Isagoge 2
Table of contents -- Previous section -- Next section -- Edition
Siglorum conspectus -- Main menu

[II. ON THE PARTS OF A LETTER AND ON MISTAKES TO AVOID]

[2.1] We have seen salutations suitable for each person of both sexes, now we should see from how many parts a letter is composed and how it should be arranged.

[2.2] Some say there are six principal parts of a letter, namely: salutation, proverb, capturing the recipients goodwill, narration, petition and conclusion. Others, removing the conclusion, say there are five principal parts of a letter. Some also remove the proverb, saying that there four.

[2.3] But we say there are three principal parts of a letter, namely: salutation, narration and petition; without these a letter cannot be complete. Nevertheless one can petition while narrating and narrate while petitioning. The secondary parts of a letter are infinite. Because a singular privilege does not make common law,2 one should not take as a model that letter which bishop Yvo of Chartres wrote to one newly coming to faith, with the salutation: "It is well to begin and better to finish", and this was a complete letter, since it was impressed with the episcopal seal.1

[2.4] Thus you shall first make the foundation, i.e. place the salutation, second the walls, namely the narration, third the roof, that is, the petition. And so supported by a trebled muniment of columns, you will build an invisible house ornamented with all decorum.3

[2.5] The names of the recipients should be placed first in the salutation when a lesser person writes to a greater or a peer to a peer, or even a greater person to a lesser, unless the recipient should pertain to his jurisdiction. Also put first adjectives which might pertain to praise of the recipient, so far as it might have seemed to you appropriate to each person, and which you will be able to see in the aforesaid salutations.

[2.6] For if you would commend a miser of largess, an immoral person of honesty, a fool of wisdom, and also if you would have commended someone beyond what is fitting to him, you will doubtlessly acquire more bad than good will. For I remember that I once saw a cleric who saluted all by taking off his baret, by which he acquired more emnities than friendships, since they believed he did so derisively.4

[2.7] Do not wish to put down anything which pertains to praise of the sender, unless it would note a rank or an office, such as 'bishop', 'cardinal' and 'master', since the sender ought much to humble himself. Indeed the names of the sender and the recipient should be entirely written out, but you would use the prenomen if the recipient knew the sender well.

[2.8] Thus write the first name with a capital letter,'.Q.', and punctuate it with periods on both sides.

[2.9] If a vassal writes to his lord or a lesser person to a greater person, he can write the name of the recipient with a capital letter '.P.', but the name of the sender with a small '.a.' to demonstrate humility. And note that a salutation should be only one sentence, although it may be composed of many clauses. And a capital letter should not be written, unless in the beginning <of a salutation> or unless that letter replaces a proper noun, and it should be ended with a full stop,5 except that when a capital letter is substituted for a proper noun, it is punctuated on both sides.

[2.10] Also note that nothing should be placed in a salutation which pertains to the first or second person. Whence you should not say 'your friend' or 'our student'. Nevertheless the lord pope will say 'our beloved nephew', which should not be imitated by tolerated, because a salutation does that which a envoy does, and just as an envoy does not speak with verbs of the first and second person, and so a salutation should not be made with verbs of the first and second person, but only of the third.

[2.11] And no governing verb should be put in a salutation, because these two verbs may be understood here, 'sends' or 'wishes' and such a defect in the foundation may be approved. But this verb 'sends' is understood governing those things which in truth could be sent, governing those things which could be wished is understood this verb 'wishes'.

[2.12] But so that you can see that which I say with faith provided with eyes, so write and punctuate a salutation: <1> "To the noble knight lord .N. dearest friend, .B. of Sacco his intimate friend, greeting and affection of sincere love."

2.13] Also note that two relatives should not be used in a salutation. Whence if you say 'to his friend', you should not say 'his friend' afterwards.

[2.14] And note that although this word 'salus' might not used in a salutation, yet it should be called 'salutation', because through it the names of the sender and recipient are specified.7

[2.15] And note that the title of a letter is the same as the salutation, but the name <'salutation'> arises from a more worthy <cause>, because more frequently are verbs used there which reasonably pertain to salutations.

[2.16] The title of a letter is called a salutation because just as the church illuminates the world, so a salutation illuminates a letter.

[2.17] Also note that if it is befits you to write to two or three, you should put the better one first, since in all matters more worthy things should be placed first.

[2.18] With the salutation set down, begin to narrate and take a preamble from the business at hand, and the preamble should not be made at all divergent from the narration, but one doesn't compose a preamble in all letters.

[2.19] When a lesser person sends <a letter> to a greater one, or when anyone wishes to receive something, then one should compose a preamble, since then the mind of the letter's recipient is more inclined to providing that which was requested. But when a greater person writes to a lesser one, begin with the narration. Some place a proverb at the beginning, but you should not wish to do so, rather narrate as well as you can narrate clearly and lucidly. Indeed if you wish to put some proverb in the middle or in the end of the letter of an appropriate theme, do so. But some separate the acquiring of goodwill from the narration and they say it is a principal part of the letter, but you can acquire goodwill from a letter's recipient in many ways, sometimes through a single word, sometimes through a sentence, sometimes through the whole letter.

[2.20] If you should call some one 'noble' and you call him 'most noble', or if you put the name of a lesser person first when you are a greater one, or when you butcher <grammar, speaking> about your self in the singular and about the recipient in the plural. What more? As often as you say those things which pertain to the humility of the sender and the honor of the recipient, without doubt you acquire goodwill.8

[2.21] Thus you can begin a letter from whichever word you want, except these: 'eapropter', 'quapropter', 'cuius rei gratia', 'cuius rei causa', 'quocirca', 'quamobrem', 'quare', 'igitur'' 'itaque', 'namque', 'quippe', 'porro', 'sane', 'quidem', 'equidem', 'siquidem', 'enim', 'autem', 'vero', 'at', 'atque', 'ac' pro 'et', 'sed', 'autem', 'vel', <........>, 'siquin', 'alioquin'; or from all conjunctions which are of prefixed order: 'profecto', 'nempe', 'nam', 'ideo', 'idcirco', 'alioquin'; and from all words whose meaning is obscure, like 'nauci', 'sinapi', 'peplum', and from all interrogatives, like 'quis' and 'cur', since this beginning seems to be satirical, and from many other words, whose number I don't know, and from all farthest supines.9

2.22] But note that a beginning of sentences can be made from nearly all the aforesaid, except from these: 'ideo', 'idcirco', 'immo, 'atque', 'ac' pro 'et'. A preamble can begin from these words, 'cum', 'licet', 'quamvis', 'quoniam, 'quia', but 'tamen' should always respond to 'licet' and 'quamvis', as in Licet vobis in nullo serviverim de vestra tamen nobilitate confisus etc'.

[2.23] 'Licet' and 'quamvis' retain the same sense, but wherever one is used the other is not used. 'Licet' is used in a salutation but not 'quamvis', as in: Signinus episcopus licet indignus. And I believe that this approaches the truth. 'Quoniam' and 'quia' have the same meaning, wherever one is used, so can the other, and 'ideo' and 'idcirco' should respond to them, as Quoniam de vestra quam plurimum amicitia confido, ideo ad vos recurrere non titubo. But 'quoniam' is not used for ornament of speech, as Quia de vestra quam plurimum nobilitate confido ad vos tamquam ad dominum etc.

[2.24] You should not place any ornamental word at the beginning of a letter, because if it is fitting that to seek a begging help in the beginning, in the following you will do that. These are ornamental words: 'enim', 'autem', 'vero', 'verum', 'quidem', 'equidem', 'siquidem', 'quippe', 'nempe', 'itaque', 'profecto'.

[2.25] Thus you can begin to narrate whichever business you wish: Presentium pagine tue significamus dilectioni, quod... Therafter narrate what you wish: In tenore presentium tibi significamus, quod... Or thus: Nobilitati tue duxi significandum, quod... Or thus: Paternitati vestre cupio intimare, quod... Or thus: Paternitati vestre plenius innotescat, quod... Or thus: Presentibus litteris vobis duximus intimandum, quod... Or thus: Amicitie vestre manifestum fieri volumus, quod... Or thus: Amicitiam tuam plenarie spero scire, quod... Or thus: Sanctitati vestre cupio intimare, quod... and in many other ways you can begin to narrate, all which, if you should wish to number them, would generate more tedium than joy, and you place first those verbs, which if you would omit, you should say in the presence of a recipient.

[2.26] If indeed you wish to beseech someone, you will say as follows: Nobilitatem vestram duxi attentius deprecandam, quare... say thereafter whaterver you want. Or thus: Amicitiam vestram deprecor modis omnibus quibus possum, quotiens... Or thus: Paternitatem vestram humili prece deposco, quare... Or thus: Dominatione virum humiliter rogo, quare...

[2.27] You can begin a sentence from any word you want, except for these: 'ideo', 'idcirco', 'quoniam', 'quia'', 'atque', 'ac' for 'etiam' and from conjunctions of prefixed or suffixed order.

2.28] And a sentence should have at least three clauses. It cannot have beyond seven, because the sense of meaning of speech would be rendered quite obscure, unless they would be small clauses, just as is sometimes done in salutations, as it is said: <2> "To the venerable brothers in Christ, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, archpriests and prelates of all churches, and to all the faithful of Christ to whom this letter shall come, O.10 bishop of Veroli, greeting in He in whom is our salvation etc."

[2.29] Note that near the beginning of a sentence you should put a ornamental word, even if it does not apply, as this: Vero tuas despiciens preces de negotio facere aliquid recusavi. Thus, just as a nominative should be placed first in construction, so it should be placed afterwards in apposition, as: Nobilitatem vestram precamur presentium lator... And a genitive should always before the word which governs it and joined with a preposition, if one can be placed there, like: Presentium lator, postquam ad illius domum pervenit, ibi confestius egrotavit.

[2.30] You should always place an accusative after the verb, a dative or an ablative, if it is oportune. Do not wish to place a vocative in a letter, because on account of the discernment of language, it is of the second person. Whence you should not say, Noscat paternitas tua karissime pater, because you may speak well enough to the second person through this pronoun 'tuam', which pertains to the second person. And note that you should put these pronouns 'ego' and 'tu', 'nos' and 'vos' in a letter, because unnamed [subjects] are clearly understood in the verbs of the first and second person. Whence you should not use them for ornament of speech.

[2.31] Also note that with verbs of the third person a nominative <subject> should be used, unless it may be inferred from preceeding verbs or unless there be verbs of excepted action, such as 'thunders' or 'lightning strikes'.11 And you should note, whether there might be a participial or not, it should be placed in the same sentence where the verb which governs it is placed, and it should not far separated from that verb, lest it might seem to belong to another verb.

[2.32] Also note that adjectives decorate a letter, but you should not place them too far from their substantives, lest they might seem to adhere to other substantives, but place one, two or at most three words between an adjective and its substantive.

[2.33] Also note that if you need to make other mention of anything in the same sentence, place a relative two or three times, like 'illi', 'ipsi', 'ei' or 'ipsum', 'cuius', just as they will occur to you.

[2.34] If indeed you need to make other mention in another sentence, use 'predicto', 'prefato', "iamdicto', 'pretaxato', 'sepedicto', 'antedicto', or 'predictum', 'prefatum', 'iamdictum', 'pretaxatum', 'sepedictum', 'antedictum'.

[2.35] Also it is a virtue to make the composition lucid and obvious, so that a listener may be able to understand you immediately in the first or second prolation, and it is better [than] to make the simple so intricate that you cannot be understood.

[2.36] Also it is a virtue to avoid hiatus of vowels or of syllables, unless a comma separates. Hiatus of vowels is when a word ends in a vowel and the following word begins with the same vowel, as in 'amo ordinem tuum'. Hiatus of syllables is when a word ends in a syllable and the following word begins with the same syllable, as in 'collegimus mustam'. And note that hiatus of syllables procedes from this three letters: 'c', 'r', 's'; of syllables, as in: 'ca ca', 'ro ro', 'fis fis'. Whence I say that where you can avoid hiatus, avoid it, because you can do so sometimes through a change of one word, but in another place you can never avoid hiatus, as in 'sacrosancte Romane ecclesie'. And thus avoid hiatus, so that the meaning of speech shall not be rendered obscure, because is is better to make hiatus than an intricate composition.

[2.37] Also it is virtue to not use the same word two or three times in the same sentence, because a writer would seem to beggarly in discovering words.

[2.38] Also it is a virtue to not use two, three or four words which might begin with the same syllable, as in: Volo vobis voluntas.

[[2.39] Also it is a virtue to avoid rhyme, because prose has no affinity with rhythms and verses. Prose is not restricted by the number of feet and the rhymes of syllables. Also if it is fitting for you to put a verse maxim into a letter, you should render the meter into prose,12 as in this example: Non minor est virtus quam querere pacta tueri,13 transform thus into prose: Non est minor probitas retinere acquisita quam acquirere plura.

[2.40] For rhyme is when some word at the end of a clause ends in a certain syllable, and the last word of the next clause ends in the same syllable, as: Miror de vobis plurimum, quoniam me amastis, quare, quod vobis petivi, michi non legastis?

[2.41] And note that you should always put at the end of a sentence a trisyllabic or tetrasyllabic word or two bisyllabic words whose penultimate syllable is pronounced with an acute accent and put before these one dactyl in order to make a pretty cursus:14 Nobilitati vestre modis quibus <.......> desidero famulare.

[2.42] Indeed you can begin clauses from whatever word you want, except 'et', 'ac' for 'et' and many others. As it happens, I cannot say as if when you should make clauses long or short, but take heed of the vernacular itself and it will teach you better than I. Yet I advise one thing, that you make clauses of equal length, just as the vernacular will present to you, and to this purpose, that you make a full clause, it is alright to use one word, if nothing [else] pertains to the matter. Finally note the clauses, write a comma (punctum suspensivum) to demonstrate that the the meaning of speech is incomplete and at the end of a suspended clause place a word whose penultimate syllable is pronounced with an acute accent, and before that word place a dactyl, as in Nobilitatem vestram attentius deprecor, ...

[2.43] A clause is sometimes is composed of many words, as 'It is made known by the present letter...'; sometimes from one [word], as in 'Go'; sometimes from one letter, as in the answer 'A.' to the question 'What is seventy?'15 And all the aforesaid clauses are complete, since through them the mind of the listener is specified.

[2.44] And note that you can put whatever word you want at the end of a clause, except for certain conjunctions, like: 'quantumvis', 'ergo', 'igitur', 'quod', 'alioquin', 'ut', and all prefixed conjunctions of a subjunctive order, and except for negative adverbs like 'minime', 'nequaquam' and do not wish to use <these> if you can do better, and write a period at the end, so that the meaning of the locution may be indicated to be complete.

[2.45] And note that you should not use these negative adverbs, 'minime', 'nullomodo', 'nullatenus', 'nequaquam', 'neumquam' unless in a clause which is incomplete and deprived of words. 'Nec' and 'neque' negate while joining. But 'neumquam' makes a poor negation, and do not wish to use it in a clause if you can do better.

[2.46] Also note that you should not use an equivocal word in a letter, unless its meaning is specified by preceding or subsequent words, because doubt can arise from thence.

[2.47] Also note that when a lesser person writes to a greater one, or a peer to a peer, or even a greater person to a lesser one, unless he is lord of or very much greater than <the lesser person>, you should speak of the recipient in the plural and of the sender in the singular.

[2.48] Also note that in the subscription of a letter, when a lesser person sends to a greater or a peer to a peer, you should not say 'detur'; that which is given (datur), is granted by a greater person to a lesser person, but you can say 'presentetur'.

[2.49] Also note that words of this sort, 'me', 'te', 'se', 'mihi', 'tibi', 'sibi', offer themselves awkwardly to the writer. I say that you should put the contents in place of containers, so that if you might have said 'Te rogo' you shall say 'Dilectionem tuam rogo'.16

[2.50] Also note than when clauses are joined by a copulative, commas should be placed before the copulative, except in the last clause, as is demonstrated: Benedicat vos divina maiestas, pater patri, et filius et spiritus sanctus.

[2.51] Also note that a capital letter should not be written in a letter, except at the beginning of sentences or unless that letter would replaces a proper nounn, like '.B.' Also note that these conjunctions, 'ut', 'quod' and 'quatinus', retain the same meaning, but not everwhere one is used can the other be used. 'Ut' should always be used with a subjunctive verb, 'quod' indeed with subjunctive and indicative, which you can recognize by the more meaning. 'Quatenus' should always be used after a verb of beseeching.

[2.52] After the narration is composed, the petition should be proposed. And note that although 'He may request something' or 'You may request someone',17 yet it can be called a petition. These are the signs of a petition: 'eapropter', 'quapropter', 'quocirca', 'cuius rei causa', 'cuius re gratia', 'quamobrem', 'unde', 'ideoque', 'ergo', 'igitur', 'itaque', but 'eapropter, 'quapropter', 'quocirca', 'ideoque' are more in use. Also note that a beseeching verb should be used in a petition and these are beseeching verbs: 'rogo', 'oro', 'exoro', 'precor', 'supplico', 'deprecor', 'deposco', 'imploro'. But 'exoro' and 'supplico' are more supplicatory verbs and you should not use them, except when you write to the lord pope or to another whose help you greatly need, and the <other> aforesaid verbs are of such vehement transition, that their action should always be determined by some oblique case, such as: Amicitiam tuam precor attentius. And note that with these verbs 'intimo', 'insinuo', 'notifico', 'significo' should be used 'quod' or 'ut' and not 'quoniam' and 'quia': Quia significo tibi, quod...

[2.53] Also note what I say and when you commend someone in a salutation, you should commend him about the same in the petition and use the same properties of each person. When you write to the lord pope, you should say 'sanctitatem exoro' or 'clementiam vestram' or 'pietatem vestram'; when to a cardinal or a bishop 'paternitatem vestram' or 'prudentiam' or 'benignitatem vestram'; when to a cleric 'discretionem vestram'; when to a wise man 'sapientiam vestram' or 'prudentiam vestram'; when a lesser person writes to greater one, if he is literate18 or if he had beneficed him' 'paternitatem vestram'; when he writes to and emperor 'maiestatem vestram' or 'imperialem excellentiam' or 'magnificentiam' or 'maiestatis vestre potentiam'; if to a king 'celsitudinem vestram' or 'regalem magnitudinem'; if to a count 'magnitudinem vestram' or 'nobilitatem'; if to a lord 'dominationem vestram'; if to a knight 'nobilitatem vestram'; if to the people of some city or castle or to more than ten people 'universitatem vestram'; if to a father 'paternitatem vestram'; if to a mother 'maternitatem vestram'; if to a friend 'dilectionem' or 'amicitiam vestram'; if to a wife 'pulcritudinem vestram' or 'nobilitatem vestram'.

[2.54] Note that if it is suitable for you to use two <.....> in a letter, if significant, put these words between 'utrumque', 'preterea', 'insuper', 'ad hec', 'ad hoc'. Also note that you should not separate a conclusion from a petition, because whenever you say completely what you wish to say, in truth you conclude. But if you wish to divide, use these words, because they are signs of conclusion: 'verum quia', 'verum quoniam', 'sed quia', 'sed quoniam'.

[2.55] We have seen how to address anyone and how to narrate a matter and which vices to avoid and which virtues to insert and which are the signs of petition, division and conclusion; now we should see how you may respond to letters sent to you.

[2.56] Consider first the import of a letter, and thus honor the sender just as he honors you in the salutation and elsewhere <in the letter>, unless he is your lord or greater than you.

[2.57] So thus you can begin: Amicitie vestre litteris perlectis sum gaudio ineffabili repletus (narra postea quod vis). Or thus: Dilectionis vestre litteris receptis et illis perlectis diligenter, meus animus quam plurimum exultavit. Or thus: Nobilitatis vestre litteris oculo intuens iocundanti exultavi plurimum. Or thus: Visis vestre dominationis litteris et summa diligentia lectis. Or thus: Paternitatis vestre litteras eaque debui recepi affectione. Or thus: Vestrarum litterarum recepto tenore et earum significata plenius intellecto. Or thus: Ornationes vestre litteras recepi animo gratulanti sed earum explicato volumine totum est gaudium versum in merorem.

[2.58] Some things to be considered after placing salutation, narration and petition occur to me: First, inspect the grammar; second, the placement of words; third, the sense of speech. But pay more attention to the sense of speech, because it is of no avail if you say pretty words and they retain no sense. For if anyone would say: "I saw an ass among choirs of angels, holding a zither in hand and leaping with its feet, and it held in its fingers a beautiful plectrum, and it sweetly played the zither in their presence, that they were silenced on account of his seet tones, all the angels were moved to smile", he would deservedly be asinine and derided by all. Thereafter always consider the sense of speech and resolve the Latin into the vernacular,19 and thus you will be able to make a complete examination.


1 Palma 17.4.

2 Cf. HARRY DONDORP XXX

3 Petrus Helias Summa super Priscianum (ed. REILLY) 63.46-50 compares the parts of the grammatical art with those of a house. Boncompagno's comparison, made first in Palma 17.5 and 33.1, is more exact, because a house has three parts (foundation, walls, roof) while grammar has four (letter, syllable, word and discourse). The house metaphor derives from Boethius De topicis differentiis I (PL 64.1179B), tr. ELEANOR STUMP Boethius's De topicis differentiis (Ithaca 1978) 37.25-6.

4 See above, Isagoge 1.60.

5 Though somewhat obscure, the point here seems to be that a salutation should only be punctuated with a final period, with the possible exception of a capital letter abreviating a proper name, which should be surrounded by periods. In the Notule auree 8 Boncompagno advises against using abbreviations for proper names in the salutation.

6 Check MGH Koncordanz zum Decretum Gratiani for this phrase.

7 Quinque tabule salutationum 1.29.

8 According to ruling doctrine of the Italian ars dictandi, itself based on Rhetorica ad Herennium 1.4.8 and Cicero De inventione 1.16.22, the loci for inventing a preamble were the persons involved and the business common to them. Hugo of Bologna Rationes dictandi (ed. ROCKINGER, 58): Ceterum captationis modos in epistolis tres esse necessarios novimus. [...] aut enim ab eo qui mittit seu cui mittitur captatio capitur, vel ex ipsa re, id est ex hoc quod illorum alter vel utrique diligunt commendando benivolentiam captent. For discussion of the Italian equation of the preamble with captatio benivolentie, see Oliva 7.12, note 79.

For the ulterius supinus, see HEUMANN-SZANTYR Lateinische Grammatik (Munich 1972) 382-3, Quintilian Inst. 1.6.26.

10 Oddo II, bishop of Veroli (1190-1212). See above, Isagoge 1.8, 1.14.

11 Cf. Aurea Gemma <Gallica> 1.39 and above Isagoge 2.10, 2.13.

12 For another example of verse converted to prose: Tractatus virtutum §56.

13 Cf. the civil law maxim 'Pacta sunt servanda.' For other legal maxims, see Tractatus virtutum §47.

14 For fuller treatment of the cursus: Tractatus virtutum §31-§35, Boncompagnus 1.1.1-10, <De vitiis evitandis et cursibus servandis in dictamine> 1.5. An alternative system for classifying clauses is established in Palma cc. 33-39, analogous to a system of classifying sentences, (Palma cc. 45-49).

15 For a similar thought, see Palma 36.

16 Tractatus virtutum §57.

17 Boncompagno seems to make some obscure etymological point here.

18 It is not clear how the greater person's literacy counts here.

19 Cf. ROLFHN "Latein und Volkssprache, Schriftlichkeit und Mündlichkeit in der Korrespondenz des lateinischen Mittelalters" in JöRG O. FICHTE, KARL HEINZLLNER and BERNHARD SCHIMMELPFENNIG edd. Zusammenhänge, Einfluß, Wirkungen. Kongressakten zum Ersten Symposium der Mediävistenverbandes in Tübingen, 1984 (Berlin 1986) 340-356.

***
© Steven M. Wight, Los Angeles 1998

Scrineum © Università di Pavia 1999