bearing on the
book it heads. The point here must be to herald intrication of mundane
politics and pastoral business with scholarly synthesis.23 As promised, we
are told, Ô¬Ānd (enc.) one work of vast effort to realise the present regime
within a seamless continuity with the world of classical antiquity. You don‚Ä™t
have to be a Goth to get it, but if you were it would plug you in, to the
power of the written wor(l)ds of Latin:
Here you are! Just the way I promised, I‚Ä™ve launched a work on the origin of one
thing and another, compiled from reading remembered from way back when, and
at one point and another provided with commentary just the way it survives as
penned in the classical style of Antiquity.
en tibi, sicut pollicitus sum, misi opus de origine quarundam rerum ex ueteris lectionis
recordatione collectum atque ita in quibusdam locis adnotatum, sicut extat conscriptum
Bp Braulio has already displaced for any reader, beyond any possibility
of misrecognition, the modesty of Christian catachresis incumbent on his
feted author. Through epistolarity, he serves to take readers of the scholarly
tome in prospect behind the scenes, and to lead us back from the scene of
writing out to the impact of the writing upon its world of readers. Intimacy
and humility conscript us to live, re-live, ourselves the vocational devotion
that powers this author‚Ä™s authorisation of faith in his topic of topics: the
sacred bond between text and church, word and world, man and God.
Besides positioning the Etymologies at the apex and as the apogee of Isidore‚Ä™s
ministry, Braulio models, too, as the privileged Ô¬Ārst reader in whose wake
we stumble and trail. For Braulio models an emphatically interventionist
reader, one that we unordained (unappointed of Isidore) must, but can
only, aspire to emulate. Reading the book is to be participatory, for no
dictionary is ever done (God‚Ä™s work goes on). Yet, after Braulio, these pages
have been canonised (emend, and be damned). Samples of unÔ¬Ānishedness
that we shall encounter in the text will compete with features of supplemen-
tation in the transmission: both sets of traces propose unÔ¬Ānishability in the
22 On Sisebut: Dom¬īnguez del Val (1986) i: 327‚Ä“30.
23 Sisebut was dead well before Braulio got his hands on the Etymologiae (Lindsay (1911b) 51). But he
was very much Isidore‚Ä™s king, in a dynastic partnership that stretched back to the third Council
of Toledo in 587, where King Reccared (accession in 586) ceremonially converted, with his queen,
Baddo, from Arianism to Catholicism, midwifed by Leandro, bishop of Seville from 578, where he
was succeeded by his brother Isidore in 599/600: Migne PL 84: 342‚Ä“63. On the political harnessing
of continuidad romana: Diesner (1978) 84‚Ä“107.
162 j oh n h e nd e rson
consciousness of the project; and they bind into its reception the impera-
tive of to-be-Ô¬Ānished fulÔ¬Ālment. Braulio embroils us all ‚Ä“ Braulio gets you
What is more (though Lindsay did not see Ô¬Āt to pass this on), Braulio
himself hails Isidore‚Ä™s entire polymathic library24 with the all-important
if miniscule bio-bibliography of 637 ce,25 where he informs us that he,
Braulio, was the one responsible, as part of his apostolic duty to perfect the
chef d‚Ä™oeuvre, for its division into ‚Ä˜20 books‚Ä™:26
The book of the Etymologiae is really enormous. It was given diacritical sub-
headings but not book divisions by Isidore. Because he created it at my request, for
all that he himself left it short of perfection, I have split it into 20 volumes. This
work suits all varieties of philosophy: anyone who reads it through in cumulative
reÔ¬‚ection, will deservedly be not undistinguished for factual knowledge of divinity
and humanity both.
Etymologiarum codicem nimia magnitudine, distinctum ab eo titulis, non libris; quem
quia rogatu meo fecit, quamuis imperfectum ipse reliquerit, ego in uiginti libros diuisi.
quod opus omnimodo/ae philosophiae conueniens quisquis crebra meditatione per-
legerit, non ignotus diuinarum humanarumque rerum scientia merito erit.
After the dedication, Lindsay presents two tabular guides which he dubs
INDEX LIBRORUM and CAPITULA LIBRORUM (‚Ä˜Index of books‚Ä™ and
‚Ä˜The chapters of books‚Ä™). The Ô¬Ārst of these lists of contents avows (as well
as betrays) that it is not Isidore‚Ä™s work (it presupposes and may refer to,
or be, Braulio‚Ä™s). Readers are given summary notice, book by book from
One through Twenty, that ‚Ä˜this page enables speedy answers to queries by
pointing to the topics discussed by the book‚Ä™s architect in each book‚Ä™ (de
quibus rebus in libris singulis conditor huius codicis disputauit):
I. De Grammatica et Partibus eius. Oleariis, Cocorum, Pistorum, et
... Luminariorum, de Lectis, Sellis et
XX. De Mensis et Escis et Potibus et Vasculis Vehiculis, Rusticis et Hortorum, sive De
eorum, de Vasis Vinariis, Aquariis et Instrumentis Equorum.
The second index is (neither Isidore‚Ä™s nor Braulio‚Ä™s, but Braulio‚Ä™s suc-
cessor Lindsay‚Ä™s) confection ‚Ä“ but re-made from the ancient (post-Braulio)
24 Braulio‚Ä™s encomium re-cycles Cicero‚Ä™s puff for Varro (Ac. 1.9): Fontaine (1988) essay iii: 89 and n. 2.
25 Migne PL 82:65‚Ä“68 (cf. 81: 15‚Ä“16). This hagiography, the Renotatio (originally appended to Isidore‚Ä™s
De uiris illustribus), was traditionally known as the Praenotatio librorum D. Isidori, cf. Fontaine (1959)
26 On Braulio‚Ä™s editorial intervention: D¬īaz y D¬īaz (ed.) (2000) 177‚Ä“80. On Braulio in Isidore‚Ä™s circle:
Dom¬īnguez del Val (1986) i: 331‚Ä“7.
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 163
These book-chapters that I have compiled here appear in the codices, each at the
outset of its book or part of book.
Haec capitula librorum quae hic congessi apparent in codd. in initio sui quodque libri
uel partis libri.
In this (relocated) articulation, the Ô¬Ārst and last books present thus:
i. De disciplina et arte. xxi. De tropis.
ii. De septem liberalibus disciplinis. xxii. De prosa.
iii. De grammatica. xxiii. De metris.
iv. De partibus orationis. xxiv. De fabula.
v. De uoce et litteris. xxv. De historia.
vi. De syllabis. and thus:
vii. De pedibus. i. De mensis et escis.
viii. De accentibus. ii. De potu.
ix. De posituris. iii. De uasis escariis.
x. De notis sententiarum. iv. De uasis potatoriis.
[De notis uulgaribus et aliarum rerum.] v. De uasis uinariis et aquariis.
xi. De orthographia. vi. De uasis oleariis.
xii. De analogia. vii. De uasis coquinariis et pistoriis.
xiii. De etymologia. viii. De uasis repositoriis.
xiv. De glossis. ix. De uasis luminariorum.
xv. De differentiis. x. De lectis et sellis.
xvi. De barbarismo. xi. De uehiculis.
xvii. De soloecismo. xii. De reliquis quae in usu habentur.
xviii. De ceteris uitiis. xiii. De instrumentis rusticis.
xix. De metaplasmis. xiv. De instrumentis hortorum.
xx. De schematibus. xv. De instrumentis equorum.
On the one hand, Isidore‚Ä™s headings seem ‚Ä˜to have rather designed
22 (or 24) books rather than [Braulio‚Ä™s] 20‚Ä™.27 But on the other, Lindsay
emphasises ‚Ä˜a great deal of confusion‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜wide divergence‚Ä™ in the placing
of title-headings and large-scale ‚Ä˜discrepancies in arrangement (as well as
mixture of text)‚Ä™, while ‚Ä˜division of the whole work into ‚Ä˜pars I‚Ä™ (= books
1‚Ä“10) and ‚Ä˜pars II‚Ä™ (= books 11‚Ä“20) was a mere matter of convenience‚Ä™
(for both the manuscripts and his own Oxford Classical Text).28 Yet closer
scrutiny shows how the three-tier system of nested rubrics could function
27 Lindsay (1911b) 50. Did alphabetic reckoning feature in Braulio‚Ä™s scheme? Fontaine ((1988) iv: 531
n. 25) cites Nonius and Gellius for compilations in twenty books.
Did Isidore not begin his account DE MVNDO ET PARTIBVS with the words In hoc uero
libello . . . (‚Ä˜Well in this book . . .‚Ä™, 13.1.1)?
The rhyme of I, De Grammatica et Partibus eius with XI, De Homine et Partibus eius does Ô¬‚ag a
rewarding division between ‚Ä˜the two halves‚Ä™.
28 Lindsay (1911b) 50‚Ä“1: ‚Ä˜More obscure are the traces of a division by triads‚Ä™.
164 j oh n h e nd e rson
more serviceably than may be apparent, and how robust it could prove in
the teeth of turbulent transmission.
To take the brass tacks of book 20 Ô¬Ārst, the initial book contents helpfully
signals three subdivisions: the Ô¬Ārst groups ‚Ä˜containers for eating and drink-
ing‚Ä™ together with ‚Ä˜tables, food and drink‚Ä™; these topics will correspond
with headings i through iv at the start of book 20, and resolve easily into
the Ô¬Āve sub-headings that open paragraphs 1 through 5 of the text (sepa-
rating ‚Ä˜On vessels for eating from‚Ä™, DE VASIS ESCARIIS, from ‚Ä˜On vessels
for drinking from‚Ä™, DE VASIS POTATORIIS; our editions‚Ä™ ‚Ä˜20.iv‚Ä“v‚Ä™). The
middle cluster then wraps up the other categories of specialised containers ‚Ä“
six contents items, that shade into the two triads of: wine, water and oil;
cooks‚Ä™, bakers‚Ä™ and luminaries‚Ä™; Ô¬Āve topic headings at the incipit of 20 and
Ô¬Āve matching paragraph sub-headings in the text, in both cases bracketing
wine-and-water together, and then spoiling the heralded second trio by
interposing ‚Ä˜On vessels for serving food‚Ä™ (DE VASIS REPOSITORIIS) (i.e.
‚Ä˜XX.viii.‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜XX.ix‚Ä™, respectively) between their undifferentiated run of
-ariis, -ariis, -ariis, -ariis, -oriis, and now -oriis, and their Ô¬Ānal odd-man-out
(odd men out), lumin-ariorum. In both of book 20‚Ä™s sub-systems, that is to
say, the salient breaks of topic come after i‚Ä“ii, and after ix/x, with a solid
run of ‚Ä˜On vessels‚Ä™ (DE VASIS) from iii-ix/iv‚Ä“x. Finally, the contents align
the triplet ‚Ä˜beds, chairs, carriages‚Ä™, marking two sub-divisions of the last
‚Ä˜[carriages for] countryside and for gardens‚Ä™, before uncertainly appending
‚Ä˜Horse equipment‚Ä™ with a bizarre siue as well as its own would-be major
paratactic de, as if to promise a fourth segment-in-one-bite. The actual
text of book 20, however, knows better, offering two triads of its own, so
that these Ô¬Ānal ‚Ä˜horses‚Ä™ complete instead three lots of ‚Ä˜On implements‚Ä™
(DE INSTRVMENTIS; viz. ‚Ä˜countryside; gardens‚Ä™ and horses‚Ä™‚Ä™), and ‚Ä˜beds-
and-chairs‚Ä™ snuggle up, off-set by ‚Ä˜carriages‚Ä™, and a catch-all round-up of
miscellanea: ‚Ä˜Everything else that serves a use‚Ä™ (DE RELIQVIS QVAE IN
Now, whether the team who produced this triple search engine saw this
no-nonsense book of ‚Ä˜kit‚Ä™ as a single diagrammatic suite structured more
or less seductively by Isidore is (I admit) not entirely clear. But this is how
that story will go: Ô¬Ārst the dining table traces its ware back out to the
kitchen, bakehouse, cupboards and stores, and suppliers of light. Next the
remaining articles of the household furniture line up ‚Ä“ out onto the street,
where wheels turn them into conveyances, before walking-sticks become
29 ConÔ¬Āne reading Isidore to the list of contents, and all you can see will be: ‚Ä˜The last books are curious
because of the odd pairings of their contents‚Ä™ (Conte (1994) 721).
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 165
clubs, clubs crowbars, and out tumble scissors, razors, combs and curlers,
with key, chain, and clock to scrape the barrel. Barbers, locks on doors,
sundials belong back there, but we shall travel on, out of town, to plough
and dig and prune and harrow, once on the farm, twice in the (market-)
garden; harness, rein, and spur our horse off into the sunset . . .
So it is that, as a reference machine, Etymologies can lead its users into
the right neck of the woods, so long as they can pick the right rubric from
the Contents; Ô¬Ānding the right page by coordinating start-of-book head-
ing with sub-head paragraphing within the text leaves us to make what
we can of the more-or-less solid wall of items crammed into the space
allotted to the topic. And yet, all the while, consultation this way vir-
tually debars the user from perceiving any sense of logic or meaningful
composition to the particular string of items consulted. Indeed a satisÔ¬Āed
customer need never even notice whether a cluster of material chosen for
thematic treatment has been exhaustively or sparsely, ludicrously, robot-
ically, or respectfully treated: the quality and modality of the Thesaurus
escape attention ‚Ä“ and even notice. Which user will pause to reckon whether
the patch of the moment is the product of negligence or intelligence? Will
any frustrated user play lucky dip, get burned off by impatience with the
Contents, blame the manual for missing the right hookline ‚Ä“ but never
prove the wordhoard‚Ä™s blindspot? Does Isidore exude perspective or pilot
Book 20 prompts just such questions: it invites us to play ‚Ä˜spot the missing
item‚Ä™. As if the completeness of an inventory must inhere in the Etymologies
project. As if that is the driving teleology that constitutes the scheme. The
presumption soon fades once you (re)turn to book 1. Here, the Contents
list gives a bare title: ‚Ä˜On Grammar‚Ä™, plus the promise of complexity, ‚Ä˜&
its Parts‚Ä™ (DE GRAMMATICA ET PARTIBVS EIVS). Twenty-Ô¬Āve head-
ings mostly spit out one word subjects, while the ad loc. sub-headings tot
up to forty-four entries. Contents‚Ä™ minimalesque cues skip those master
categories of the whole enterprise, ‚Ä˜discipline‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜art‚Ä™, which dominate
the entr¬īe paragraph (1.1), and entirely suppresses the grand parade of the
‚Ä˜Seven Liberal Disciplines [or Arts]‚Ä™ that launches the Ô¬Ārst three or four
books ahead.30 True, in appropriating the lemmata for I.iii‚Ä“iv/I.v‚Ä“vi, ‚Ä˜On
Grammar . . . On the parts of rhetoric‚Ä™ (DE GRAMMATICA . . . DE PART-
IBVS ORATIONIS), Contents does home on the organising categories of
the book, viz. the count of thirty topics of grammar (1.5.4).31 By contrast,
30 After the holy programme of Cassiod. Inst. 2, preface: see O‚Ä™Donnell (1979).
31 Lindsay‚Ä™s Oxford Classical Text muddles its punctuation here: id est, partes orationis octo: must be
corrected to id est: partes orationis octo, for the line-up of topics to reach that total of thirty (8 + 22).
166 j oh n h e nd e rson
however, headings and sub-headings will diverge ‚Ä“ in order to cue loca-
tion of each paragraph as they arrive. Thus the heading I.iv subsumes the
various ‚Ä˜Parts of Speech‚Ä™ it trumpets, where sub-headings Ô¬‚ag them up in
bold as I.vi + vii‚Ä“xv. Similarly, the manuscripts are content either to gather
a run of entries on symbols used in various cultural arenas, or to run a
double entry plus ‚Ä˜et cetera‚Ä™ formula (I.x), where(as) the paragraphs them-
selves feature a suite of six speciÔ¬Āed loci for them (I.xxi‚Ä“xxvi). Finally, four
paragraphs on aspects of ‚Ä˜history‚Ä™ close the book, where the book headings
in most manuscripts leave just the one entry: ‚Ä˜On History‚Ä™ (I.xli‚Ä“xliv vs
I.xxv). Otherwise, neither system makes the slightest attempt to interlink,
subjoin, or relate any of the categories employed, with a single exception
where ‚Ä˜On other vices‚Ä™ (DE CETERIS VITIIS, I.xviii) makes an exegetic
incision missing from ‚Ä˜On vices‚Ä™ (DE VITIIS, I.xxxiv).32 Yet Grammar
makes a quintessentially pre-fabricated opening tableau, told and re-told
down the centuries without the slightest concern to administer etymology
as anything more than one incidental (sub-?)topic tucked away for its half-
page meed of glory in its place. Grammar takes Isidore Ô¬Āfty-eight OCT
pages, where book 20 musters just twenty-six. If we juxtapose beginning
and ending this way, the question will obtrude: does Etymologiae earn its
perfunctory wind-down by having revved up at the outset? If Isidore isn‚Ä™t
plain stuck for stirringly materialist material in 20,33 have his earlier heroics
from 20 on eliminated the need ‚Ä“ does he coast on through, once readers
are trained to work with, even for, him? Or is the contrast down to textual
morphing in tandem with the contours of existence, and our apprehen-
sion of it ‚Ä“ a matter of epistemontics, as words will twine worlds as the
world (un)ravels through words? Only a reading open to telling narrative
self-transmutation can even contemplate compositional strategy in the trek
from 1 to 20, front to back. Yet Ô¬Ānding Creation in horse trappings must
The decision to expound the alphabet (litterae communes, litterae Latinae) before starting on Grammar
spoiled at once the count-up and the Ô¬Ārst topic(s) after the Eight Parts of Speech, which appear(s) as
De uoce et litteris in the heading, as DE LITTERIS APVD GRAMMATICOS in the sub-heading,
but as uox articulata, littera in the diuisio at 1.5.4: a chunk of the paradosis drops the paragraph(s),
one manuscript orphans the bare title, another remarks iam in principio huius operis disputatum
est; otherwise, 1.15 appears as the skeletal jotting: quot sint articulatae uoces. et dicta littera quasi
legitera, eo quod legentibus iter praebeat uel in legendo iteretur (which resumes 1.3.4, litterae autem
dictae quasi legiterae, quod iter legentibus praestent, uel quod in legendo iterentur. This is a price paid
for disrupting Donatus‚Ä™ grammar (Ô¬‚agged at 1.6.1), partly in line with the hint in Cassiod. Inst.
2.1.2: de uoce articulata‚Ä“de littera‚Ä“de syllaba‚Ä“de pedibus‚Ä“de posituris siue distinctionibus‚Ä“et iterum de
partibus orationis VIII‚Ä“de schematibus‚Ä“de etymologiis‚Ä“de orthographia.
32 DE SOLOECISMO (I.xvii) vs DE SOLOECISMIS (I.xxxiii) helps set up this divergence.
33 Cf. esp. Fontaine (1959) 96 n. 29, on the Varronian antiquarianism of ‚Ä˜material culture‚Ä™ in book 20.
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 167
literally and logically depend on learning to learn through ‚Ä˜grammatical‚Ä™
competence how to Ô¬Ānd out anything.
As Curtius plainly saw, etymology is harnessed to different work as
Isidore construes the grammar of the universe. And in the process, ety-
mology unfolds to disclose eventually all-embracing semiotic power: obiter,
sequencing and starring of topics process a multi-track adventure of progres-
sively re-programmed induction into a multi-verse design where totalised
wholeness is set as the product of models of partitioning, aggregation and
multiplication. Learning (to understanding and appreciate) how heteroge-
neous systems (can, and in this vision, do) interact to attain holism for their
product is the prize promised by reading ‚Ä“ reading Isidore. My proposal
is that we should track the Etymologiae in its main outline, resisting the
peremptory intercession of the apparatus of headings, as so many obstacles
and deterrents to reading, and instead paying them respect only where they
point up exegetic continuity, proportion, or direction. If intruded titling
(red ink and capital letters) aims to boss the text, it is by the same token
easy to Ô¬Ānesse from reading. There are, for sure, neither etymologies nor
reference to etymology to be found anywhere in the paratext.34
Need it be said, such a project practises contempt for facile diagnosis of
authorial patchwork, autopilot somnambulation, or mindless compilation.
First things Ô¬Ārst (that trauma of The Encyclopedia), digest Isidore‚Ä™s opening
gambit. Etymologiae starts as it will continue, prefacing a block of mate-
rial from the principal proximate precursor with a tag from one of the
great Church Fathers: here, at 1.1.1, Cassiodorus primed with Augustine.
(Jerome will be the other staple supplier of inspirational mottoes).35 We
are here to learn, to learn learning, plenary source of knowledge: as we
discover, ‚Ä˜discipline‚Ä™ (disciplina) derives from discere (‚Ä˜to learn‚Ä™; which in
turn derives from scire, ‚Ä˜to know) + plena (‚Ä˜complete‚Ä™). There is, on the
other hand, also an ‚Ä˜art‚Ä™ to this, encapsulated, so Isidore at once explains,
in a bilingual set of word-truths which knot together ‚Ä˜art‚Ä™ with its consti-
tutive rules and regulations, and with knowledge as a ‚Ä˜virtue‚Ä™ (‚Ä˜ard-and-fast
rules‚Ä™: in Latin artis praeceptis regulisque, and aret¬Į, a Greek term, he claims,
for ‚Ä˜knowledge‚Ä™). We are now under starter‚Ä™s orders for knowledge: Ô¬Ārst
34 Excluding, as noted, the Ô¬Ārst of Isidore‚Ä™s letters [in the augmented ‚Ä˜Spanish‚Ä™ paradosis].
35 At a superstructural level, Augustine and Jerome (esp. De doctrina Christiana 2; e.g., Epistulae 33)
gave Isidore the licence to build his generous encyclopedia of mundane knowledge derived from the
order of pagan civilisation (cf. Fontaine esp. (1959) 32, (1988) v: 79).
36 On 1.1: Fontaine (1959) 51‚Ä“2; on 1.2.1: ibid. esp. 52 n. 4.
168 j oh n h e nd e rson
differentiated, as ‚Ä˜things that cannot, vs. things that can, be otherwise than
they are‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ matters of truth, and of likely-true opinion;37 and then cali-
brated, as our educational programme is at once set to multiply sevenfold
disciplines: the Liberal Arts. This syllabus will lay down hard-and-fast rules
within which to exercise free conjecture: these standing orders for learning
the art of learning the arts are set to run the show, and they will go the
distance. Rigorously regulated formatting controls and patrols the course
set for our craft to navigate best we can. Isidore‚Ä™s own art is to discipline his
representation of each of the domains of human existence: Etymological
Creation will customise the ‚Ä˜lettering‚Ä™ that writes each territory differently.
From Grammar to Garden Tools, all the way, from A to Z.
As ever with works of reference, users must begin as advanced users. And
the work of reference that uses language ‚Ä“ script, text, index systematics ‚Ä“
to peddle linguistic theory is bound to presuppose meta-level interpretative
engagement with the interpretative analyses offered over the shoulders of
the hypothetical classmates envisaged as here and now learning their lessons
in school ‚Ä“ ‚Ä˜right away‚Ä™, and ‚Ä˜later‚Ä™ (iam . . . post . . .).38 Etymologies would
get them to learn in an orderly fashion, but does get us to appreciate the
methodology that produces order, knowledge of knowledge. We must see
the letter as the origin that originates everything ‚Ä“ everything that can be
spelled out in the Origins39 ‚Ä“ and look within language for truth-production
through language. SpeciÔ¬Ācally, the signiÔ¬Ācance of Isidore‚Ä™s introductory
tour of the alphabet is to instate indelibly the grand historical narrative of
the Christian West as the Ô¬Āeld of operations for his hermeneutics.
Take Cassiodorus, the sixth-century Italian intellectual and founding
father. He had been intent in his guide to monastic education, the Insti-
tutiones, on subordinating the Liberal Arts to masterminding an ascesis
for religious devotion. Spent much of book 1 warning the brethren not to
over-rate book 2 at the expense of the spirit, however faith may depend
on reverence through (and so, necessarily, for) books. His book 2 started
by consecrating book 1 as thirty-three chapters set to stand for the Lord‚Ä™s
years spent on earth, whereas the cursory dash through the seven Arts will
mimic the weekly cycle rolling round till world‚Ä™s end. Isidore, by contrast,
37 This initiatory differentia, sheltered by ascription to ‚Ä˜Plato and Aristotle‚Ä™, does not Ô¬Āgure in Isidore‚Ä™s
work On Differences; it transcribes Cassiod., Inst. 2.20.
38 Hadot (1997), esp. 28‚Ä“32, insists that texts on the Liberal Arts were ‚Ä˜philosophical‚Ä™ in nature, not for
classroom use. Arguably, ‚Ä˜educational theory‚Ä™ even grounds ‚Ä˜Philosophy‚Ä™ within the ministry of an
39 Cf. Amsler (1989) 147‚Ä“8, ‚Ä˜The grammatical model‚Ä™.
The creation of Isidore‚Ä™s Etymologies or Origins 169
memorably implants the indelible lesson that letters were invented as aides-
m¬īmoire. Existence covers too wide a range for any human memory to hold
all there is to learn. Called letters, for short, mind ‚Ä“ really, they are legit-
ers because readers must ‚Ä˜leg it, or let‚Ä™s iterate‚Ä™ (quasi leg-iterae, quod iter
legentibus praestent, uel quod in legendo iterentur, 1.3.3).40
Isidore‚Ä™s journey of reading re-traces the legendary itinerary of writing
from Latin back through Greek to Hebrew, ‚Ä˜mother of all tongues and
letters‚Ä™, in the age-old phylogenetic metaphor for primitive classiÔ¬Ācation
(1.3.4). Thence the sequence Aleph -> alpha -> A launches alphabet sets
of 22, 24, 23 signs, and these represent a Ô¬Ārst lesson in what lessons are: it
is put before us that letters are, precisely, primary building-blocks, Ô¬Āt to
found the elemental power that inheres in elementary education. Here is