June 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

One-Volume Classical Dictionaries

July 12, 2012
Tim Smith

Alden Library’s Reference Collection (on the 2nd floor) now has the brand new 4th edition of the long-time standard work, the Oxford Classical Dictionary. The publisher’s blurb claims that ”the fourth edition of this established dictionary offers entries on all aspects of the classical world. With reception and anthropology as new focus areas and numerous new entries, it is an essential reference work for students, scholars, and teachers of classics and for anyone with an interest in the classical era.”

In our modern, graphics-oriented world, the last paragraph in the Preface has a self-consciously old-fashioned tone:

As with the last edition, we have resisted the proposition that the OCD would be more useful if provided with maps of the ancient world, plans and other illustrative matter. The chief justification for a continued austerity remains the aim of keeping faith with the original concept of OCD, namely, to provide the reader with a classical work of reference combining authority and comprehensiveness within a single volume.

By way of contrast, the relatively recent (2006) Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization, though explicitly disavowing any aim to compete with the OCD, is copiously illustrated with photos, maps, diagrams, etc. Also, the editors of this volume also pointedly include a list of hundreds of headwords that do not appear in the OCD.

At the moment, both of these volumes are available only in print format. The 2003 third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary is available online. Other online reference sources for Classics are listed in my Subject Guide for Classics.

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