John of Salisbury (c. 1115-1180)





While there are many sorts of arts, the first to proffer their services to the natural abilities of those who philosophize are the liberal arts. All of the latter are included in the courses of the Trivium and Quadrivium. The liberal arts are said to have become so efficacious among our ancestors, who studied them diligently, that they enabled them to comprehend everything they read, elevated their understanding to all things, and empowered them to cut through the knots of all problems possible of solution. Those to whom the system of the Trivium has disclosed the significance of all words, or the rules of the Quadrivium have unveiled the secrets of all nature, do not need the help of a teacher in order to understand the meaning of books and to find the solutions of questions. They (the branches of learning included in the Trivium and Quadrivium) are called “arts” because they . . . strengthen minds to apprehend the ways of wisdom. . . . They are called “liberal,” either because the ancients took care to have their children instructed in them; or because their object is to effect man’s liberation, so that, freed from cares, he may devote himself to wisdom. More often than not, they liberate us from cares incompatible with wisdom. They often even free us from worry about (material) necessities, so that the mind may have still greater liberty to apply itself to philosophy.


Among all the liberal arts, the first is logic, and specifically that part of logic which gives initial instruction about words. . . . [T]he word “logic” has a broad meaning, and is not restricted exclusively to the science of argumentative reasoning. (It includes) Grammar (which) is “the science of speaking and writing correctly—the starting point of all liberal studies.” Grammar is the cradle of all philosophy, and in a manner of speaking, the first nurse of the whole study of letters. It takes all of us as tender babes, newly born from nature’s bosom. It nurses us in our infancy, and guides our every forward step in philosophy. With motherly care, it fosters and protects the philosopher from the start to the finish (of his pursuits). It is called “grammar” from the basic elements of writing and speaking. Grama means a letter or line.




[It] is clear that (the function of) grammar is not narrowly confined to one subject. Rather, grammar prepares the mind to understand everything that can be taught in words. Consequently, everyone can appreciate how much all other studies depend on grammar. . . .

Gaius [Julius] Caesar [100—44 B.C.] wrote books On Analogy, conscious that, without grammar, one cannot master philosophy (with which he was thoroughly familiar) or eloquence (in which he was most proficient). Quintilian [A.D. 35—c. 100] also praises this art to the point of declaring that we should continue the use of grammar and the love of reading “not merely during our school days, but to the very end of our life.” For grammar equips us both to receive and to impart knowledge. It modulates our accent, and regulates our very voice so that it is suited to all persons and matters. Poetry should be recited in one way; prose in another.


…. [Grammar] is . . . the key to everything written as well as the mother and arbiter of all speech. . .





—Are you a scholar?


—What is a scholar?

—Somebody who earnestly and diligently applies himself to the virtues.

—Where are you a scholar?

—Here, everywhere and in every seemly place.

—How many seemly places are there?

—Four: the church, the school, at home with my parents and in the company of orderly men.

—How many unseemly places are there?

—They too are four in number: the dance-floor, the brothel, public roads and inns not frequented by orderly men. More places could be added to this list.

—Are you a scholar?


—What kind of scholar are you?

—As God has created me.

—How many duties does a scholar have?


—What are they?

—To get up early, dress immediately, comb my hair, wash my hands, pray to God and go willingly to school.

—Are you a scholar?


—What is the substance of a scholar?

—An animated physical substance susceptible of knowledge and virtue.

—Are you a human being?


—What is a human being?

—A corporal, physical, rational and mortal substance created by God to attain immortal life.

—What is God?

—The best and highest conceivable being who endows everything with its existence and life.