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Peter of Pisa


Deacon, grammarian, and poet at the court of Charlemagne; b. Lombardy, first half of the 8th century; d. Lombardy, sometime before 799. Peter probably learned grammar and rhetoric in Lombardy where he took part in public disputations. When alcuin was a youth on a trip to Rome, he heard Peter speak in Pavia in a disputation on the Jews. Later Peter came to charlemagne's court, probably after the destruction of the Lombard kingdom (773774). Already an old man, he was Charles' honored guest for several years and an integral part of his learned court circle (see carolingian renaissance). Two other Lombards later joined this group, paul the Deacon and paulinus of aquileia. A close bond existed between Charles and Peter as well as between Peter and Paul, but Peter apparently was not much liked by either einhard or Alcuin. Peter seems to have been proud of Paul's intellectual superiority over the others, including himself. He instructed Charles in Latin grammar and probably read the Latin authors with him. Einhard mentions this fact (ch. 25) and describes Peter as elderly. It seems likely that both Peter and Paul brought manuscripts from Italy that kept Carolingian scribes busy for many years.

Charles used Peter's poetic talent when writing letters in verse to Paul; when Charles wrote to Peter, in turn, he pieced together verses from the works of the poets with Alcuin's help. One poem that Peter wrote in Charles's name can be dated 783; addressed to Paul, the letter asks him to remain in the Frankish kingdom to give instruction in Greek to clerics accompanying Hrotrude. Of this exchange of poems, at least one is lost. The surviving pieces contain riddles, admonitions to Christian charity, a vision, and the like.

Like Paul the Deacon, Peter was important as a grammarian. In a manner typical of the 8th century, he illustrated his teaching with writings of ancient pagan and Christian authors. His grammar is preceded by a dedication preface in elegiac verse stating that the work was composed "by Peter for love of his lord" and praising Charles as conqueror of the Lombards, builder of churches, converter of heathen, and punisher of evildoers. Noa, Samson, Gideon, and David are held up to Charles as models. He prays that Christ may help Charles in the future; the Saxon wars were not yet completed. In his grammar, Peter borrowed from Donatus, Probus, Sergius, Augustine, Cominian, Priscian, and Vergil. This work, dealing chiefly with declensions and conjugations, treated pronouns, adverbs, participles, conjunctions, and prepositions very much as did the anonymous author of MS Bern 207, fol. 112a127b. Peter's treatise appears in the same MS, and its editor, H. Hagen, believes both are reproductions of a common source. Reichenau MS 821 (B 6:403) is a 10th-century copy of the grammar, complete with its dedicatory poem to Charles. Peter promised additional treatises, but if he wrote them, they are no longer extant.

Bibliography: h. hagen, Anecdota Helvetica (Leipzig 1870) 159171, partial ed. of Peter's grammatical works. paul the deacon, Die Gedichte des Paulus Diaconus, ed. k. neff (Munich 1908) 57, critical ed. of poems of Peter of Pisa with those of Paul the Deacon. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters (Munich 191131) 1:452456. f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (Oxford 1953) 150279. m. l. w. laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, A. D. 500 to 900 (New York 1957) 219222, 279280. f. j. e. raby, A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages (Oxford 1957) 1:181182, 197199.

[c. m. aherne]

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