Decretum mnemonic poem

This transcript is a mnemonic poem in hexameters, as found in Berlin, SBPK 462, fol. 184r, created to facilitate the memorization of the number of causae and quaestiones contained in the second section of the Decretum Gratiani. The number and order of the poem’s words reflect those of the causae of the Decretum (36) and the letters composing each word are said to correspond to the number of quaestiones included in each causa – i.e. the first word has seven letters as the first causa has seven quaestiones.

The scribe – apparently a fifteenth-century hand – noted the number of letters above each word, with some exceptions. While the number of words (36) corresponds to the number of causae contained in the second section of the Decretum, there are some mismatches in the number of letters (quaestiones), as specified in the footnotes.

In 1911, German author Victor Scholderer, based on the analysis of the anonymous fifteenth-century work Modus legendi abbreviaturas in utroque iure, discovered an acrostic at the beginning of the section De decreto versificato, which contains the name of the author:

Wernherus monstrat ut sic distinctio fiat

Sancti Germani Spirae canonicus

Cuius erat patria Schussenrieth in Swevia

Discere causarum quarumlibet ordine membra…

Scholderer did not realize that the fourth verse was the beginning of our mnemonic poem.[1]

This poem, with slight variations, is also contained in two manuscripts of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: Vat. Lat. 3259 fol. 224v (13th c.) and Ros. 307 (14th c.). In the latter, the poem is part of a Decretum versificatum, an in-verse abbreviation of the Decretum Gratiani which was intended to help to commit to memory the structure and content of all three sections of the book. The poem is transcribed on top of fol. III va, followed by an acrostic where every letter of the poem is the initial of a hexameter (fos. IIIva-IVrb).

[1] The Library, Volume s3-II, Issue 6, April 1911, Pages 181–182,

Introduction and transcription Copyright © Attilio Stella 2019.

Cite as: Mnemonic Poem for memorising the structure of the second section of the Decretum Gratiani, as found in Berlin, SBPK 462, transcr. Attilio Stella, in Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law Project Publications, St Andrews, 2019 []

Berlin, SBPK 462, fol. 184r