Sunday, 9 February 2014

Alcuin instructing Pippin by way of riddles.

I have a booklet by Helen Waddell with mediaeval texts for pupils, containing a few lines of the text below, the Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi iuvenis Pippini cum Albino Scholastico.
Looking on internet I found a text, but an edition of doubtful status.  Fortunately Charles Beeson has printed this text in his A Primer of Mediaeval Latin and I have corrected the text on internet according to his edition and of course made use of his notes. The text is based on the edition by W. Wilmanns, Vienna 1869.
The text is an imaginary dialogue between Bishop Alcuin and Pippin, the second son of Charlemagne, born as Carloman, but rebaptized as Pippin, as Charlemagne did away with the mother of his first son, a concubine. With her he had Pippin the Hunchback, who due to his handicap was considered unfit as an heir.
Alcuin (also known as Albinus) – one of the foremost scholars of his time - was a teacher at the court of Charlemagne and he wrote this dialogue for teaching Pippin. Teaching Latin in the form of a dialogue was quite common practice, but what is interesting here are the answers on the questions Pippin asks: they give us an insight into the mind of the scholars of that time. Many parts are not original, but taken over from an earlier dialogue, the Altercatio Hadriani Augusti et Epicteti Philosophy, which cannot be later than the third century. Of course only those answers were picked up which Alcuin as a Christian could endorse. Many answers are in the form of inverted riddles. Look at the first question: the answer is easy enough, but suppose the question was `Quid custos historiae est? Now we have to guess the answer! A dialogue between a Roman emperor and a stoic philosopher is not something easily comprehended by a boy of around 10 years, though he is referred to as iuvenis. Alcuin realizes this and puts some questions in Pippin’s mouth to illustrate this. The question` Si scirem quid esset navis, praepararem tibi, ut venires ad me.’ (If I knew what a ship is, I would make one for you to come to me) displays great naivety, but the answer is again taken over from the Altercatio, leaving poor Pippin completely in the dark about what a ship is. Well, a domus erratica, but that is not something of great help…
As the last sentence of this dialogue makes, clear, Pippin was reading this whole conversation as a letter in his hand.
The Latin is easy enough, but sometimes it is difficult to see what is meant, not to speak of the possibility that the original answer could have meant something different than Alcuin understood it. This however is only a minor problem. The text itself is a fascinating insight into the didactic of teaching Latin, combined with an introduction into an early mediaeval outlook on the world and not without some humour.
Here is an instructive article with a translation of the last part (the numbering and text differs somewhat from the text below):

Disputatio regalis et nobilissimi iuvenis Pippini cum Albino Scholastico

(I have glossed all words, which might hamper an immediate understanding of the text.)

1. Pippinus. Quid est littera?—Albinus. Custos historiae.
custos –odis (m., f.): preserver, guardian
2. P. Quid est verbum?—A. Proditor animi.
proditor –oris (m.): betrayer
3. P. Quis generat verbum?—A. Lingua.
4. P. Quid est lingua?—A. Flagellum aeris.
flagellum: whip
5. P. Quid est aer?—A. Custodia vitae.
custodia: guard, protection
P. Quid est vita?—A. Beatorum laetitia, miserorum maestitia, exspectatio mortis.
maestitia: sorrow, grief
6. P. Quid est mors?—A. Inevitabilis eventus, incerta peregrinatio, lacrimae viventium, testamenti firmamentum, latro hominis.
peregrinatio –onis (f): a travel abroad
testamenti firmamentum: cf. Hebrews 9.17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.
latro –onis (m.): robber
7. P. Quid est homo?—A. Mancipium mortis, transiens viator, loci hospes.
mancipium: possession
hospes loci: guest of a place (i.e. just guest in this world.)
8. P. Cui similis est homo?—A. Pomo.
pomum: fruit (i.e. like a fruit a man ripens and falls off.)
9. P. Quomodo positus est homo?—A. Ut lucerna in vento.
lucerna: lamp
10. P. Ubi est positus?—A. Intra sex parietes.
paries –etis (f.): side (i.e. a coffin.)
11. P. Quos?—A. Supra, subtus; ante, retro; dextra laevaque.
12, P. Quot habet socios? —A. Quattor
13. P. Quos?—A. Calorem, frigus, siccitatem, humorem
               Warmth, cold, dryness, liquid.
14. P. Quot modis variabilis est? —A.  Sex.
How much variability is in the conditions (of life)?
15. P. Quibus?—A. Esurie et saturitate; requie et labore; vigiliis et somno.
esuries (f.): hunger
saturitas –atis (f.): fulness
16. P. Quid est somnus?—A. Mortis imago.
17. P. Quid est libertas hominis?—A. Innocentia.
18. P. Quid est caput?—A. Culmen corporis.
culmen –inis (n.): top
19. P. Quid est corpus?—A. Domicilium animae.
20. P. Quid sunt comae?—A. Vestes capitis.
21. P. Quid est barba?—A. Sexus discretio, honor aetatis.
discretio –onis (f.): distinction
22. P. Quid est cerebrum?—A. Servator memoriae.
cerebrum: brain
23. P. Quid sunt oculi?—A. Duces corporis, vasa luminis, animi indices.
24. P. Quid sunt nares?—A. Adductio odorum.
nares –narium (f.): nose
Adductio odorum: a conductor of smells
25. P. Quid sunt aures?—A. Collatores sonorum.
collator –oris (m.): collector
26. P. Quid est frons?—A. Imago animi.
frons frontis (f.) forehead
27. P. Quid est os?—A. Nutritor corporis.
28. P. Quid sunt dentes?—A. Mola [Ms., Molae] morsorum.
mola morsorum: a millstone for food
29. P. Quid sunt labia?—A. Valvae oris.
valvae – arum: folding-door
30. P. Quid est gula?—A. Devorator cibi.
gula: throat
31. P. Quid manus?—A. Operarii corporis.
operarius: labourer
32. P. Quid sunt digiti?—A. Chordarum plectra.
chordarum plectra: clearly an answer for the child of an emperor! Fingers as instruments for playing  the strings of an instrument…
33. P. Quid est pulmo?—A. Servator aeris.
pulmo –onis (m.): lung
34. P. Quid est cor?—A. Receptaculum vitae.
35. P. Quid est iecur?—A. Custodia caloris.
iecur –oris (n.): liver
36. P. Quid est fel?—A. Suscitatio iracundiae.
fel fellis (n.): bile, gall
suscitatio iracundiae: that what arouses anger
37. P. Quid est splenis?—A. Risus et laetitiae capax.
splenis: spleen, milt (the milt is normally associated with another affection, namely spleen.)
38. P. Quid est stomachus?—A. Ciborum coquator.
coquator –oris (m): digester (litt.`cooker’)
39. P. Quid est venter?—A. Custos fragilium.
fragilium: of crumbs.
40. P. Quid sunt ossa?—A. Fortitudo corporis.
41. P. Quid sunt coxae?—A. Epistylia columnarum.
coxa: hip
epistylium: the cross-beam that rests on the columns. The term is from architecture.
42. P. Quid sunt crura?—A. Columnae corporis.
crus cruris (n.): leg
43. P. Quid sunt pedes?—A. Mobile fundamentum.
What a nice definition!
44. P. Quid est sanguis?—A. Humor venarum, vitae alimentum.
humor venarum: fluid of the veins
alimentum: food
45. P. Quid sunt venae?—A. Fontes carnis.
46. P. Quid est coelum?—A. Sphaera volubilis, culmen immensum.
coelum = caelum
volubilis: revolving
47. P. Quid est lux?—A. Facies omnium rerum.
48. P. Quid est dies?—A. Incitamentum laboris.
49. P. Quid est sol?—A. Splendor orbis, coeli pulchritudo, naturae gratia, honor diei, horarum distributor.
50. P. Quid est luna?—A. Oculus noctis, roris larga, praesaga tempestatum.
larga roris: full of dew (ros, roris, n.) – moon-lit nights are often colder and so there is a greater chance of dew.
praesaga tempestatum:  herald of storms
51. P. Quid sunt stellae?—A. Pictura culminis, nautarum gubernatores, noctis decor.
52. P. Quid est pluvia?—A. Conceptio terrae, frugum genitrix.
conceptio –onis (f.): fertilizer (The idea that rain is the semen of the sky has a long history.)
53. P. Quid est nebula?—A. Nox in die, labor oculorum.
labor oculorum: a trouble for the eyes – how true!
54. P. Quid est ventus?—A. Aeris perturbatio, mobilitas aquarum, siccitas terrae.
siccitas –atis (f.): dryness
55. P. Quid est terra?—A. Mater crescentium, nutrix viventium, cellarium vitae, devoratrix omnium.
crescentium: of all what grows
cellarium: store-room, repository                                       
56. P. Quid est mare?—A. Audaciae via, limes terrae, divisor regionum, hospitium
fluviorum, fons imbrium, refugium in periculis, gratia in voluptatibus.
audacia: courage
limes liminis (n.): border
imber imbris (m.): rain (imbrium = imbrum)
refugium in periculis: I am not quite sure what is meant by this, but I think that by an attack over land, inhabitants of coastal areas fled in their boats.
gratia in voluptatibus: loveliness among the pleasures
57. P. Quid sunt flumina?—A. Cursus indeficiens, refectio solis, irrigatio terrae.
indeficiens –entis: unfailing
refectio –onis (f.): refreshment
58. P. Quid est aqua?—A. Subsidium vitae, ablutio sordium.
sordes –is (f.): dirt
59. P. Quid est ignis?—A. Calor nimius, fotus nascentium, maturitas frugum.
nimius: too much
fotus –us (m.): warming
maturitas frugum: ripeness of fruits (i.e. by the fire of the sun)
60. P. Quid est frigus?—A. Febricitas membrorum.
febricitas –atis (f.): feverishness  (Late Latin)
61. P. Quid est gelu?—A. Persecutio herbarum, perditor foliorum, vinculum terrae, pons aquarum.
gelu gelus (n.): ice
persecutio –onis (f.): destructor (= perditor)
pons pontis (m.): bridge
62. P. Quid est nix?—A. Aqua sicca.
               nix nivis (f.): snow
siccus: dry
63. P. Quid est hiems?—A. Aestatis exsul.
aestatis exul: deprivement of summer
64. P. Quid est ver?—A. Pictor terrae.
65. P. Quid est aestas?—A. Revestio terrae, maturitio frugum.
revestio – onis (f.): reclothing (not found in classical Latin)
66. P. Quid est autumnus?—A. Horreum anni.
horreum: storehouse (of the harvest)
67. P. Quid est annus?—A. Quadriga  mundi.
quadriga: car drawn by four horses (in Classical Latin plural only)
68. P. Quis ducit [eam?]—A. Nox et dies, frigus et calor.
69. P. Quis est auriga eius?—A. Sol et luna.
auriga: charioteer
70. P. Quot habet palatia?—A. Duodecim.
palatia: palace
71. P. Qui sunt praetores palatiorum?—A. Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius,  Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces.
72. P. Quot dies  habitant in unoquoque palatio?—A. Sol XXX dies et decem semis horas.  Luna duos dies et octo horas, et bisse unius horae.
bisse: two-third (The Sun goes every month to a different house of the Zodiac, while for the moon it takes 4 weeks.)
73. P. Magister, timeo altum ire.—A. Quis te duxit in altum.
74. P. Curiositas.—A. Si times, descendamus. Sequar quocunque ieris.
75. P. Si scirem quid esset navis, praepararem tibi, ut venires ad me.—A. Navis est domus erratica, ubilibet hospitium, viator sine vestigiis, vicina  harenae.
               ubilibet: in any place
vestigium:  footprint
harena: beach
76. P. Quid est harena?—A. Murus terrae.
               murus: wall
77. P. Quid est herba?—A. Vestis terrae.
78. P. Quid sunt olera?—A. Amici medicorum, laus coquorum.
               holis holeris (n.): vegatables
79. P. Quid est, quod amara dulcia facit?—A. Fames.
amarus: bitter (cf. Hunger makes hard beans sweat!)
80. P. Quid est, quod hominem non lassum facit?—A. Lucrum.
lassus: tired
lucrum: gain, profit
 81. P. Quid est vigilanti somnus?—A. Spes.
               vigilo: to watch, be awake
82. P. Quid est spes?—A. Refrigerium laboris, dubius eventus.
               dubius eventus: I.e. when the outcome is dubious
83. P. Quid est amicitia?—A. Aequalitas animorum.
84. P. Quid est fides?—A. Ignotae rei et mirandae certitudo.
ignotus: unknown
85. P. Quid est mirum?—A. Nuper vidi hominem stantem, molientem ambulantem , qui nunquam fuit.
               molior molitus sum: to strive, toil
86. P. Quomodo potest esse, pande mihi?—A. Imago in aqua.
               pando pandi passum: to unfold
87. P. Cur hoc non intellexi per me, dum toties vidi hunc ipsum hominem?—A. Quia bonae indolis es iuvenis et naturalis ingenii, proponam tibi quaedam alia mira; tenta, si per teipsum possis conicere illa.
toties: so often 
indoles –is (f.): inborn quality
               conicio conieci coniectum: to interpret
88. P. Faciamus; tamen ita, si secus, quam est, dicam, corrigas me.—A. Faciam, ut vis.
 Quidam ignotus mecum sine lingua et voce locutus est, qui nunquam ante fuit, nec postea erit; et quem non audiebam, nec novi.
               secus: otherwise
89. P. Somnium te forte fatigavit magister?—A. Etiam, fili. Audi et aliud: Vidi mortuos generare vivum, et aura vivi consumpti sunt mortui.
               somnium: Indeed, we can fall asleep by listening to a boring lecture (all academics know gruelling examples), but sleep itself can talk us to sleep without speaking.
et aura vivi consumpti sunt mortui: and by wind the living are consumed till they are dead.
90. P. De fricatione arborum ignis natus est, consumens arbores.—A. Verum est. Audivi mortuos  multa loquentes.
               fricatio –onis (f.): friction
               arborum: here piece of wood rather than tree (
91. P. Nunquam bene, nisi suspendantur in aere.—A. Vere. Vidi ignem inexstinctum pausare in aqua.
               The answer is `bells’
pauso: to rest
92. P. Silicem in aqua significare vis, reor.—A. Ut reris, sic est. Vidi mortuum sedentem super vivum, et in risu mortui moritur vivus.
silex silicis (m.): hard stone, firestone (It could be that somehow fire was thought to be inside  a firestone, so an ignis inexstinctus.)
reor ratus sum: to suppose
93. P. Hoc coqui nostri norunt.—A. norunt. Sed pone digitum super os, ne pueri hoc audiant, quid sit. Fui in venatione cum aliis, in qua si quid cepimus, nihil nobiscum portavimus; quem non potuimus capere, domum portavimus nobiscum.
coqui norunt (=noverunt): the answer is a pot of water on fire. When the water is boiling over (in risu) it extinguishes the fire.
venatio – onis (f.): hunting
94.  P. Rusticorum est haec venatio.—A. est. Vidi quemdam natum, antequam esset conceptus.
               The hunting of farmers is the hunting of lice…
95. P. Vidisti, et forte manducasti.—A. Manducavi. Quis est, qui non est, et nomen habet et responsum dat sonanti?
               manduco: to eat (the answers is an egg.)
96. P. Biblos in silva interroga.—A. Vidi hospitem currentem cum domo sua; et ille tacebat, et domus sonabat.
               biblus: rush (The answer is `echo’)
97. P. Para mihi rete, et pandam tibi.—A. Quis est, quem videre non potes, nisi clausis oculis?
rete retis (n.): net (The answer is a fish in a river.)
98. P. Qui stertit, tibi ostendit illum.—A. Vidi hominem octo in manu tenentem, et de octonis rapuit septem, et remanserunt sex.
               sterto: to snore (The answer is `a dream’.)
               de octonis = de octo
99. P. Pueri in scholis hoc sciunt.—A. Quis est, cui, si caput abstuleris, altior surgit?
               pueri: The answer is finger counting (For an explanation I refer to page 172 of the link above.)
100. P. Vide  ad lectulum tuum et ibi invenies.—A. Tres fuere; unus nunquam natus et semel mortuus. Alter semel natus,  nunquam mortuus. Tertius semel natus et bis mortuus.
lectulum: bed (The answer is `a cushion’. The point is that when you take your head from a cushion, it wil rise.)
101. P. Primus aequivocus terrae; secundus Deo meo; tertius homini pauperi .—A. Vidi feminam volantem, rostrum habentem ferreum, et corpus ligneum et caudam pennatam, mortem portantem.
aequivocus terrae: of the same name as the Earth. (Answers: Adam, as this name was connected with Hebrew adamah `Earth’, the second is Elijah, who did not did die, but was lifted by a Chariot to Heaven (2 Kings 2.11-14), the third is Lazarus.)
102. P. Socia militum.—A. Quid est miles?
               rostrum: beak (Answer `an arrow’.)
103. P. Murus imperii, timor hostium, gloriosum servitium.—A. Quid est quod est et non est?
104. P. Nihil.—A. Quomodo potest esse et non est esse?
105. P. Nomine est, et re non est.—A. Quid  est tacitus nuntius?
               nomine est: It exists by name
106. P. Quem manu teneo.—A. Quid tenes manu?
107. P. Epistolam tuam, Magister.—A. Lege feliciter, fili.

The text on internet:


  1. Having just reread Aelfric's Colloquia, the wit and and depth of the colloquia genre is striking and frankly fun.

    You wouldn't by any chance know of a scan of Aelfric Bada's Colloquia difficiliora? It has been harder to locate than his first dialogue.

    Thank you for your selections.

  2. Hi Matthew, I am often frustrated by the lack of easy accessible texts on internet. Especially as soon as one wants to explore later Latin it soon appears that, contrary to what many believe, internet is not that all containing resource of knowledge. I have been looking for the Colloquia difficiliora, but thus far no results.

  3. Matthew, found! wat I found: