Muiredach (Muridac, Murethach)
Muiredach copied the apocryphal letter of Pope Clement I on the teachings of St Peter for Drogo, a son of Charlemagne, and bishop of Metz 826–55. The poem he appended to the text praises Metz and Drogo, known from other sources as a patron of Irish scholars. In his major surviving work, a commentary on the fourth-century Latin grammar of Aelius Donatus, the ‘Ars maior’, Muiredach comfortably used the name of Emperor Lothar (840–55) to demonstrate the superlative: ‘Lothar, the mightiest of the Franks’ (Chlotharius fortissimus Francorum). In the same passage he referred confidently to himself as ‘Murethach, the most learned of people’ (doctissimus populi Murethach). Muiredach also taught in Auxerre, a royal city in West Francia, the kingdom of Charles the Bald (840–77). The town's name duly appears as an example of an adverb of place. Finally, to illustrate the use of conjunction, the grammarian paired his name with that of Haimo, a monk of Auxerre and a highly original biblical exegete (‘Murethach et Aimo’). The peripatetic Irish master is assumed to have been Haimo's teacher, but they may have been colleagues.
Donatus had prepared his ‘Ars maior’ to teach Latin to fourth-century Romans such as St Jerome, his most famous pupil. Muiredach's ninth-century Frankish pupils needed explanations of Donatus to advance in their mastery of Latin. Muiredach's comments, and those of three other Irish masters working on the Continent, derive from a common source used in Irish schools. When Muiredach and his colleagues came to the Carolingian kingdoms, they brought with them the texts they used in Ireland, refining and adapting them in their own teaching. Muiredach's commentary is distinguished for its clarity and its scholastic approach to the material. He did not hesitate to correct or clarify his source. He also used biblical and patristic as well as classical examples to illustrate grammatical usage. The master proceeded through Donatus's grammar lemma by lemma, often posing questions of the text, pointing out apparent contradictions or anomalies, and concluding with an authoritative statement of the grammatical point under discussion. This question-and-response dialectical approach to explicating grammar amounted to a kind of exegesis of language and reflected Hiberno-Latin methods.
Muiredach's commentary on Donatus's grammar survives in at least eighteen medieval copies, attesting to its success. Haimo of Auxerre's biblical exegesis incorporated elements of the scholastic methodology embedded in Muiredach's grammatical commentary. Muiredach's commentary remained in vogue till the eleventh century, when grammar teachers, preferring to teach their students only the basics (the parts of speech, declensions, and conjugations), opted for the less ambitious ‘Ars minor’. More advanced studies in grammar focused on the texts of Priscian, Phocas, and Martianus Capella. Nevertheless, Muiredach's commentary on Donatus, the first of its kind, served students and teachers for more than a century, teaching them not only grammatical rules, but also textual analysis. The location and date of Muirdach's death are not known.