Antonio de Nebrija's Latin works

Discover the books that Nebrija wrote to bring back correct Latin usage, and his Latin grammar book which continues to be an important lexical reference today.

Sculpture of Antonio de Nebrija by Nigues AnselmFundación Antonio de Nebrija

Elio Antonio de Nebrija

Antonio Martínez de Cala y Xarana (1441–1522) was the first Spanish Humanist. Best known for his Castilian Grammar (1492), he was also responsible for introducing Italian Renaissance Humanism to the Iberian Peninsula as long ago as the 1470s.

Bolonia (01-02-2020)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

A new teaching method

In Italy, Nebrija had discovered a new method of teaching Italian grammar. He was very critical of the traditional teaching methods used in Salamanca. He also criticized teachers who did not know enough Latin to be able to understand the texts' meanings.

Library of University of Salamanca (1254) by Universidad de SalamancaFundación Antonio de Nebrija

In response to what he saw as an inadequate state of affairs, Nebrija worked on the publication of a guide to Latin, which would help with a different method of teaching it. Later, after leaving Salamanca, Nebrija also worked on the idea of creating a large lexicon.

Latin Grammar (1481) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Introductiones Latinae

Antonio de Nebrija wrote a Latin grammar book, through which he hoped to bring back correct Latin usage. The work Introductiones Latinae first appeared in 1481, and went on to become the official Latin textbook in Spanish universities.

Salamanca City (12-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

The first edition was published by the University of Salamanca in 1481, by Juan de Porras. It had a print run of 1,000 copies, which sold out very quickly. It was such a success that it became the official Latin textbook in Spanish universities.

Latin Grammar with notes (1541) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

The work was a response to the medieval method of teaching Latin, based on memorizing the rules of grammar in verse. Nebrija created a Latin grammar book whose contents were simplified and tailored to his students.

Latin Grammar with notes (1541) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

In common with other works by Nebrija, it was a book designed for language teaching, rather than a grand theoretical treatise. The book's significance lay in its aims of communication and language teaching. This made it a teaching guide in its own right.

Latin Grammar with notes (1541) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

The textbook became so famous and widely used that Queen Isabel I of Castile requested that Nebrija translated it into Spanish, so that her ladies-in-waiting could use it to learn Latin. Many students affectionately referred to the book as The Antonio.

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

A deluxe edition

What Nebrija referred to as "editions" were what we could today call "versions." A further two versions or editions followed the one published in 1481. The second was an illuminated manuscript, dated 1486. This manuscript is extremely valuable, not only in terms of its contents.

Latin Grammar illustration digitization (ca. 1488) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

The illumination shows Nebrija in his professorial seat, alongside his patron, Juan de Zúñiga, Grand Master of the Order of Alcántara, and his coat of arms. The illumination was hand drawn by an illuminator in the printer's workshop of Juan de Carrión.

Latin Grammar (1481) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Some pages show the coat of arms of Juan de Zúñiga, Master of the Order of Alcántara. It was traditional at that time for such works to feature the coat of arms of the person who had commissioned the work, or the person to whom it was to be given.

Latin Grammar digitization (ca. 1489) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Latin Grammar (1481) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

From a codicological point of view, when seen at close range it is fascinating to see the marks created by the writing on the parchment. Parchment has proved to be a robust material that is highly resistant to the passing of time.

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

The text itself has details that provide us with further information about this edition. The calligraphy is carefully written in a script known as humanist minuscule. It is considered to be one of the most important manuscripts. The initial letter of each paragraph is gilded using gold leaf.

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Latin Grammar (ca. 1486) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Not much remains of its original binding, as old books tended to be bound several times to preserve them. It is Mudejar in style, with leather over wooden boards. It still has the four clasps used to close it.

Library of University of Salamanca (1254) by Universidad de SalamancaFundación Antonio de Nebrija

In Italy, Nebrija had discovered a new method of teaching grammar. He was very critical of the traditional teaching methods used in Salamanca. In response to what he saw as an inadequate state of affairs, Nebrija published a Latin textbook.

Salamanca University Library (12-03-2022)Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

This book was the first Latin grammar guide written in Spain, and the most important text of the period for the study of Latin. It represented a complete shift in the way in which Latin was studied, right across Europe.

Portrait of Antonio de Nebrija (1791) by Simon Brieva and Francisco Javier RamosOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Lexicon seu parvum

Antonio de Nebrija's Lexicon parvum vocabularium first appeared in 1493. It was the first lexicon organized by theme and word to feature Spanish, making it the first Spanish nomenclature.

Latin-Spanish dictionary (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

As a lexicographer, Antonio de Nebrija aimed to create a large lexicon that would include, among other things, two language dictionaries and a Latin dictionary on the subjects of Law, Medicine, and Theology. The work was an accompanying text to his grammar book.

Latin-Spanish dictionary (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

The first dictionary

In 1492, his work Lexicon hoc est Dictionarium ex sermone latino in hispaniensem (Latin-Spanish Dictionary) was published, and his Dictionarium ex hispaniensi in latinum sermonem (Spanish-Latin dictionary) was published in 1495. The former contained more than 30,000 terms.

Latin-Spanish dictionary (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Nebrija replaced the medieval lexicographical system, which by that point was outmoded, with a bilingual dictionary. His dictionary was far more selective and rigorous in the terms it included, while at the same time idiomatically richer, and more useful thanks to its contents and relevance to the time.

Latin-Spanish dictionary (1492) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

One of the interesting things about this dictionary is that it appears to be the first Spanish lexicon to include an Americanism: the word canoa (meaning canoe).

Latin Grammar (1481) by Antonio de NebrijaOriginal Source: Spanish National Library

Credits: Story

With the participation of Adelaida Caro, Head of the Department of Ancient Books.
Content provided by the Spanish National Library.

Curator: Rodrigo Díaz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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