Classics Donatus
Rainer Jakobi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0250


Aelius Donatus was a mid-4th century AD Latin grammarian and professor in Rome. As a teacher in the classroom—one of his prominent pupils was Jerome, translator and interpreter of the Bible—and author of textbooks and commentaries, for one thousand years he became the most influential teacher of Latin language and poetry. Of his works only the Ars grammatica and the beginning of the Commentary on Vergil survived intact; but greater parts of this commentary can be recovered from the early medieval commentary tradition and quotations. The Commentary on Terence has survived only in a strongly revised version (and without the part on the Hautontimoroumenos).


Only few details of Donatus’s life are known, mainly from testimonies of his pupil Jerome and the inscriptions in medieval manuscripts of his works. Born c. 310 CE, perhaps in Africa, he was famous as a teacher in Rome in the 350s and early 360s; Jerome dates his floruit to 354. As professor of Latin language in Rome he published his Ars Donati grammatici urbis Romae and probably his commentaries on Vergil and Terence, although the subscription of the Commentum Terenti gives a later date, when Donatus became professor of rhetoric in Rome. The Commentary on Vergil antedates the commentary on Terence. Donatus was an erudite traditional pagan who describes pagan rites not only from books but personal experience. For a discussion of his life and career, see Kaster 1988 (pp. 275–278), with a detailed and critical judgment of all testimonies, and Schmidt 1989 (pp. 143–144) with a slightly different position concerning the date of the Commentum Terenti.

  • Kaster, Robert A. 1988. Guardians of language: The grammarian and society in late antiquity. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    The best modern general study (with a prosopography).

  • Schmidt, Peter Lebrecht. 1989. Aelius Donatus. In Handbuch der Lateinischen Literatur der Antike. Vol. 5. Edited by Reinhart Herzog and Peter Lebrecht Schmidt, 143–158. Munich: C.H. Beck.

    A masterly comprehensive article with an elaborate research report until 1989.

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