I’ve been reading a lot of material on early medieval monastic education to prepare for writing chapter 2. It’s interesting stuff and all, but I keep getting the sense that many of the scholars are dropping the ball on an important point. The chief writings in view are Godden’s great article on glossed texts, the big book on Priscian’s Excerptiones, the Colloquies of Ælfric and Ælfric Bata (the shorter, rowdier, and generally more drunken student of the first), and Gretch’s work on the intellectual inheritance of the Benedictine Reform which goes a long way to suggest that Æðelwold was the author of the Vespasian Psalter glosses.
Conventional wisdom is that little Anglo-Saxon oblates and novices learned Latin by means of memorizing colloquies (a process that involves being beaten on a regular basis it seems) and working through a text like Ælfric’s Grammar which is essentially an English edition of the Priscian abridgement. The problem is that these things—the colloquies and Grammar—seem far more like intermediate studies than basic ones. They didn’t start with these works. Clear evidence for this is in the preface to Æflric’s Grammar where it is assumed that the students have read Donatus (unless I’m translating that wrong—which is possible). The other issue here is that nobody seems to be mentioning the elephant in the middle of the room. Or, because they’re scholars, they’re so busy checking out the floorboards they completely missed the elephant: the Psalms.
These little monklings are singing all 150 every week. This is how basic language acquisition is happening. Because of the Divine Offices they’re committing huge amounts of Latin to memory. They have no idea what it means, of course, but it puts huge swathes of vocabulary and grammar examples into their heads to be mined at a basic level of education. Am I missing something here? Surely this has been mentioned somewhere in this literature…
Other thing: Three of the standard texts used as school books (pace Godden) are Arator, Juvencus, and Sedilius. That is, a paraphrase of Acts and two of the Gospels/story of Jesus. I wonder what practical effect this had on hermeneutics? I’m guessing essentially none; these served more to reinforce the narratives that should already have been in their heads and to give them a better sense of Latin styling. Exegetically I don’t think they gave them anything hermeneutically more than reinforcing the notion of the story of Christ and the Early Church as an epic.
Update: Wanna hear something off the hook? I just tallied it up–with the additions from the Regularis Concordia–the monastic customary written by Bishops Æðelwold and Dunstan to supplement and guide the impementation of Benedict’s Rule–there were 35 psalms that were read at least once a day. Add further that each of the 7 penetential psalms were sung at least four times a day with Psalm 51 being sung 8 times! That’s 28% of the Psalter that was sung every single day. How’s that for repetition!?!