Cambridge University Press has hailed its new Ancient Greek dictionary as "the most innovative in almost 200 years”, providing fresh definitions and translations in contemporary English.
Editor-in-chief Professor James Diggle said he “wept with joy” when the final volumes were completed, after the team had spent more than 20 years poring over every word to build up a clear and accessible guide to the meanings of Ancient Greek words and their development in different contexts and authors.
The project began in 1997 as an attempt to revise the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, first published in 1889, which itself was an abridged version of a lexicon published in 1843. It has never been revised, but remains the lexicon most commonly used by students in English schools and universities.
The old lexicon usually starts with a word’s earliest appearance in the literature, but the new Cambridge Greek Lexicon begins entries with original, or root meanings, before tracing the word’s development in different contexts.
It also includes opening summaries to help ease the reader into longer entries, and uses modern-day language to help make clear meanings obscured by antiquated language and by Victorian attempts at modesty when defining lewder words and phrases. “We spare no blushes,” said Prof Diggle.
Academics had originally hoped that the project might be completed by a single editor within five years.
Prof Diggle said: “We didn’t realise at the time the magnitude of the task, and it was only because of advances in technology that we were able to take it on. With the help of two online databases, the Perseus Digital Library and later the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, we undertook the ambitious task of reading again most of Greek literature. We then had to appoint additional editorial staff and raise a huge amount of financial support.
“It took us over 20 years because we decided that if we were going to do it we must do it thoroughly."
The finished, two-volume Lexicon features around 37,000 Greek words drawn from the writings of around 90 different authors and set out in over 1,500 pages.
“It took over my life,” said Diggle. “While I was delighted to see the final printed volumes, the moment of greatest relief and joy was when I was able to sign off the very, very final proofs and say to the press ‘It’s finished. You can print it’. You can’t imagine what it was like, to realise that we had finally got there; I literally wept with joy.”
Professor Robin Osborne, chair of the faculty of classics, said: “The faculty takes enormous pride in this dictionary and in the way Cambridge University Press have aided us and produced it. It’s a beautiful piece of book making.”
He added: “We invested in the Lexicon to make a contribution to the teaching of Greek over the next century. This puts into the hands of students a resource that will enable them access to Ancient Greek more securely and easily.
“It is hugely important that we continue to engage with the literature of Ancient Greece, not as texts frozen in a past world, but which engage with the world in which we live. There’s been continual engagement with them since antiquity, so we are also engaging with that history, which is the history of European thought.”
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