I was searching the Net for some online resources about grammar. And after searching Google and following a chain of links, I came across a page defining science. Weird, I told myself. Since when did grammar became a science? Was it, really? I wasn’t sure so I became curious and visited that page in the hope of informing myself.
As it turned out, the ancients did consider grammar as a science. According to that site, the ancient sciences were classified into two: the Trivium and the Quadrivium. There were three sciences under the first and four under the second. After digging a little bit deeper for more, I found really interesting stuff—for me, at least.
The Seven Ancient Sciences:
So as not to confuse you, some sites refer to the Trivium and the Quadrivium as The Seven (Liberal) Arts instead of The Seven Sciences. But for this post, however, I am inclined to stick with the latter. Afterall, these seven were the pillars of ancient knowledge and the Latin word for knowledge is scientia.
Anyway, whatever people with laurel wreaths on their heads call these things, they are distinctly different from their modern counterparts today. Citing Sister Miriam Joseph, (The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric) Wikipedia described the Trivium as follows:
- Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known,
- Grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized, and
- Rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated.
In other words, Grammar deals with how concepts and objects are represented in writing and in speech so that they may be dissected in thought using Logic and thereafter communicated to another mind with the aid of Rhetoric.
The Quadrivium, on the other hand, was said to be described by Proclus Diadochus in In primum Euclidis elementorum librum commentarii as follows:
- Arithmetic is the Discrete At Rest
- Astronomy is the Discrete In Motion
- Geometry is the Continuous At Rest
- Music is the Continuous In Motion
The Trivium was considered preparatory to the study of the Quadrivium. One needs to complete the former before the study of the latter could commence. Because of this, some people have the idea that the Trivium is the simpler or easier of the two and hence, unimportant or trivial.
I am of a different mind, however. Looking at the Trivium, I think it was considered preparatory because it is fundamental. There is no use in pursuing the Quadrivium if you don’t have a firm grasp of Rhetoric; and facility in Rhetoric can only be had after the constant exercise of Logic which in turn requires the study of Grammar. But before moving on, please understand that I am referring to Grammar as it is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized, and not the actual rules which I have the displeasure of wrestling against in this blog and elsewhere; although, it would be inaccurate if not irresponsible of me not to say that the former does comprise the latter.
The misconception that the Trivium is trivial leads to the Trivium being downplayed and deemphasized in our modern educational system. Why study it in-depth if it is only trivial? So we go through the motions and treat it as just a means to an end. (Either our high school diploma or our major)
As a consequence, we have a lot of otherwise educated people walking around with a poor grasp of the Trivium. But that’s not the problem, actually. The problem is that, since they are educated—or sometimes very well educated, these people are walking in the boardrooms, the Halls of Justice, the Senate, and in other important places.
Needless to say, these are the people who can get things done. But what is it that they do? In the Senate, we sometimes see people throwing things at others or splashing others with water; we also see them do acts which will generally earn a schoolboy a free trip to the guidance counselor’s office—all under the protection of privileged communication and under the pretense of debate. If this is true, I’m so gonna watch wrestling to improve my debating skills. It’s no wonder, really, considering that most people who can’t throw a descent argument curl their fingers and throw a punch instead.
But this is not how it should be. In our modern polite society, we sorely need the skills of effective communication, persuasion, argumentation and debate. We can learn these skills with the aid of the Trivium. With these skills in our hands, we can neutralize a potentially explosive situation without giving up what we want or believe in. As a bonus, we might even get what we want or, at the very least, understand where the other side is coming from and not feel bad about it. I dearly hope that it will be given the emphasis it rightly deserves in our educational system.
These skills will not make us argumentative—we already are; so, we might as well do it formally and properly. There will always be differences. What we need is the tool to settle them amicably lest we impulsively go for the red button a second too soon and blow all of us to kingdom come.
What about you? Do you think we should put emphasis back to these skills? Why, or why not?