Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Suidas: Stronghold of Learning

Albrecht Durer's illustration for a copy of the Lexicon
The Catholic Encyclopedia says of Soudas/Suidas:
Author of, perhaps, the most important Greek lexicon or encyclopedia. Nothing is known of Suidas except that he lived about the middle of the tenth century, apparently at Constantinople, and that he was probably an ecclesiastical person devoted to literary studies. [source]
There's reason to believe, however, that he didn't exist, and that what we think is the name of an author/compiler of the encyclopedia was the Byzantine Greek word for "stronghold" or "fortress" and was meant to refer to the work itself as a stronghold of learning. In lieu of definitive data on the author, the work is usually called "Suidas' Lexicon" or the Lexicon Graecum [Latin: Greek lexicon].

The Lexicon has two chief parts: a list of word meanings and origins (with quotations), and a history of the classical world with names and events and passages from works that would otherwise be totally lost to us.

The illustration above is from a 1499 edition of the lexicon and heads (appropriately) the first section of "alpha" words.* The first entry is the exclamation "A" and the example is given as:
In Aristophanes an adverb accompanying surprise and command. "Ah! ah! Don't get that torch near me!" [source]
The lexicon can be found online, translated and heavily annotated, for those interested in seeing what a thousand-year-old lexicon looks like. Go here and click the link "Entire list of entries."

*Interestingly, the lexicon is in alphabetical order, but not the alphabetical order we would expect, even if we are familiar with the Greek alphabet. Someday I'll get around to a post on antistoichia.

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