A group of volunteers are making a translation online of the Lexicon of Harpocration. This has some 300 entries, and the translation is nearly complete, in fact. The project is here. The entries seem mainly about people, rather than things, whom a reader of classical literature might find difficulty in identifying.
Around twenty ancient and medieval lexicons/dictionaries/glossaries/encyclopedias of Greek words and their meanings have reached us, plus quite a number of minor lexica. These works contain lists of Greek words, often dialect or otherwise unusual. In many cases they are concerned with advising the reader how to write Attic Greek correctly.
The works exist because, after the classical period, the Greek language changed and terminology in classical authors could be a problem. In the Roman period there was a fashion for writing the Attic Greek of 500 years earlier, and this fashion remained until 1453. Consequently authors needed guidebooks on Attic usage.
Modern scholars are interested in these works because they preserve invaluable historical insight into the ancient world. Every classicist will sooner or later need to refer to Hesychius, for instance. The entries frequently preserve valuable historical information, which reaches us in no other way, not least because – unlike modern dictionaries – they include proper names, and attempt to identify the persons concerned.
The works are structured in generally the same way. A word is given, followed by another word or words to explain it. Sometimes a paragraph of explanation is involved. Sometimes the authors who used the word are given. Sometimes we are given a quotation from that author. As most of ancient Greek literature is lost, these fragments are valuable. The lexicon also often incidentally contains material of historical interest on the classical period.
Most of the works have been damaged, interpolated, or revised in transmission. The tendency to copy from one into another means that material in two lexica may not be independent.
A survey of the extant texts can be found in Eleanor Dickey’s marvellous compendium of precise information, Ancient Greek Scholarship, p.87-103, which should be on the shelves of every Classicist, Byzantinist, and scholar of patristics or late antiquity. What follows is a drastically abbreviated version of Dickey. For bibliography use Dickey. I only indicate where the text may be found.
The most important lexica are the Lexicon of Hesychius, and the “Suda”.
According to Hesychius’ prologue (below), lexicography begins with the creation of glossaries of unusual or obscure words. Such glosses were compiled for a specific author, such as Homer; or for specific genres like Tragedy or Comedy. These were known as glossai, and later as lexeis. A writer (from 1839! use with caution) states:
The very names now given to works of the kind were unknown to the ancients. Glossarium first appears in the writings of Aulus Gellius; but from the context of the passage where it occurs, it cannot be inferred to have been used by him to denote “a book of glosses,” nor probably did it acquire that signification till some centuries after. Lexicon is, I believe, found for the first time in the Etymologicon Magnum, a compilation of which the author is unknown, but its age is ascertained not to reach farther back than the tenth century. Dictionarium and Vocabularium are terms of still later introduction. (Wall, p.113)
The lexica are referenced differently to most ancient works. They are organised as a series of words, with material about each word, and these words are usually in alphabetical order. So a reference is to an entry. For each entry we give the first letter of the word, followed by the number. So Alpha 5 is the fifth word beginning with Alpha. It is usually best to include the edition used as well (e.g. Pi 123, Adler). Examples will be found below for entries in the Suda.
Aristophanes of Byzantium (ca. 257-180 BC)
Aristophanes of Byzantium was one of the most important Alexandrian scholars, and the teacher of Aristarchus. He is credited with inventing the symbols for the Greek accents, and also critical signs for editing texts. He produced editions of the classical authors Homer, Hesiod, etc. He also produced or inspired the hypotheses, the summaries prefixed in the manuscripts to tragedies and comedies, which contain valuable information about the production of each play. He seems to have been the first to divide lyric texts into verses, rather than writing them as prose.
Aristophanes produced a glossary-work which he called Lexeis. The work was in several sections, such as “On words suspected of not having been said by the ancients” (i.e. post-classical words), “On the names of ages” (i.e. terms used to designate men, women, and animals of different ages), and “On kinship terms.”
Hundreds of fragments of it exist in other works, plus fragments transmitted directly in manuscripts.
Editions: A. Nauck, Aristophanis Byzantii grammatici Alexandrini fragmenta, Halle, 1848 (= TLG; online); W.J. Slater, Aristophanis Byzantii Fragmenta, Berlin, 1986, with some of the most important material, discovered later than Nauck. Slater is the standard text.
Diogenianus (2nd c. AD)
Hesychius tells us that the first attempt, to unite the pre-existing single-author glossaries into a unfied work covering all authors, in alphabetical order, was that of Diogenianus. According to the Suda (below), he lived in the time of Hadrian. But the Suda also states that even this was an epitome of a pre-existing compilation by Pamphilus and Zopyrion:
Of the other Heraclea, not in Pontus. Grammarian. He too lived under the emperor Hadrian. The possibility has to be considered that he is the doctor from Albace Heraclea in Caria, since he was an expert on literature in general; for I have not found it stated explicitly that he was from Heraclea in Pontus, though that is the opinion of some. His books are as follows: Miscellaneous Lexicon, alphabetically arranged, in 5 books – this is an epitome of Pamphilus’ Lexicon in 405 books and of Zopyrion’s; Anthology of Epigrams; On rivers, harbours, springs, mountains [and] mountain ridges; On Rivers, alphabetically arranged, a description in epitome; Collection and Table of Cities throughout the World; and so on.
The lexicon as a whole is lost, but it was the basis for the lexicon of Hesychius (see below). However some papyrus fragments exist: PSI viii. 892; POxy. 47, 3329; a fragment on dialect glosses published by Latte in 1924; and numerous fragments in scholia.
Aelius Dionysius and Pausanias (early 2nd c. AD)
These two authors, otherwise unknown, were the first to produce dictionaries of Attic. Each produced a work listing Attic words and phrases, and these survived until at least the 12th c. Both are lost, but substantial fragments exist.
Editions: H. Erbse, “Untersuchungen zu den attizistischen Lexika” in: Abhandlungen der deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, philosophischhistorische Klasse, Jahrgang 1949, Nr. 2. Berlin, 1950 (=TLG)
Herennius Philo (early 2nd c.) and ‘Ammonius’
In the manuscripts is a bunch of epitomes of lexica, all closely related to one another. One, De diversis verborum significationibus, is attributed to Herennius Philo, also known as Erenius Philo and Philo of Byblos; another to an unknown Ptolemy. All these seem to be derived from a 2nd century lexicon by Herennius Philo, a well-known author of various non-lexical works in the late 1st / early 2nd century, notably the Phoenician History, extant in fragments. Related to these is a larger lexicon, De adfinium vocabulorum differentia, preserved under the name of “Ammonius”, otherwise unknown. It is most likely that all these texts are derived, in a longer or shorter from, from Herennius Philo’s lexicon. The work consists of pairs of words, which are similar, and explanations of the difference between them. The material is generally historically correct and occasionally very valuable.
The Suda entry for him is as follows:
Philo of Byblos.Grammarian. He lived in the time of those near Nero, and survived a long while – at any rate, he says that Severus, surnamed Herennius, was consul when he was 78 years old, in the 220th Olympiad. He wrote On the Purchase and Selection of Books (12 books); On Cities and the Famous People Each of them Produced (30 books); On the Reign of Hadrian (under whom Philo lived); etc. Philo was consul, surnamed Herennius, as he himself says.
Editions: For “Ammonius” = K. Nickau, Ammonii qui dicitur liber de adfinium vocabulorum differentia, Leipzig, 1966 (= TLG); Epitome of Herennius = V. Palmieri, Herennius Philo: De diversis verborum significationibus, Naples, 1988 (= TLG); Epitome of Ptolemy = G. Heylbut, “Ptolemaeus περὶ διαφορᾶς λέξεων”, Hermes 22, 1887, p.388-410 (online); V. Palmieri, “Ptolemaeus (Ambrosianus qui dicitur) De differentia vocabulorum in litteram,” Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università di Napoli 24, 1981-2, -33; K. Nickau, “Zur Geschichte der griechischen Synonymica: Ptolemaios und die Epitoma Laurentiana,” Hermes 118, 1990, 253-6.
Harpocration (late 2nd c.)
Valerius Harpocration produced a glossary to the Attic orators. It is important as a source of fragments and unusually authentic historical information on classical Athens. It is one of the earliest surviving glossaries. The text survives in a number of late manuscripts, in a somewhat contaminated and abridged form known as the “full version”. An epitome of the 9th century also exists. There is also a papyrus fragment from the 2nd-3rd century (P.Ryl. iii, 532), plus quotations in Photius and scholia.
Editions: I. Bekker, Harpocration et Moeris (Berlin, 1833) here; W. Dindorf, Harpocrationis lexicon in decem oratores Atticos (Oxford, 1853 = TLG) vol.1 and vol.2; John J. Keaney, Harpocration: Lexeis of the Ten Orators (Amsterdam, 1991; but unreliable).
Julius Pollux (late 2nd c.)
Pollux (or Polydeuces) of Naucratis was a rhetorician of the time of Commodus, to whom he dedicated his first book before the latter had become emperor. He compiled the Onomasticon in ten books, which has come down to us in the form of an epitome, but one that has also been interpolated as well as abridged. It is based on Classical works and Alexandrian scholarship. It is in topic order, rather than alphabetical, reflecting the original Greek approach to these things. It contains definitions, fragments of lost works, better readings of extant works, and much historical information, such as a famous discussion of the classical theatre and the 78 different types of masks in use for different characters in comedy, tragedy and in satyr plays.
The Suda entry for him is as follows:
Polydeuces of Naucratis. Some write that the sophist was from Ardyenna, but they are joking: Ardyenna [is] a city of Phoenicia. He taught in Athens under the emperor Commodus, and died aged 58, having composed the following books: Onomasticon (10 books: it is a collection of different words for the same thing); informal discourses, or talks; declamations; epithalamium to Caesar Commodus; Roman Speech; Trumpet, or Musical Contest; Against Socrates; Against the People of Sinope; Panellenic Speech; Arcadian Speech; and so on.
The anti-atticist (late 2nd c.)
This is an anonymous 2nd century lexicon which is not anti-atticist, but simply uses a wider definition of Attic than most. It is extant in a very reduced form. Originally it listed Attic words, defined them and gave quotations, but most of the latter have gone. It is still useful to identify lost works, historical details about Athens, and fragments of Alexandrian scholarship, as well as details of the 2nd century controversies.
Editions: Bekker, Anecdota Graeca, 1814-21, vol.1, p.75-116 (=TLG; online). This contains the first edition of many Greek scholarly works.
Phrynichus Arabius (late 2nd c.)
Two works by this extreme Atticist rhetorician survive. His Praeparatio sophistica was originally in 37 books; an epitome and fragments survive. The work is a collection of obscure words, and is discussed by Photius. His Ecloga in 2 books is more or less complete, and two short epitomes of it also survive. It consists of a list of “bad” words, usually koine, and the Attic equivalent, together with pronouncements on Attic and non-Attic usage. It is useful as a guide to the kind of mistakes 2nd century writers were liable to make in trying to write Attic Greek. He makes use of the anti-atticist lexicon.
Editions: PS = J. Borries, Phrynichi sophistae Praeparatio sophistica, Leipzig, 1911 (=TLG). Ecloga = E. Fischer, Die Ekloge des Phrynichos, Berlin, 1974 (=TLG). English summary and discussion of findings in Slater’s review of it in Gnomon 49, 1977, 258-62.
Moeris (3rd c.?)
A lexicon containing almost a thousand entries alphabetised by the first letter, consisting of “this is Attic, but the other Greeks use that”.
Editions: D. Hansen, Das attizistische Lexikon des Moeris, Berlin, SGLG 9, 1998.
Philemon (3-2 c. BC) and Philemon (ca. 200 AD)
A glossographer named Philemon lived in the 3rd-2nd century BC and wrote a gloss on Attic words. It is lost but fragments survive in Athenaeus, and in ‘Ammonius’. Another Philemon of the same name (neither related to any other person of the same name) lived ca. 200 AD and composed a work in iambics, of which two brief extracts survive. These consist of lists of non-Attic words and their equivalents.
Editions (of the second writer): Frag. 1 = R. Reitzenstein, Geschichte der griechischen Etymologika: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philologie in Alexandria und Byzanz, Leipzig, 1897, p. 392–6.; Frag. 2 = F.G. Osann, Philemonis grammatici quae supersunt, 1821. Study: L. Cohn, “Der Atticist Philemon,” Philologus, 57 (1898) p.353–67.
Orus and Orion (5th c.)
These two grammarians are confused even in the Byzantine period, and the confusion continues to modern times. Both wrote a number of scholarly works.
Orus was born in Alexandria, lived in Constantinople, and is associated with Miletus for unknown reasons. Four works survive. (1) An Attic lexicon, aimed at distinguishing classical from koine, rather than Attic as such. It was written in opposition to Phrynichus, and is based on classical sources. But it is extant only in fragments, mainly from the lexicon of Zonaras. (2) A manual on orthography, of which we possess a substantial excerpt on the use of the iota subscript. It gives a list of words (all from the second half of the alphabet), and indicates whether each uses it or not. Each is often accompanied by a quotation from a classical work, sometimes lost, and fragments of earlier scholarship. (3) A short treatise on words with several meanings, preserved in excerpts. (4) Another short treatise, on ethnic names, gathered from Stephanus and the Etymologicum genuinum.
Only one of the works of Orio(n) of Thebes survives, an etymological lexicon in alphabetical order. This exists in three abbreviated versions, one of considerable bulk, the others known as the Werfer and the Koes excerpts. It preserves much earlier scholarship, including portions of Aristonicus on Homer. We also have fragments of a florilegium by Orion.
Editions: Orus: (1) Alpers, Das attizistische Lexikon des Oros: Untersuchung und kritische Ausgabe der Fragmente (Berlin; SGLG 4), 1981 (in TLG). (2) H. Rabe, “Lexicon Messanense de iota ascripto,” in: Rheinisches Museum 47 (1892),. p.404-13. (TLG). (3, 4) R. Reitzenstein, Geschichte der griechischen Etymologika: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Philologie in Alexandria und Byzanz, 1897, p.316-35 and 335-47. Orion: F.W. Sturz, Etymologicum Graecae linguae Gudianum, 1818, p.611-17 (=Werfer excerpts); and: F.W. Sturz, Orionis Thebani Etymologicon, 1820 (=Koes extracts). [The long version is supposedly also published in Sturz, but I don’t see it.]
Cyrillus (5th c.)
Numerous manuscripts exist of a lexicon attributed to Cyrillus, or Cyril, and material from it has also been interpolated into Hesychius. The Cyril in question is probably intended to be Cyril of Alexandria, and may have had some association with him. The lexicon contains biblical glosses – words and explanations. Most of it is unpublished.
Editions: A. B. Drachmann, Die Überlieferung des Cyrillglossars, Copenhagen, 1936 in: Det Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Historisk-filologiske Meddelelser 21.5. (excerpts only); J.A. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis bibliothecae regiae Parisiensis, Oxford, 1839-41, vol. 4, 177-201 (only a very abbreviated version).
Hesychius of Alexandria (5-6th c.)
This is the most important of the lexica. A corrupt, abridged and interpolated 15th century manuscript in Venice (Marc. xxxx) is the sole witness to a text by an otherwise unknown Hesychius of Alexandria. The prefatory letter tells us that it is based on the 2nd century lexicon of Diogenianus (now lost), but supplemented from other lost lexical writers including Aristarchus, Heliodorus, Apion and Herodian.
It consists of a list of poetic and dialect words, phrases and short proverbs. It includes proper names. Each word is followed by a high-point, and then some words which are equivalent, or abbreviated from the original explanation by Hesychius. The words themselves are given in the inflected form, complete with prefix – the one in which they appeared in the text from which the original lexicographer extracted them -, not the base form, and in alphabetical order based on the first three letters. Thus an entry should be referenced as “a 1234 (Latte)” which would be the 1234th word under alpha in the edition of Latte. (References are sadly often given in much less helpful forms).
The work was severely abridged, omitting most indications of sources for the words. In addition about 33% of the entries are interpolated from the lexicon of Cyrillus (see below), or from other sources. These interpolations are early, since the Cyrillus material was already present by the 8th century.
The opening words of the preface were translated long ago by Wall, and are as follows:
Hesychius, a grammarian of Alexandria, to his companion Eulogius, greeting.—Many others also collected in the order of the letters the ‘words’ of the Ancients, O most beloved Eulogius: some, however, those only of Homer, as Apion, and Apollonius, son of Archibius; some, those separately of the Comic, or those of the Tragic authors, as Theon and Didymus, and other such compilers; and no one, all the words of the different writers together. But after these arose a certain Diogenianus, a man of industry and taste, who, having brought together the forementioned books and all the words dispersed through all, united into one compilation in alphabetic order all of them; I mean, the Homeric, and the Comic, and the Tragic terms, and those which occur in the Lyric poets and in the Orators; nor these only, but also such as are to be found in the works of the Physicians and of the Historians. In short, no word, as far as we are aware of, did he omit, whether of the Ancients, or of the writers of his own time.
Editions: K. Latte, P. Hansen, I. Cunningham, Hesychii Alexandrini Lexicon (4 vols). The previous best edition was by M. Schmidt, Hesychii Alexandrini Lexicon (1858-68 = TLG); vol.1 [Α-Δ], 2, 3[Λ-Ρ], 4[Σ-Ω], 5; the 1 volume editio minor by Schmidt (1867) should be avoided.
Stephanus of Byzantium (6th c.)
A grammarian who taught in Constantinople in the 6th c. AD, he composed a gigantic geographical lexicon in more than 50 books, of which we have only an epitome, some fragments, plus a stray set of 8 pages of the original text. Originally it gave detailed information of all kinds on place-names and ethnic names. Sources included Herodian, Orus, Pausanias, Strabo and some early Homeric scholia, plus many lost works.
Editions: J. A. F. A. Meineke, Stephani Byzantii Ethnicorum quae supersunt, Berlin, 1849 (=TLG). “Standard edition but not ideal”
The Synagogue (Συναγωγὴ λέξεων χρησίμων) (8-9th c.)
This lexicon is also known as the Lexicon Bachmannianum, or the Lexicon Bekkeri VI. It was originally based on the lexicon of Cyrillus, and other sources are also known. It was composed in the 8-9th c., but more material was added later. It is often ignored, since it duplicates other material, and is interesting more as a guide to how lexica evolved than for its contents.
Editions: I. Bekker, Anecdota Graeca, vol.1, Leipzig, 1814, p.319ff. (online); L. Bachmann, Anecdota, vol. 1, Leipzig, 1828, p.3ff. (online); I. Cunningham, Synagoge: Συναγωγὴ λέξεων χρησίμων: Texts of the Original Version and of MS. B (Berlin; SGLG 10), 2003.
Photius (9th c.)
Photius, patriarch of Constantinople and author of the Bibliotheca, and many other works, also composed a large lexicon. It is mostly concerned with prose words. Some entries are substantial paragraphs, referencing authors and quoting from them. The work derives mainly from late lexica like Cyrillus, but indirectly preserves much earlier scholarship, such as Diogenianus, Aelius Dionysius and Pausanias. It is a source of fragments of lost works. Only part of the work was known until 1959 when a complete text was discovered in a monastery. This is not completely published, however.
Editions: Theodoridis, Photii Patriarchae Lexicon, 1982- (=TLG) has begun the new edition. Vol. 1 [Alpha – Delta] (Berlin, 1982) [limited preview]; vol. 2 [Epsilon – Mu] (Berlin, 1998) [limited preview]. Of the older material, use R. Porson, Photii Lexicon e codice Galeano, 1823 (=TLG. online) rather than that of A. Nauck (1864-5).
Lexicon αἱμωδεῖν (9-10th c.)
This is a small lexicon, so called after its first entry “αἱμωδεῖν”. Contains fairly detailed entries, based in part on lost scholarly material for which it is sometimes useful.
Editions: Andrew R. Dyck, Epimerismi Homerici, Berlin; SGLG 5, 1983-95, vol. 2, p.825-1016.
“Suidas” / “The Suda” (late 10th c.)
The Suda is a huge dictionary/encyclopedia, compiled in the late 10th century. From the 12th until the mid-20th century it was known as Suidae Lexicon, “the lexicon of Suidas”, but it is now generally thought that the word Σοῦδα in the manuscripts is the title, not the author, although not everyone agrees.
The work consists of around 30,000 entries of various sorts; some are definitions, some are articles like those of an encyclopedia. The work is ordered alphabetically by pronunciation (so vowels that sound the same are gathered together). It is related to the lexicon of Photius, and probably drew directly upon it.
The work is of great importance for our knowledge of antiquity because it is based on a vast array of lost sources. These sources are transcribed intact and are often identifiable. In the main they were lexica and other scholarly compilations of late antiquity, such as those of Harpocratian and Diogenianus. These in turn preserved scholarship from hellenistic and even classical times. The plays of Aristophanes and the scholia on them are especially well represented. It is a source of important historical and poetic fragments.
The work is particularly useful as a guide to classical and later writers since it includes material from a lost dictionary of literary biography by Hesychius of Miletus, and indeed states that it is an epitome of that work. In particular it is our main source for the titles of lost works, and how much various authors wrote.
Editions: A. Adler, Suidae lexicon, Leipzig, 1928-38 (=TLG); The Suda Online (with English translation).
A number of very large, anonymous Byzantine texts known as the etymological lexica have been preserved. The entries are arranged in alphabetical order. Each entry consists of a word, followed by some kind of explanation: which may be a definition, an etymology, or some other type of explanation of usage, including quotations from sources.
The oldest of these is the Etymologicum genuinum, of the 9th century, preserved in two poor 10th c. manuscripts. Descended from this, in its original form, are almost all the other lexica of this type, of which the most important are:
The Etymologicum Magnum (12th c.)
- The Etymologicum Gudianum (11th c.)
- The Etymologicum Symeonis (12th c.)
- The Etymologicum (Florentinum) parvum is somewhat older but too small to be very useful.
The sources for the material are generally 2nd c. AD and later, such as Herodian, Orus, Orion, Theognostus, Choeroboscus, plus scholia, and the Epimerismi Homerici. These in turn were compilations of Hellenistic scholarship, and so preserve numerous fragments of lost classical literature.
Editions: A mess of partial modern editions. Complete versions are old. EM: T. Gaisford, Etymologicon magnum, Oxford, 1848 (online at BSB). EG: F.W. Sturz, Etymologicum Graecae linguae Gudianum, Leipzig, 1818. (= TLG) (online); R. Pintaudi, Etymologicum parvum quod vocatur, Milan, 1973 (= TLG). ES is largely unpublished.
Zonaras (13th c.)
The lexicon of Zonaras is an enormous lexicon from the 13th c., passing under the name of the 11th-12th c. historian. It draws freely on a wide range of earlier scholarship. It is organised first alphabetically, by the first two letters, and then by grammatical category. Some entries are just a word and its definition, but others consist of long paragraphs with quotations from earlier writers. The work has been little studied, and some of that little is valueless.
Editions: J.A.H. Tittmann, Iohannis Zonarae Lexicon, Leipzig, 1808 (=TLG) Online here. The only edition, hence it is sometimes called Lexicon Tittmannianum.
There are a number of important glossaries on individual authors. For Homer, those of Apollonius Sophista, and of Apion; there are Erotian’s, and Galen’s glossaries on the Hippocratic corpus; Plato: the lexicon of Timaeus; and some anonymous lexica on Herodotus. A number of other minor lexica such as the 14th c. Lexicon Vindobonensis are known from late antiquity or the Byzantine period. There is also a mass of lexicographical material in papyri or medieval mss.
Editions: A. Nauck, Lexicon Vindobonense, St. Petersburg, 1867. (Online)
Studies of Greek lexicography: Reitzenstein, Geschichte der griechischen Etymologika, Leipzig, 1897 (online); Enzo Degani, “La lessicografia,” in G. Cambiano, L. Canfora, and D. Lanza (edd.), Lo spazio letterario della grecia antica, Rome, 1995, vol.2. p.505–27; Herbert Hunger, Die hochsprachliche profane Literatur der Byzantiner, Munich; Handbuch der Altertumswissenschaft, 12.5.i and 12.5.ii, 1978; vol. 2, p.33-50.
Lists of editions: H. Erbse, Scholia graeca in Homeri Iliadem (scholia vetera), Berlin, 1969-88; the TLG canon.
-  Charles William Wall, “An essay on the nature, age and origin of the Sanscrit writing and language”, in: Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 18 (1839), p.65-152. The statement is on p.113. Online here. ↩
-  Hesychius, Prologue. (below) ↩
-  Suda, delta,1140. Adler edition. ↩
-  Papiri greci e latini, Pubblicazioni della società italiana per la ricerca dei papiri greci e latini in Egitto, Florence. ↩
-  K. Latte, “Glossographika,” Philologus, 80: 136-75. Repr. in Kleine Schriften (Munich 1968): 631–66. ↩
-  Suda, phi,447. Adler edition. ↩
-  To Commodus as “Caesar” rather than Augustus: see the opening greeting here. ↩
-  Suda, pi,1951. Adler ed. ↩
-  Charles William Wall, “An essay on the nature, age and origin of the Sanscrit writing and language”, in: Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy 18 (1839), p.65-152. The material is on p.110, as part of a general and interesting introduction to lexica. Online here. ↩
-  Dickey, p.308. ↩
-  Adler ref: eta,611: “Son of Hesychius the lawyer and of Philosophia. Lived during the reign of the emperor Anastasius. He wrote a biographical dictionary or Index of notable literary figures, of which this book [i.e. the Suda itself] is an epitome. Also a Chronicle of history, which work he divided into 6 diastemata; for such is the name given to each book. In these volumes the deeds of the Roman emperors are presented in chronological order and the mighty deeds of powerful rulers [arranged] by nation and the achievements of Byzantium up until the emperor Anastasius who was known as Dicorus. In the Index of famous literary figures he mentions not one of the teachers of the Church; from this [fact] we may suppose that he was not a Christian, but full of vain pagan labour. Also [sc. attested is] ἡσυχῇ , [meaning the same as] ἡσυχῶς [“gently/quietly”]. ↩
There is a manuscript in the Farnese collection, in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Naples (shelfmark Bibl. Naz. IV.A.3), known as the Farnesianus or F, because it once formed part of the library of Cardinal Ranuccio Farnese. This contains a text consisting of words and definitions, entitled De significatione verborum, On the meaning of words. The manuscript tells us that the author is an otherwise unknown Sextus Pompeius Festus. The manuscript itself is 11th or 12th century.
The manuscript consists of 41 folios of parchment, written on both sides in two columns, giving us 164 columns of text.
The manuscript has suffered damage. More than a few of the columns show signs of burning on their exterior margin, and most of the folios show evident traces of fire. However, for some folios, the burned portion has been cut away, and on folio 19, this means that the outer column is completely gone. The first eight folios are often nearly illegible. The parchment itself is often pierced here and there by small holes or cuts.
From the ninth folio, the writing is very neat and clear, but heavily abbreviated. Each entry is begun with majuscule letters, used only for this purpose.
The manuscript seems to have been discovered in Illyria at the start of the 16th century, and brought to Italy.
A good bibliography may be found in the Festus Lexicon Project, which points out that the French translation is at Remacle.org here. I was unable to locate a copy of the W. M. Lindsay edition of 1913 online, unfortunately.
Fay Glinister writes at the Festus Lexicon Project:
The text, even in its present mutilated state, is an important source for scholars of Roman history. It is a treasury of historical, grammatical, legal and antiquarian learning, providing sometimes unique evidence for the culture, language, political, social and religious institutions, deities, laws, lost monuments, and topographical traditions of ancient Italy.
Festus is important, too, in terms of his numerous explicit citations of early Roman authors, from Fabius Pictor on. He quoted or used many ancient sources, including authors – poets, grammarians, jurists and antiquarians – whose works do not survive elsewhere.
In the case of Plautus, the quotations that survive in Festus are particularly important, as they antedate the edition from which the archetype derives, and sometimes preserve a true reading not otherwise attested.
We could sometimes wish that Festus included more: in quoting, his practice is typically to complete the line, whether or not the sense of the passage can be understood.
The text of Festus sometimes preserves very early traditions, or readings of other authors. For example, the quotation from the Augustan jurist Antistius Labeo’s work on pontifical law in Festus 474, 476L, apparently from priestly records, may be earlier than Varro’s discussion of the Septimontium in LL 5.41.
Other frequently cited authors include Lucilius, Caecilius, Accius, Afranius, Titinius, the grammarian Cornificius, and of course Varro (directly cited about twenty times; in addition a number of other entries have been attributed to him). Festus also includes many glosses of legal character, and cites jurists such as Mucius Scaevola, Sulpicius Rufus, Ateius Capito and so on.
Festus’ many sources represent a wide range of Republican scholarly antiquity, but it is also worthwhile looking at him in the context of his own time. The choice he made to work on such material is quite an interesting one. Clearly, he was interested in the Roman past, but as the first part of his work is lost, we lack any explicit personal statement of his aims.
Nevertheless, his literary activity can be understood in the general context of the cultural attitudes of the second century. He is concerned with the recovery of Roman antiquities of all kinds, and with early literary works (such as those by Ennius and Cato), which fits in with the arcaising and antiquarian interests of a number of near-contemporary Latin authors such as Probus, Apuleius, and most notably Aulus Gellius, author of the Attic Nights.
Hmm. Now that sounds interesting, although an English translation would definitely need footnotes. She also believes he is a writer of the 2nd century, not the 4th.
I’ve had a quick look at a couple of sections of the remacle transcription, and came across one entry that seemed interesting:
SOL. The sun is so named because it is alone. It is named sometimes sun, sometimes Apollo: You are Apollo, you are alone (Sol) in the sky / heaven.
In this light, the cult of Sol Invictus in the late empire takes on a new meaning.
Likewise the expression “sub corona”, under the crown, is of interest. There are versions of this in the extracts by Paul the Deacon, as well as the direct text.
SUB CORONA: Captives are said to be sold “under the crown”, because they are sold with their head decorated with a crown. Cato says: “Let the people give thanks to the gods for giving them success, rather than see themselves sold, wearing a crown, following a defeat.”
SUB CORONA: We say “sold under the crown” because usually a crown is placed on the head of captives when they are sold, as Cato says in his book On the military art: “Let the people go and give thanks to the gods for a success, wearing a crown, rather than be sold, wearing a crown, following a defeat.” However this sign indicates that nothing is owed by the people, as Plautus also indicates in his Little Garden: “Let the crier be crowned, so that he may be sold for any price.”
I wonder whether the custom may explain the passage in Tertullian’s De corona militis where soldiers who worshipped Mithras refused to wear a crown during the distribution of the donatives from the emperor, on the grounds that “Mithras is my crown”? The crowns were worn for celebration; but clearly it could have another meaning, of ownership.
RIDEO, INQUIT GALBA CANTERIO [“I laugh,” said Galba to his horse], is a proverb which Sinnius Capito interprets thus: “If a man falls at the first moment when he begins something.” Suplicius Galba, setting out for the province that had been assigned to him, saw his horse fall right at the gate of the City. “I laugh,” he said, “O horse, to see you already tired, with so long a journey to do and so short a distance from the start.”
PRAETORIA COHORS. The praetorian cohort, so named because it always accompanied the praetor. Scipio Africanus was the first to select the bravest men from the army, and form a body who would always accompany him during the war, being exempt from all other service and receiving a sixfold wage.
PRAETORIA PORTA. This name is given to the gate of the camp from which the army goes out to go to fight, because in the beginning the praetors fulfilled the functions assigned today to the consuls, and directed the operations of the war: their tent was likewise called the “praetorium”.
PUNICUM. A type of cake, the use of which came from the Carthaginians. Also called probum, because much more delicate than the others.
PECULIUM. Money belonging to slaves is so called from pecus, just as money belonging to the head of the family is called pecunia.
Other entries of interest that I saw were those on the October Horse and the Ordo Sacerdotum (order of precedence of the priests), but there is much else of interest to the casual reader in this work. If Aulus Gellius can be read in English, it seems like a pity that Festus cannot be.