In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin Lexicography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Early Modern Period

Classics Latin Lexicography
Kathleen M. Coleman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0032


Study of the lexicon of the Latin language has been pursued since at least the late Republic, but the modern scientific footing on which it rests is largely the product of 19th-century advances in the stemmatic method of textual criticism and the emergent understanding of the relationships among the Indo-European languages. Arguments about linguistic change and especially etymology and synonymity were vigorously pursued by Roman scholars such as Varro (Marcus Terentius Varro) and Verrius Flaccus (Marcus Verrius Flaccus), who were heirs to Greek philosophical theories about the relative influence of anomaly and analogy as catalysts for linguistic change. From the Antonine period onward, antiquarian impulses combined with notions of linguistic purity to prompt the collection and explication of rare or obsolete words. Collections of etymologies, many of them fanciful, and the didactic habit of compiling glosses to aid first- or second-language learners monopolized lexicographical study into the High Middle Ages. The gradual adoption of alphabetical order made it possible to treat dictionaries as works of reference. In the Renaissance the study of ancient texts was established on a more substantial foundation, and lexicography began to shed its reliance on etymology and glosses. The Early Modern period saw the development of the notion that a dictionary of classical Latin should be based on the entire range of sources, both literary and epigraphic. Such a project is finally being attempted by the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Project. Lexicographical method continues to evolve, as is evident from a comparison of earlier and later fascicles of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL), and so does our appreciation of what a really comprehensive dictionary enables us to do with Latin texts.

General Overviews

The development of Latin lexicography from Antiquity to the end of the twentieth century is surveyed in Krömer 1991a. Bertini 1981 supplies an overview down to the thirteenth century. Daly and Daly 1964 and Weijers 1989 cover lexicographical method in the High Middle Ages, and lexicography is placed within the culture of medieval libraries in Nebbiai-Della Guarda 1996. Tremblay 1988–1989 provides a catalogue of lexicographical manuscripts, Lefèvre 1981 a kaleidoscope of the place of lexicography within contemporary research on the Middle Ages, and Thiermann 1996 a survey of bilingual Greek–Latin dictionaries produced upon the discovery of ancient Greek texts in the Renaissance. Krömer 1991b surveys bilingual Latin dictionaries from the Early Modern period through the twentieth century.

  • Bertini, Ferruccio. 1981. La tradizione lessicografica latina fra Tardo Antico e Alto Medioevo. In La cultura in Italia fra tardo antico e alto medioevo: Atti del convegno tenuto a Roma, Consiglio nazionale delle Ricerche, dal 12 al 16 Novembre 1979. Vol. 1. Edited by Manlio Simonetti, 397–409. Rome: Herder.

    A brief survey of milestones in ancient and medieval lexicography, from the studies of synonyms and etymology by Prodicus of Ceos, a Sophist and contemporary of Plato, to the Catholicon of Giovanni Balbi (Johannes Balbus) in 1286. Contains useful details of the most recent scholarship at the time of publication. Reprinted in Ferruccio Bertini: Inusitata verba. Studi di lessicografia latina raccolti in occasione del suo settantesimo compleanno, edited by Paolo Gatti and Caterina Mordeglia (Trento, Italy: Università degli Studi di Trento, Dipartimento di Studi Letterari, Linguistici e Filologici), pp. 187–203.

  • Daly, Lloyd W., and B. A. Daly. 1964. Some techniques in mediaeval Latin lexicography. Speculum 39.2: 229–239.

    DOI: 10.2307/2852727

    A survey of lexicographical method in the lexica of Papias, Hugutius of Pisa, Giovanni Balbi (Johannes Balbus), and Guillelmus Brito: alphabetization, inclusion of grammatical information, and degree of precision in ascribing quotations. Includes a text and translation of the preface to Papias’s Elementarium doctrinae erudimentum (translated as “Basic introduction to education”).

  • Krömer, Dietfried. 1991a. Lateinische Lexikographie. In Wörterbücher: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Vol. 2. Edited by Franz Josef Hausmann, Oskar Reichmann, Herbert Ernst Wiegand, and Ladislav Zgusta, 1713–1722. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    Overview of Latin lexicography from its ancient predecessors in Greek lexicography, via the Middle Ages, Calepinus, Stephanus, Egidio Forcellini, and the Latin–German dictionary of Immanuel Johann Gerhard Scheller (1783), to the Thesaurus linguae Latinae and modern databanks, with a coda on lexica of medieval Latin and a select bibliography.

  • Krömer, Dietfried. 1991b. Die zweisprachige lateinische Lexikographie seit ca. 1700. In Wörterbücher: Ein internationales Handbuch zur Lexikographie. Vol. 3. Edited by Franz Josef Hausmann, Oskar Reichmann, Herbert Ernst Wiegand, and Ladislav Zgusta, 3030–3034. Berlin: De Gruyter.

    Review of bilingual Latin dictionaries, mainly Latin–German, from circa 1700 to the late twentieth century. Identifies four cardinal features of 18th-century dictionaries: sensible but impractical grouping of cognates from the same root; lavish citation of proverbs; lexicographical purity compromised by inclusion of words from medieval and neo-Latin; goal is to master Latin, not to learn its history.

  • Lefèvre, Yves, ed. 1981. La lexicographie du latin médiéval et ses rapports avec les recherches actuelles sur la civilisation du Moyen-Âge, Paris, 18–21 octobre 1978. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Proceedings of a conference celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the publication of Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis by Charles Du Fresne Du Cange (see Early Modern Period). Contains forty-two papers in six categories: linguistic problems; historical and juridical studies; philosophical, religious, and spiritual studies; sciences, arts, and technology; lexicographical methods and achievements; the legacy of Du Cange.

  • Nebbiai-Della Guarda, Donatella. 1996. Les glossaires et dictionnaires dans les bibliothèques médiévales. In Les manuscrits des lexiques et glossaires de l’antiquité tardive à la fin du Moyen Âge: Actes du colloque international organisé par le “Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture” (Erice, 23–30 septembre 1994). Edited by Jacqueline Hamesse, 145–204. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales.

    Locates medieval glossaries and dictionaries in their intellectual and historical context and within the culture of medieval libraries. Appendix contains a nineteen-page list of medieval glossaries and dictionaries arranged in alphabetical order by title with their location and (where known) author and date.

  • Thiermann, Peter. 1996. I dizionari greco-latini fra medioevo e umanesimo. In Les manuscrits des lexiques et glossaires de l’antiquité tardive à la fin du Moyen Âge: Actes du colloque international organisé par le “Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture” (Erice, 23–30 septembre 1994). Edited by Jacqueline Hamesse, 657–675. Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium: Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales.

    A synopsis of five Greek–Latin dictionaries accompanying the humanist rediscovery of ancient Greek texts, listing their incipit and explicit, extent of alphabetical arrangement, surviving manuscripts, and (where possible) ancient authors from which the lemmas were derived.

  • Tremblay, Florent A. 1988–1989. Bibliotheca lexicologiae Medii Aevi. 10 vols. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen.

    Catalogues, bibliographies, and indexes pertaining to manuscripts illustrating educational material in the Middle Ages. Volumes 7 (A–L) and 8 (M–Z) contain catalogues of lexicographical manuscripts.

  • Weijers, Olga. 1989. Lexicography in the Middle Ages. Viator 20:139–153.

    DOI: 10.1484/J.VIATOR.2.301351

    Surveys the methods of medieval lexicographers. Shows the cumbersome attempts by Papias, Osbern of Gloucester, and Hugutius of Pisa to adapt traditional glosses (lexical equivalents) to a more modern scheme that grouped derivatives together. Lists ten principles for tracing derivations. Summarizes advances in alphabetization. Analyzes medieval terms for “dictionary” to deduce the lexicographers’ aims.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.