BMCR 2018.03.46

The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek. English Edition edited by Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder, under the auspices of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University

, , , The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek. English Edition edited by Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder, under the auspices of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. lx, 2431. ISBN 9789004193185. $125.00.

Dictionaries, encyclopaedias and other major reference works are scholarly publications one may often find most difficult to review, not only because of their considerable size but also due to their varied content. The new Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek by Franco Montanari and his collaborators (henceforth: Brill Greek dictionary) is no exception; in fact, it is a monumental work, not only in terms of size (ca. 2500 pages), but also in many other respects pertaining to both its main features per se and the fact that it is a work largely composed without any direct recourse to a certain previous dictionary.1

The Brill Greek dictionary is essentially based—note, however, a number of additional entries as well as several improvements—on the third Italian edition of the Vocabolario della lingua greca (2013; previous editions: 2004, 1995).2 The dictionary has been fitted with a handy visual guide (on the inside of the front cover), and features two prefaces, one by F. Montanari and another by G. Nagy, L. Muellner and M. Goh, as well as various lists of abbreviations: technical terms and glottonyms (in fact, both lists are reproduced on the inside of the back cover), literary authors and works, papyrological sources, epigraphic sources.3 The main body of the dictionary contains around 140.000 alphabetically ordered entries, which essentially cover the period 8 th c. BC – 6 th c. AD (but cf. also some sporadic later forms). Among the numerous entries of the lexicon one will also find proper names, notably from literary sources, which undoubtedly constitute one of the dictionary’s highlights, given that this is hardly the norm for reference dictionaries (cf. e.g. LSJ).4 The clear layout of the entries, including handy graphic symbols, special marking-up for forms that occur exclusively in non-literary sources, etc., reflects the advances of modern lexicography; in that respect, the Brill Greek dictionary comes closer to the user- friendly format of e.g. the Oxford Latin Dictionary ( OLD) than to the more parochial and less neat look of LSJ. In each entry, the Greek headword (e.g. διολκή, -ῆς, ἡ) is often, yet not always (see below) followed by an etymological reference in square brackets ([διέλκω]); the English meaning(s), categorized according to semantic fields, are next in line (‘traction, dragging || divergence of opinion, discord || extraction (of a fetus)’); finally, there are citations of Greek authors and works as well as common quotations of relevant Greek forms / excerpts, especially in the case of a hapax legomenon. Last but not least, the principal parts of the verbs (ca. 15.000 entries) as well as other dialectal forms (besides Attic) are conveniently cited too.

Some general remarks are in order here. A first point concerns the arrangement of the Greek lexical stock: on the back cover, for instance, it is stated that the Greek words have been listed in terms of ‘headwords’. One may think here of entries corresponding to Greek base forms, with all the derivative / secondary forms listed within the same entry (cf. e.g. LSJ). However, this is hardly the case on most occasions: note, for instance, forms like γηροκομέω, γηροκόμος, γηροκομία, etc. which have been listed separately rather than grouped together within the base form entry γηροκόμος (‘that helps/cares/supports for the aged’). The same goes for proper names vs. common nouns. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this ‘non-clustered’ arrangement of the material, as long as it is consistent and readers are aware of it.

A reference dictionary is not supposed to deal with subtle etymological explanations, which are often complicated and subject to regular revision (note e.g. the problems with the many outdated etymologies in LSJ, as also acknowledged in the Preface to the 1996 Supplement). In that respect, the non-uniform approach adopted by the editors, however inconsistent at first sight, seems rather prudent: if the etymology of a given word is clear enough, the original form / root itself (and / or certain IE cognates) may be cited, e.g. δεσπότης ‘master, etc.’ related to Sanskrit dámpati-, Avestan dng paitiš [sic; in fact, all these forms derive from an Indo-European univerbation *dems- pot- ]; μάγιστρος ‘master, head, etc.’ (< Lat. magister). On the other hand, when a more detailed etymological explanation is unsafe or unnecessary, a mere reference to the base form suffices, e.g. λύσσα/λύττα ‘fury, rabies, etc.’ (< λύκος ‘wolf’) [but more precisely, < *λύκ-jα]. Finally, the dictionary will normally list no unknown / doubtful etymologies, e.g. for entries like ἄνθρωπος, θεός, etc.

A third, and more crucial point concerns the rendering of the Greek semantics into English. In line with modern lexicographic practices, the dictionary generally aims to provide definitions, namely fundamental meanings, rather than mere context-based translations on the basis of representative examples. By and large, results meet expectations, and the chosen English idiom has a fairly modern feel (e.g. λαγνεία ‘sexual act, coitus, etc.’ vs. LSJ ‘the act of coitus, etc.’). On the other hand, certain semantic subtleties, particularly of Greek words with a special and / or technical meaning, obviously require a more thorough, expert assessment.

A relevant, but more important issue concerns the way in which the diverse meanings of a certain Greek word are presented. A few years ago, J. A. L. Lee pointed out, on the basis of the example ἀγαπητός ‘beloved, etc.’, the ‘structural’ problem with the presentation of the semantics of the Greek words in several LSJ entries, partly due to problematic revision practices employed in the past.5 The English meanings in the Brill Greek dictionary are generally arranged in a deductive, intuitive fashion within the entries; note e.g. the same entry ἀγαπητός, but also other words with multiple semantics like φρήν ‘diaphragm; heart, mind; reason; aim, etc.’.

A small number of sample entries, which also relate to the above general points, will help demonstrate a number of issues to be reconsidered in the future. In principle, words occurring in classical literature are rendered sufficiently well, even though terms with special semantic overtones, e.g. ἀνάμνησις in a philosophical context, are always a challenge to translate in a condensed manner. Later or less common words / meanings also seem to be translated suitably on most occasions, e.g. ἀβάπτιστος has its later, Christian meaning ‘unbaptized’ listed too (contra LSJ). Nonetheless, there are various exceptions: for instance, the word ἐντέλεια is translated, on the basis of literary evidence, as ‘completeness, perfection’; but in some Hellenistic honorary decrees, e.g. from NW Greece, it has roughly the meaning ‘(awarded) prerogative concerning the partial payment of taxes / tariffs’ ( SEG 24, 448).6 Similarly, the entry φοινικίζω (1) lacks the (plausible) meaning ‘to write like the Phoenicians, i.e. in alphabetic script’; cf. the quasi-identical verb ποινικάζω in an archaic inscription ( SEG 27, 631) from Crete (late 6 th c. BC).

The list could be extended, and one may adduce additional meanings for several other entries or even point out missing forms, especially from non-literary and / or post-classical texts (e.g. διαιτός ‘(office title at Dodona)’, κομμιᾶτιν ‘leave’, ἀντισκρίβας ‘deputy scribe’, etc.). Moreover, one can also question the conscious (?) omission of certain forms (for instance, many of Hesychius’ Macedonian glosses) or debate over the (rather expected) exclusion of Mycenaean Greek words. In a similar manner, there are various minor refinements of and / or amendments to etymology to suggest: e.g. ξεστίζω ‘to polish, smooth’ has mistakenly been related to ξέστης ‘measure, cup’ (< sextarius (Lat.)) in lieu of the quasi-homonym ξεστός ‘polished, smooth’ (< ξέω ‘to scrape, etc.’). Similarly, the late adjectives ἐφετινός, -ή, -όν ‘of the current/present year’ and ἐφέτιος,-α, -ον ‘annual’ (cf. also adv. ‘ἐφέτο(υ)ς ‘this year’) are etymologically associated with [ἐπί, ἔτος]; however, there is no explanation for the presence of -φ- in place of an expected π- (: after ἐφ’ ἡμέραν probably). Note also some more ‘special’ cases, e.g. Εὔξεινος (sc. πόντος) ‘Black (lit. Hospitable) Sea’ is explained (s.v. εὔξενος, -ον) as an (Ionic) euphemism for ἄξενος ‘inhospitable’; but ultimately, ἄξενος is probably derived (folk-etymology?) from an Iranian (Scythian?) form axšaēna ‘dark’.

The above remarks highlight a small, yet representative number of minor addenda, corrigenda and desiderata to be considered in future revisions. As a matter of fact, though, the Brill Greek dictionary is likely to have fewer problems than most other works in its league.7

A cursory look has not revealed any major problems with the citations of the Greek excerpts, which are claimed to have undergone partial re-checking in view of the English edition (cf. Preface by G. Nagy et al.). The most essential technical aspects (layout, fonts, printing quality) meet modern standards, even though smallish font size may be an issue for some people, as is unfortunately often the case with most voluminous dictionaries.

In the era of Internet and digital humanities one may question with reason the need for printed dictionaries, given their disadvantages (lack of portability, no quick search facility, slow revision time, financial burden, etc.). Obviously, online dictionaries are already a must know(-how-to-use) for researchers, and databases are even more so, (e.g. TLG online, Perseus, Searchable Greek Inscriptions (Packard Humanities),, which have been exploited to some extent for the purpose of this dictionary too. However, the average user, be it an individual keen on Ancient Greek, a school / college teacher, or even an undergraduate student, will always be in need of a copy of a good dictionary (and as a matter of fact, most researchers too!). In that respect, the appearance of a new reference dictionary, and in fact, at an affordable price—thanks also to the support by the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington DC—is an event to celebrate. Nonetheless, it is a pity that the dictionary is not accompanied by a CD-ROM, as is the case with the Italian version. The online version (, which will undoubtedly be of particular importance to researchers, cannot really make up for this deficiency since website access will mostly be restricted (because of cost) to academic institutions rather than individual users.8

In conclusion, the new Brill Greek dictionary is a most welcome addition to the current lexicographic store for Ancient Greek and is set to become a primary resource for the study of Ancient Greek, especially as regards non-literary texts and post-classical authors. It goes without saying, though, that other dictionaries, especially LSJ will continue to be of importance, as far as words of literary origin are concerned in particular.9 In any case, the ultimate gamble is the future of bilingual Ancient Greek dictionaries as a whole in times of growing financial hardship for classical studies: ‘δεῖ δὲ χρημάτων’ obviously needs no dictionary aid to be promptly understood nowadays.


1. Nonetheless, the legacy of Liddell-Scott-Jones ( LSJ) is rather obvious, particularly as regards several English translations.

2. The dictionary has been/is being translated already into other languages, e.g. Modern Greek (2013), German (forthcoming).

3. Montanari’s preface is also a useful short account of the most important bilingual dictionaries of Ancient Greek available nowadays.

4. Obviously, the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, Oxford, 1987- ( remains indispensable, especially for the epigraphic evidence.

5. J. A. L. Lee. 2010. “Releasing Liddell-Scott-Jones from its past”. In: Ch. Stray (ed.), Classical Dictionaries: Past, Present and Future, London, 119-138. See also J. Chadwick’s “Introduction” in Lexicographica Graeca, Oxford, 1996. Cf. also the BMCR reviews by S. Colvin (BMCR 97.9.08), W. Slenders (BMCR 2005.04.63) and S. Verbrugghe (BMCR 2005.08.45).

6. LSJ opts for ‘possessing full rights’. For the different meaning in epigraphy, see A. Chaniotis, ZPE 64 (1986), 159-162.

7. Lee’s (see also footnote 5 above) insightful suggestions for an (ideal) future electronic revision of LSJ hold true, to some extent at least, for any other similar work, even if the respective starting point is different.

8. LSJ is also available online: TLG ( and Perseus ( The same applies to the ongoing Diccionario Griego-Español (1980-) DGE (

9. Alongside LSJ and the ongoing DGE one also ought to mention the forthcoming ‘Intermediate’ Cambridge Greek Lexicon. ​