Free Digital Resources for Classicists, including the New Online Version of Liddell and Scott (LSJ)

Here are some quick notes on online resources, particularly from the perspective of someone in the UK who is outside the university system, and therefore looking for materials with free access.

In my last blog post I promised a piece about Raoul Schrott and his theory that both Homer, and Troy were located in Southern Turkey. However, I appear to have thrown away my notes on the Innsbruck University Symposium on the topic. In due course I will write something from memory, and whatever I can find. For now, the loss of my notes his led me on to want to write something about paperless resources in Classics: owning little and travelling a lot means I am heavily dependent on electronic resources. Without the Net my lifestyle would be impossible. It seemed worth sharing some thoughts about what is out there, and how to get hold of it for those who do not have institutional access (where that is possible at all).

Library access in the UK and electronic resources

It is true that I have access to libraries. Indeed, access to the British Library is all too democratic, since it is quite easy to get a reader’s card these days. That would be acceptable except that seats fill up, and there can interminable queues to collect books one has ordered. Once you are through the door of the reading rooms at the BL various electronic resources are open to you. In the case of certain expensive business and legal resources a member of staff has to put in a password for you. The same is true in the Bodleian (or was last time I visited). However, at UCL former students who obtain a library card are locked out of the computer system, which is annoying. However, libraries which offer off-site access to holders of readers’ cards are few.

Some UK public libraries are good for offsite access to press and certain reference works in English and modern languages. Just how good your library is, is a postcode lottery. Things are done differently in Germany: national licences for academic databases provide all German residents with a range of goodies beyond the dreams of any local UK public library. Howver the system is not particularly strong for Classics. Switzerland and Austria do not have this kind of arrangement, as far as I can discover. For everyone, regardless of residence, the London-based Wellcome Institute Library will give a card to anyone (in principle) and is rather generous with offline access to expensive resources. A pity they do not have better coverage of Classics! Their interpretatin of their field (history of medicine) is fairly broad: on that basis, maybe they could and would acquire more Classics resources.

Primary and secondary texts for classicists

Perseus offer a good range of texts, albeit without apparatus, and not necessarily in the edition you would choose. There are other online texts. For example, computer scientist Sean Palmer (whose website attests an astonishing range of interests) has attempted to provide a relatively up-to-date and complete text of Sappho online, with translations. Wikisource is in the process of publishing online Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (RE) but it is at an early stage.

Epigraphy, papyrology, and manuscripts

There are several databases for epigraphy. They are somewhat impenetrable to the non-epigrapher, partly because of the patchy coverage which is nowhere explained in an accessible manner. However, epigraphy in general is like that. There are several lists on the Net of what is available, but none of them hold your hand and lead you through it. I wanted to read graffiti from Pompeii. Ultimately it appears that the relevant volume of CIL is not digitised, free or otherwise. There is some material on Epigraphic Database Roma (which temptingly has links for versions of the site in languages other than Italian, none of which are live). The material which is there has little more than the bare text. It appears that these database are there to lead the electronic searcher to the correct volume, rather than to replace having a good library to hand. Other epigraphic databases apparently offer images supplementary to the material in the book version.

The situation with Greek papyrology is very much better. contains in some cases the kind of material one would expect in a published book. It is not merely ancillary to the book format: the website even invites suggested emendations of texts, to enable collaborative editing. And it is free.

It is fun to have digital images of a number of ancient manuscripts in minuscule offered by several libraries, notably for Classics the Greek manuscripts online from the British Library. A search brings up three works by Pseudo-Nonnus: I am not sure who is going to sit down and read them (though it tells you something about the importance of Nonnus!). Some of the images are no doubt useful for practicing one’s manuscript-reading skills, and useful if you happen to be working on a text which is included.

Downloading and breach of copyright

I won’t go into what may or may not be available for download, possibly breaching copyright. Somehow I feel that students should not have breach copyright in order to get hold of books. I feel electronic resources should be accessible. Why? When UK university courses are set to become a privilege for the modestly wealthy, why should electronic resources not be similarly restricted to the well off? Arguments would be easy to find, but (for me) convictions are less easy to find. Google Books appears to breach copyright with effective impunity, and I have no difficulty in recommending Google Books, not only as a source for old and out of print works on Classics (though it is great for that). The rules are different for a multi-national corporation, and we must all be grateful to Google.

Dictionaries for classicists

The free TLG search program Diogenes now comes bundled with the Perseus versions of Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, and Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon for offline use. A pity there is nothing similar for Oxford Latin Dictionary: a paid version was promised by Libronix-Logos but does not seem to have appeared.

The new LSJ from TLG

I would particularly commended the new online version of Liddell and Scott (LSJ), which appeared earlier this year on the website of Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG). It is said to be corrected, unlike the Perseus version. There is a brief history of the TLG version of LSJ on the TLG website. It brings up the context of each quotation from the TLG database, even for non-subscribers. The ability to search definition text may also be useful, particularly to writers of Greek verse and prose (though I daresay most academics have better things to with their time than write verse like Sophocles, as schoolteachers of yore did).

Miscellaneous materials

This is a fast moving field. There are projects which will render this post obsolete fairly soon, I hope. I have not attempted to cover archaeological materials, or non-Greek and Roman materials. The Stoa Consortium website is a good place to look for links for more Greek and Roman-related websites. It was there I found the Online Suda, which I have not used yet, but no doubt will be using.

For more systematic coverage of what is available on the Net, turn to the Intute Classics page. This is an admirable resource, although according their website JISC has withdrawn funding, and it will not be kept up to date. In Germany (as noted above) the state just gets on and does what is required, quietly. The rhetoric of ‘Digital Britain,’ on the other hand, (like the rhetoric of ‘Education, Education, Education!’ before it), is like a snow storm, whereas the un-thought-through consequences of decisions which seemed good at the time will be like an Iliad. (My future post on rising university fees in England is still embryonic!).

There is a wider question about why any academic monograph should have to appear in a very expensive hardback, when it might suit universities and library budgets better to provide a version for electronic book readers such as Kindle. That will come, no doubt. Those outside the university system, like the scholars and readers formerly behind the Iron curtain, and in other under-funded places, must enjoy what is available. The offering is pretty good.

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