Ancient Lit. SpotLight #1: The Suda

The Ancient Lit. SpotLight series is designed to introduce works of Judaism, Christianity, paganism, and Gnosticism to a wider audience, in hopes of increasing awareness of the religious and philosophical thought of the ancient Mediterranean world.

With the above goal in mind, there are few texts better to begin our exploration with than the Suda.

 

 

 

 


Description of the text:

The Suda (or Souda; Greek: Σοῦδα) is a massive 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia featuring a staggering 31,000+ entries.  The encyclopedia draws from a variety of sources including the records of Christian historians, and a host of ancient works now considered lost.  In reality, the text is partly an encyclopedia, and partly a grammatical dictionary; it provides not only valuable information on historical personalities, but on the definitions and etymological pedigree of ancient words.  Because of this, the Suda now provides unparalleled access to the ancient Mediterranean world.

Dating and Authorship:

Information about the compilation of the Suda is scarce.  Eustathius (c. 1115-1195 CE), Archbishop of Thessalonica, made much use of the work; it therefore dates to sometime before his quotations.  On the other hand, due to the contents of the entries regarding the reigns of emperors, we can date the compilation of the Suda to sometime after the year 975 CE.  Eustathius erroneously attributed the text to the pen of one “Suidas”, after mistaking the name of the encyclopedia for an author.  The name “Suidas” likely stems from the Greek word “souda” which translates to “stronghold.”  Due to the emphasis on biblical topics, most have concluded the writer was a Christian of some sort.

Content and Points of Interest:

The entries of the Suda are organized alphabetically.  Some entries are enhanced by pictures or diagrams, while others exhibit only a few lines of the most condense and essential information about a subject.  The Suda is especially helpful in bringing to light information about the political world of the Eastern empire through the tenth century.  Two major historical sources which the text relies upon have been identified: the encyclopedia of emperor Constantine VII (compiled during his reign 912-959 CE), and the writings of John of Antioch (429-441 CE).  While many of the Suda’s entries contain suspect or demonstrably unreliable information, they are often our only sources on some ancient figures.

In 1499, Demetrius Chalcondylas published the Greek text of the Suda as the Lexicon Graecum.  This was the largest one-volume Greek text published in 15th century.  One can view a digital reproduction of this Greek text here.
lexicon-graecum-latin  lexicon-graecum-latin2

In 1998, even before the founding of Wikipedia (2001), an online collaboration project was launched to translate the Suda into English for the first time.  Organized by the Stoa Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Humanities, the project required a careful submission and vetting process.  Finally, in August 2014, the Stoa Consortium announced that the last of the 31,000+ entries had been translated.  The result was a freely accessible, and completely searchable, English edition of the Suda online, which can be accessed here.  The project not only opened the Suda to a wider audience, but demonstrated the power of technology in scholarly collaboration.

Links:

Suda Online: Byzantine Lexicography (http://www.stoa.org/sol/)

The history of the Suda Online project (http://www.stoa.org/sol/history.shtml)

Digital facsimilie of the Demetrius Chalcondylas’ Lexicon Graecum (http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0005/bsb00050756/images/index.html?id=00050756&groesser=&fip=193.174.98.30&no=&seite=1)

Images and notes on the three copies of the Lexicon Graecum housed at the University of Glasgow (http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/incunabula/a-zofauthorsa-j/be.1.8%20+%20bd9-b.11%20+%20bl10-c.11/)

 

 

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