LIDDELL & SCOTT: The History, Methodology and Languages of the World’s Leading Lexicon of Ancient Greek

Edited by Christopher Stray, Michael Clarke and Joshua T. Katz

OUP (2019) h/b 453pp £90.00 (ISBN 0890198810803)

This weighty (in both senses) book stems from a Conference held at Oxford in 2013 (two of the papers given there are not included). S. introduces it with a brief note on the history of the Lexicon, reminding us that it was based on the Lexicon of the recently deceased Franz Passow, and that both the editors-to-be were youthful Oxford dons—and friends. They were ordained, but avoided the dissensions arising from the Tractarian controversy of the time.

The book’s 21 chapters are divided into four parts: History and Constitution of the Lexicon; Periods and Genres of Evidence; Methodology and Problems; Comparisons in Time and Space. Here let it be said that this is itself a work of scholarship; only two of the chapters—the first and the last—are readily accessible to the Greekless reader, and some of them are highly technical; and if the contributors have not come ‘to bury Caesar’, nor by any means have they come to give unstinting praise: as will be quickly apparent. A chapter is provided by each of the three editors, with the opening one coming from S., ‘Liddell and Scott in Historical Context’. (Nobody is more aware than the reviewer that every single one of the contributions deserves more than the necessarily brief notices which appear here: especially so with the most technical of the offerings). 

How many people nowadays have even heard of James Donnegan, whose own New Greek and English Lexicon had appeared in 1826, and ran to four editions? Suffice it to say that L&S swiftly disposed of it. L&S themselves started work in 1833, receiving, as time passed, help from the Dindorfs, William Goodwin, William Veitch, and Basil Gildersleeve (who commented that Liddell and Scott ‘were even greater sinners than the average lexicographer’) before the first edition (8,000 copies) appeared in 1843, with glosses and explanations in English, rather than Latin: a sensible decision, which they robustly defended. By the time the eighth edition appeared in 1897, 78,000 copies had been printed, the price falling from 42 shillings to 36 shillings over the period. LSJ—the ninth edition—started to appear in 1925, being completed in 1940. A supplementary volume appeared in 1968, with a revised edition in 1996. S. concludes that the ‘Lexicon is a complex phenomenon: it is implicated in questions of lexical meaning … it also belongs to a history of social relations, links with other lexica, economic calculation, and the mythicizing of scholarship’. (S.’s reference on p. 16 to ‘Lloyd-Jones 1982, 99’ needs to be fleshed out: the work referred to is Blood for the Ghosts.)

The next three chapters are concerned, in one way or another, with the Latin language: Margaret Williamson’s ‘Dictionaries as Translations’ compares, to good effect, the difference between Donnegan’s heavily Latinate translations with the ‘Germanic’ forms preferred by L&S, which ‘evoke a nationalist politics of language that (deliberately) seeks to claim superiority for the English language (with its “richness and variety”) and its speakers as interpreters of ancient Greece’: examples of the two styles are taken from κάπηλος (p. 30) and κάπνος: thus Donnegan’s ‘fumigation’ for the latter word is shunned in favour of L&S’s ‘smoke’. An equally important distinction appears in tone: Donnegan tending to the neutral and descriptive, L&S looking for a register and tone through which to render the force of the Greek terms as well as what is denoted—especially clear in their treatments of the language of opprobrium and insult, the example being taken from Aristophanes’ Clouds, 443-51: one word is μιαρός, which is translated as ‘impious’ by Donnegan, but ‘brutal, coarse, blackguard’ by L&S. W. judiciously concludes that ‘translations themselves need constant revision’ ; and it should now be possible to recognize translation as ‘integral and interior to interpretation, not subsequent to it’. (W.’s suggestion that L&S influenced the ‘biblical’ translations of Homer by Butcher and Lang, and Lang, Leaf and Myers, seems at least plausible). 

In chapter three, ‘Latin in the Lexicon’, David Butterfield incisively identifies seven separate threads of how Latin is deployed throughout the Lexicon’s pages and history: to illustrate the etymology of a Greek word; to explain a Greek word transliterated directly from it; to illustrate a direct Latin derivation from a Greek word; to clarify a Greek term designed to translate or represent a specific Roman entity; to elucidate the idiom of a Greek word phrase or syntactic construction; to serve as the language of scholarship; and to avoid the undesirably direct expression of the English vernacular. B. goes on to give examples of all the instances, adding a section on ‘Latin without a Cause’—though superfluous Latin has been methodically removed in many cases throughout the ninth edition of the Lexicon; and as we know, even Oxford Classical Texts now have Prefaces in English, a trend which it would be merely outdated to attribute to the ‘indolence of the age’. The final chapter in Part One comes from Amy Coker’s ‘Obscenity’, subtitled ‘A Problem for the Lexicographer’. Her first instance is ψωλή, decorously translated by L&S into Latin, which C. describes as an instance of lexicographical prudery and ‘chicanery’: but who is being tricked or deceived? Any user of L&S will certainly have enough Latin not to be puzzled (and today’s reader will have access to Jeffrey Henderson’s The Maculate Muse [1991], where the word in question is translated ‘hard-on’). C. goes on to consider (i) the nineteenth century context, (ii) plain speaking in the vernacular; English words in the Lexicon, (iii and iv) overt and covert markers of obscenity, (v) genitalia and medical terminology. C. commends LSJ for its ‘increasingly frank and technical exposition of genitalia’, and she suggests that the use of such devices as sens. obsc. has helped to maintain the longevity of the Lexicon ‘without the need for contemporary dysphemistic terms’. C. herself does not hesitate to use vernacular terms, both in the main text and the full—and often lively—footnotes: tutors though must be glad for the work both of Henderson and J.N. Adams (The Latin Sexual Vocabulary [1982]).

Of Joshua T. Katz’s necessarily technical ‘Etymology and Etymologies in the Lexicon’ (chapter 5), it is regrettably not practical to say more than that ‘Roderick McKenzie deserves credit for largely keeping etymological nonsense out of the work … what remains is undeniably haphazard’. And ‘if there is one thing that is as exciting as a digamma, it is a labiovelar’.

The eight chapters of Part II take us into far more technical detail. Brent Vine’s ‘Incorporating new Evidence’ considers Mycenaean Greek in the Revised Supplement, and finds that there are ‘numerous omissions and inconsistencies’, especially under personal and place names: of examples given, the absence of a-qi-ti-ta , a woman’s name which ‘implies or encapsulates’ the earliest attestation of Homer’s κλέος ἄφθιτον is notable. Specialists will note, too, that Grassmann’s Law is invalidated by such a form as kotono-o-ko, with its internal hiatus, and indicates the likelihood of its being a post-Mycenaean innovation for Greece, separately from the Law in Indic. V. goes on to adduce numerous omissions under nine headings. However, V. accepts the high overall level of accuracy achieved in over 300 lexical items of Mycenaean lexical items and he believes that—despite specialised lexica—LSJ should incorporate the ‘treasure trove of lexical riches’ provided by Mycenaean.

In chapter 7 ‘A Canonical Author: The Case of Hesiod’, Tom Mackenzie considers how LSJ compares with current beliefs about the text and dating of Hesiod. What can be learnt from recent scholarship on the nature and semantics of formulaic verse? M. also treats some idiosyncratic features of Hesiod’s poetry which are noteworthy for the lexicographer. He finds that LSJ’s occasional neglect of Hesiod stems from a wider neglect of the poet in the nineteenth century, with the result that a Hesiodic word omitted by LSJ may give an incorrect impression of its being limited to Homer. On chronology, L&S cite the Homeric Hymns before Hesiod, a view not now generally held, though the subject remains controversial (Martin West’s dating of Hesiod before the Iliad and Odyssey has not gained wide acceptance). M. takes account of papyrus discoveries, now appearing in the Supplements, and goes into detail over ἄπλατος/ἄπλαστος, where West has convincingly argued that the two words, pace LSJ, are not interchangeable: the second formation is Hesiodic, but is not cited by LSJ (there is more to this, and the 1st edition of L&S may actually be more helpful). More topics covered in interesting detail are the obscurity of early vocabulary, formulaic language, glosses, Hesiod’s ‘mistakes’, aetiologies, and personifications and figurative language. This is a notably interesting chapter and much of it is accessible to readers with only limited Greek. Your reviewer, incidentally, was introduced to the principle of Wilamowitz about linguistic rarities: einmal ist keinmal und zweimal ist immer (‘once is never and twice is ever’).

In chapter 8, Christopher Rowe’s ‘Philosophy and Linguistic Authority: The Problem of Plato’s Greek’ faces difficulties that still trouble philosophers today, and criticism of L&S or LSJ should surely be matched with sympathy. Take the central word ἀγαθός: LSJ give some 9 meanings, divided between uses referring to (a) persons and (b) things, and R. shows (via detailed argument) that LSJ gets into a muddle over τὸ ἀγαθόν: but can they be blamed? Other terms examined by R. include βλοσυρός, αὐτός, γένος, εἶδος, εἰρωνεία, ἰδέα, ψυχή, ‘all of which are central to Plato’s thinking’ (and all of them ‘difficult’). Here R. makes an important point, namely that L&S and LSJ repeatedly turn to Aristotle for supporting evidence about the supposed technical vocabulary of the ‘Platonic philosophy’, whereas ‘the tendency to read Plato through Aristotle looks distinctly odd, at any rate from a contemporary point of view’. But Plato’s thought was as elusive as it was exploratory; and L&S presumably were influenced by philosophical trends of the time. Your reviewer finds it understandable that they sought help from the more ‘down to earth’ Stagyrite. 

Elizabeth Craik (chapter 9) has made it her task in ‘Medical Vocabulary and the Hippocratic Corpus’ to assess the accuracy and usefulness pf the Lexicon in a daunting number of areas: Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Nosology, Diet and Regimen, Surgery, Gynaecology and Embryology, Scientific Theory, Ideas and Ideals. Words examined include φλέψ, ἄρθρον, μύξα, μυελός, χυλός, χυμός, φλέγμα, καῖρος, ὀργάω, ὀξύς, χλωρός, and C. finds that quite often the words are well handled in the Lexicon; however, as a result of the editors’ use of the historical principle, on occasion the interpenetration between different areas of language use is concealed, and can detract from the Lexicon’s utility and accuracy. As between medicine and other genres, there was undoubtedly a two-way process at work, with priority impossible to determine; in the case of the famous word πρόφασις in Thucydides, was he even adopting a medical term (= ‘external exciting cause’)? 

When Patrick James came to analyse the Lexicon’s ‘Greek in the New Testament’ in chapter 10, he will doubtless have considered the implications of both Liddell and Scott being (inevitably) in holy orders: of the two divines, Scott was the more actively involved, ending as Dean of Rochester; Liddell may have welcomed his lexicographical work for keeping him clear of the Tractarian controversy. This is a long chapter, which focuses on the development from the 8th edition of L&S to LSJ (when the vocabulary of Patristic texts and Byzantine literature was relocated to the Patristic Greek Lexicon—the works of e.g. Nonnus being split in two). Here I shall only sum up J.’s conclusion that LSJ’s treatment of New Testament Greek is ‘superficial, shoddy and shambolic’, an assertion justified in almost excessive detail (the lexical treatment of the Greek forms of Jesus is an example), while little or no attention was being paid to other important work in the field. Entries show the ‘idiosyncrasies of the editors suffer from having to be overly concise and isolated from other Christian texts in Greek for practical and other reasons’. (One may wonder whether doctrinal prudence coloured the editors’ approach to this area of their work.) LSJ did however show some ‘development towards relating the language of the papyri to that of the New Testament’. 

‘The Ancient, the Medieval, and the Modern in a Greek-English Lexicon, Or How To Get Your Daily “Bread” in Greek Any Day Through the Ages’—this title of Mark Janse’s chapter (number 11) says it all: bread is ἄρτος, ψωμί (not in LSJ), ψωμίον, ψωμίς, ψωμός (ψομός in a papyrus), σῖτος, σιτάρι (not in LSJ), σιτία, βουκίον (not in LSJ), πυρός. The uses are carefully explored: and today the Lord’s Prayer has ἄρτος in the Katharevousa, but ψωμί in the Demotic. Those seeking a slightly more esoteric word will find πλακουντάριον (flatbread); indeed Book 14 of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae is devoted entirely to cakes. J. usefully presents the rather numerous lexical resources which are available to complement LSJ: see especially pp. 184-5. Your reviewer could not help noting that a historical lexicon of Modern Greek has reached Delta—after eighty-three years.

In chapter 12, Philomen Probert considers ‘Greek Dialects in the Lexicon’. This (rewarding) chapter, which is highly technical—but perfectly clear and replete with examples—makes for difficult reading: in particular she looks at LSJ’s practice, which is by no means straightforward, because LSJ does not consider any one form of Greek—as it might be, Attic—as ‘basic’. Instead, LSJ ‘operates with the notion of a normal or default form’, thereby making a judgment. ‘The general principle is … the main, most informative dictionary entry will have a  non-Aeolic or non-Doric form as its headword wherever one can reasonably be produced, such as transforming πεδ- into μετα-’. Then is Attic the basic dialect?  If one takes ‘literary’ Attic as the default dialect we are ‘closer to LSJ’s actual practice’—but P. shows that it does not quite work. Rather, by designating a form as the ‘common form’ or choosing it as the ‘basic dictionary entry, LSJ makes a judgment about the wide availability of the form in principle, not about its actual attestation’. P. suggests that this approach may be derived from the didactic tradition in Victorian England; she does not say, but may have thought, that a lexicon cannot be expected to do all the work for its users. 

In the final chapter of Part II, ‘Cunning and Chaos: μῆτις’, Evelien Bracke takes a critical look at how the word in question has been handled by lexicographers past and present, and especially by our lexicon from L&S to LSJ. This is a chapter of notable interest and instruction, as B. examines the word’s ‘referential field’ (she does not use the term) through the editions: at any given usage is ‘ability’ or ‘application’ intended? And does it have a good—or bad—or ambiguous connotation or denotation? Think only of πολύμητις Odysseus. Moreover, B. has a concern that L&S’s major weakness is that its translations ‘do not always engage directly with the Greek but are often translations from the German’ (sc. of Passow, who gives ten translations for μῆτις, or Schneider). B. also briefly considers the approach to μῆτις, not based on LSJ, of the modern dictionaries of Montanari (Italian) and the Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (itself based on Montanari). Montanari has ‘not taken any radical steps away from LSJ’, while Brill’s version is almost a word-for word translation of Montanari. Rather tellingly, B. points out that lexical entries have changed little since the Thesaurus of Stephanus in 1572; on the other hand, we can look forward to an ‘immense improvement on LSJ when the Cambridge Greek Lexicon appears’. B. regrets L&S’s insistence on translations drawn from the Anglo-Saxon word stock; but is the alternative much better? ‘The term μῆτις, owing to its fluidity and dependence on narratorial voices, will continue to resist definition’: just so—this is, after all, one reason why Greek is worth reading.

Part III opens, in chapter 14, with Michael Clarke ‘Looking for Unity in a Dictionary Entry: A Perspective from Prototype Theory’. Your reviewer believes that he understood—in outline, at least—what C. is proposing, pitiful though his acquaintance is with the Sapir-Whorf problem of incommensurate semantic structures in the language: things become clearer when C. looks at one word: αἰών. The word means: A: Period of existence (with seven sub-divisions); and B: Spinal marrow. C. demonstrates this concept schematically by putting (J. Chadwick’s example from his Lexicographica Graeca) μένος in a balloon out of which 17 smaller balloons, including subdivisions, sprout: the result is admirably clear, but obviously unfeasible for a lexicon. The concept is developed further, but cannot unfortunately be considered here in the detail that is called for: the result could be a lexicon constructed upon new (non-alphabetic) lines. 

With ‘Discourse Particles in LSJ; A Fresh Look at γε’, David Goldstein’s chapter 15 caters for those who remain unsatisfied by over a column in LSJ and 48 pages in Denniston’s Greek Particles. As a ‘scalar operator’ the particle has at least three readings: superlative modifier, scalar exclusive, particularizer: yet the question of a Gesamtbedeutung (‘overall meaning’) remains, and more research is called for. 

In his short but pointed chapter 16, ‘LSJ and the Diachronic Taxonomy of the Greek Vocabulary’, James Clackson makes a good case for arguing that ‘changes in the intellectual climate and religious belief seem to have become important elements in the way in which the world was represented within the Greek lexicon’: might a Historical Thesaurus of Greek provide a more complete resource? In ‘Literary Lexicography’, Michael Silk’s lengthy chapter 17, we are reacquainted with his ‘iconym’, exemplified via πέμφιξ, a word which basically and medically (Galen) means ‘blister’ (as it still does today), but which has completely different meanings in nine occurrences in Aeschylus, Ibycus, Sophocles and Hellenistic poetry. This is explored to good effect; but whether future lexicographers will follow his 20 ‘practical’ (pp .326-8) recommendations—prescriptions, rather—only time will tell.

Part IV opens with chapter 18, and Michael Meier-Bruegger’s ‘Lessons Learned During my Time at the Lexicon des fruehgriechischen Epos. He reasonably points out that a ‘wealth of new data is now available: Mycenaean forms, Proto- Indo-European reconstructions, new textual additions and lexica devoted to particular periods and varieties of the language. A new Greek-English lexicon that includes all this in electronic form would be desirable, but is not yet in sight’. Thus LSJ remains ‘the best available Greek-English lexicon’. 

Chapter 19 will be considered later; in her long chapter 20, Anne Thompson uses βάπτω as an ‘Illustration of the State of our Ancient Greek Dictionaries’. It is possible here only to state that her recommendations follow, in slightly more detail, those that we have seen made already by other contributors, though ‘vocabulary has been very neglected by comparison’ (sc. with other desiderata): but shall we get what Hugh Lloyd-Jones called for in 1996 (p. 394), namely a permanent body of well-qualified scholars engaged not only in scrutinizing new material, but in a thorough revision of the entire body of the Lexicon’? Twenty-three years have passed, and Utopia remains as remote as ever. 

Chapter 21 shows John Considine comparing (and contrasting) ‘Liddell and Scott and the Oxford English Dictionary. It is reasonable to assume that we are all familiar with these two famous works: now could the ‘electronic OED’ become a model for the on-screen presentation of entries in the forthcoming Cambridge Greek Lexicon (or LSJ itself, as Lloyd-Jones implied in 1996)? The OED had originally depended for its lexicography ‘entirely on Liddell and Scott’ (Aarsleff, 1962): might, in a sense, the resources of modern technology bring them together again in a completely new manner?

Chapter 19, by Martin West, is titled ‘Diminishing Returns and new Challenges’. He was himself involved in both of LSJ’s Supplements, and implicitly turns down, as simply impracticable, some of the more grandiose ideas mentioned above in this review: future gains will be minor—after all, anyone with LSJ will ‘still be quite well-equipped’. However, W. then goes on to give three ‘specimen entries in an imagined Poetic Lexicon of Classical Greek. The three entries are for ἆ, αἰδοῖος, and ἀτή. These take up 8 full pages of type, in which W. has ‘given a glimpse of something that someone might aim at some time in the future’. By themselves, they constitute ample justification for buying this volume, because we have been given a masterclass in lexicography by one of the world’s leading scholars.

The contributions are followed by a bibliography, a Greek index, and a general index. The book contains 24 illustrations (some of them rather ‘muddy’) of items mainly from LSJ or Passow, and a list of contributors. Production values are high, and the editors are to be warmly commended on their successful completion of what was surely a most arduous task.

Colin Leach

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