Resource Reviews: Thesaurus Linguae LatinaeApril 23, 2010
This week I’m starting a regular series of reviews of useful reference works – in print and online – in classics. My main guides for what I review will be resources we own at UGA, and the recent (2006) handbook by Fred W. Jenkins, Classical Studies: A Guide to the Reference Literature. (I bought my own copy, since my office is in a branch building, and it’s a steep hike to the copy on the shelf in the Main Library!) My goal is to have a post a week, probably usually on Fridays, and work my way through the topics. Jenkins covers areas of Classics I know very well indeed (art and archaeology) and areas where I might as well be an undergraduate (ancient philosophy, latin literature).
So I’ll start with one of the basic resources for latin language: the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. This is item 520 in Jenkins, described by him as “the best and fullest source available for the study of Latin lexicography.” It is an exhaustive dictionary of latin, with definitions and attestations of each word. It was begun in 1894, and has, as of 2009, completed the letter “P”, and covers all words in Latin from the earliest attestations down to about 600CE. More details about the ongoing work (conducted by about 20 scholars based at the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften) are available at the project’s web site.
UGA has the print volumes in the Main Library Reference Area. I don’t believe the library ever purchased the CD-Rom version; there was an extensive review of it by Peter Heslin in BMCR in 2006. TLL is now available for purchase in an online interface from De Gruyter (also available in a package with the Bibliotheca Teubneriana Latina (BTL)); the cost is not within UGA’s straitened budget at the moment. I evaluated a trial version and found that the content was identical to the print volumes, and it is both browseable by volume and fascicle and searchable. Cross-references are hotlinked, and if one purchases the TLL and the BTL together they mesh well. The interface is not especially attractive or clean-looking but it is fairly straightforward to use. Help documentation is available as a downloadable .pdf file, and the site suggests installing a special TLL font (although it seemed to work just fine without it).
The TLL is not for most undergraduates – it uses specialized vocabulary, is entirely in Latin (well, there is some Greek in the etymologies!), and would be more perplexing than useful for students simply looking for translations or definitions of words. For the scholar interested in usage, whether honors thesis writer, graduate student, or faculty member, it is essential. I had a phone call last fall from a graduate student at the Main library, in distress that TLL ended at P, and asking what he should do, since the word he wanted to look up started with S! Short of waiting some 30 years until TLL gets to S, Jenkins suggests the Oxford Latin Dictionary.