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Ancient Greek Dictionary from the Victorian Era Gets 21st Century Upgrade

The National Herald

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon. Photo: Facebook/ Cambridge University Press

LONDON, UK – The Cambridge Lexicon, an Ancient Greek-English dictionary has finally been updated for the 21st century to include crude words that Victorian-era compilers tried to “veil,” the Guardian reported on May 27.

“Victorian attempts to veil the meanings of crude ancient Greek words are set to be brushed away by a new dictionary 23 years in the making,” the Guardian reported, adding that “it is the first to take a fresh look at the language in almost 200 years and promises to ‘spare no blushes’ for today’s classics students.”

“The late scholar John Chadwick first came up with the idea to update HG Liddell and Robert Scott’s 1889 dictionary, the Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, in 1997,” the Guardian reported, noting that “an abridged version of a lexicon published in 1843, the Liddell and Scott had never been revised, and is packed with antiquated terms and modestly Victorian translations of the more colorful ancient Greek words. Despite this, it remains the most commonly used reference work for students in English schools and universities.”

“It was initially thought that Chadwick’s project would take five years, but Cambridge professor James Diggle, who was then chair of the advisory committee, said it soon became clear that the Intermediate Lexicon was ‘too antiquated in concept, design and content,’ and the team would need to start afresh,” the Guardian reported, adding that “Diggle and his fellow editors then set out on the ‘Herculean task’ of rereading most examples of ancient Greek literature, from Homer to the early second century AD.”

“They then worked through the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet to create a modern guide for today’s students to the meanings of ancient Greek words and their development through the years,” the Guardian reported, noting that “the lexicon is the first to be based on an entirely new reading of the Greek texts since 1843.”

“At the outset of the project I undertook to read everything which the editors wrote. I soon realized that if we were ever to finish I had better start to write entries myself,” Diggle told the Guardian. “The moment of greatest relief and joy was when I was able to sign off the final proofs and say to the publisher, ‘It’s finished. You can print it.’ You can’t imagine what it was like, to realize that we had finally got there. I literally wept with joy.”

The two-volume Cambridge Greek Lexicon, published by Cambridge University Press, “features around 37,000 Greek words, drawn from 90 authors and set out across 1,500 pages,” the Guardian reported.

“The new dictionary’s editors ‘spare no blushes,’ Diggle said, when it comes to the words that ‘brought a blush to Victorian cheeks,’” the Guardian reported, noting that “the verb χέζω (chezo), translated by Liddell and Scott as ‘ease oneself, do one’s need,’ is defined in the new dictionary as ‘to defecate’ and translated as ‘to shit’; βινέω (bineo) is no longer ‘inire, coire, of illicit intercourse,’ but ‘fuck’; λαικάζω (laikazo), in the 19th-century dictionary translated as ‘to wench’, is now defined as ‘perform fellatio’ and translated as ‘suck cocks.’”

“Antiquated and offensive language also gets a makeover,” the Guardian reported, adding that “while Liddell and Scott defined βλαύτη (blaute) as ‘a kind of slipper worn by fops,’ in the Cambridge Greek Lexicon it is described as ‘a kind of simple footwear, slipper’; κροκωτός (krokotos) is no longer defined as ‘a saffron-colored robe worn by gay women,’ but as a ‘saffron gown (worn by women).’”

“Liddell and Scott could have claimed, in the words of Edward Gibbon: ‘My English is chaste, and all licentious passages are left in the obscurity of a learned language,’” Diggle told the Guardian. “We use contemporary English.”

Professor Robin Osborne, chair of Cambridge’s classics faculty, said the department invested in the new lexicon in order to “make a contribution to the teaching of Greek over the next century,” the Guardian reported.

“This puts into the hands of students a resource that will enable them access to ancient Greek more securely and easily,” Osborne told the Guardian. “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.”

Michael Sharp, the Lexicon’s publisher at Cambridge University Press, told the Guardian that it was “one of the most important classics books we have ever published”, and “a milestone in the history of classics.”

When asked if he had plans for “further lexicographical ventures,” Diggle told the Guardian, “no, no, no, no, no, I finished it with an enormous sense of relief and joy – for the last 15 years of it I did nothing else, it really dominated my life.”

The Cambridge Lexicon is available online: shorturl.at/yLTX0