Latin has quite a complex grammar and many mnemonics have been used in the past as a memory aid. A famous example is the rhytmic "rosa rosa rosam" which is used to teach the first declension. It was immortalised in a Jacques Brel song in 1962 and is still used today.

A cursory search reveals lists of mnemonics reproduced in textbooks as early as in Alexandre de Villedieu's Doctrinale puerorum (1199), but I can't find any mention of their use back when Latin was still a first language in much of the known world.

Is there any record of mnemonics being used to teach Classical Latin when it was still a living language?

If there is, have any survived into contemporary usage?

  • 5
    I'm not sure I'd call that a mnemonic, but I suspect the Romans didn't need mnemonics for such basic elements of grammar?
    – Cerberus
    Feb 23, 2016 at 20:54
  • @Cerberus I'm not sure it qualifies either. It was listed as one on Wikipedia and it's the most well-known memory aid I know, hence why I used it as an example. The wiki article has more complex examples but none that I've ever used. My first language has some well-known phrases and rhymes which were taught all the way through high school so I figured they'd have been used in ancient times as well.
    – Lilienthal
    Feb 23, 2016 at 21:17
  • @Cerberus, Quintilian wrote for 'foreigners' in the Roman Empire who needed to polish up their Latin for political careers and Legal work. That must have been a big clientèle.
    – Hugh
    Sep 30, 2016 at 1:43
  • I don't think so but we should ask Professor Dicky (Reading U) or Bruno Rochette (U de Liege). If they don't know, then no one else does.
    – Alex B.
    Sep 30, 2016 at 3:56
  • 2
    Incidentally, I would like to draw your attention to a fantastic book by Professor Dicky, Learning Latin the Ancient Way (CUP, 2016). I couldn't put it down. You've been warned! :)
    – Alex B.
    Sep 30, 2016 at 4:00

1 Answer 1


The Answer that should be here, that is: one relating to a period when most serious conversation was in Latin, and not just in School, is Donatus. What survives of that is just a skeleton memorised as a framework.

Alexander de Villedieu wrote Doctrinale, a very popular Schoolbook, in 1199 just as the thorough teaching of Classics was being replaced by crash courses with Anthologies replacing full texts of Ovid and Cicero. This v. short exract covers 1st Declension. Nominativus is here called Rectus. The metre is Dactylic Hexameter. enter image description here

Image taken from Archive post of Seven Liberal Arts, Abelson 1903

  • 2
    Interesting find but keep in mind that my question was mainly about the time when Latin was still a living language, not after its resurrection.
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 30, 2016 at 10:36
  • @Lilienthal Yes, only getting as far as the reviews of Professor Dicky's 2016 (Eastrn Empire) It looks as though the teaching used examples, quotes, proverbs, set pieces to show how grammar worked, This is the case with Quintilian(in Archive)(Western Empire), and Fecunda Ratis (in Archive) so, as i said, I think Donatus is your best bet, and that is a disappointment.
    – Hugh
    Sep 30, 2016 at 10:49
  • 2
    Could you clarify why you bring up Donatus (= Aelis Donatus' Ars Minor?)? And I assume that you're suggesting the Doctrinale as the first purposefully constructud mnemonic while no such memory devices are known from older times (which would answer the bolded question)?
    – Lilienthal
    Sep 30, 2016 at 12:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.