29 June 2021

Doctor Diggle's Dictionary (1)

With great panache, the Classics Faculty in the University of Cambridge has announced the publication of a new Lexicon of Classical Greek. Slightly curiously, the interconnected main arguments it has put forward for this step are that (1) if you look up in this new Cambridge Greek Lexicon terms with sexual or excremental references, you will find yourself reading English words such as 'shit' or 'fuck', rather than genteel circumlocutions; and (2) the lexicon which it is designed to replace is 'Victorian'. 

Henceforth in this post, I shall follow my usual nervous, 'asteriscal', custom of writing s**t and f**k. But, given the bravura with which Dr Diggle has splashed his own lexicographical preferences around the commentariate, I make no apology for having, at the beginning of my comments, followed his very decisive example of fully frontal vulgarity.

Dr James Diggle is a very distinguished Cambridge Classicist. He was, perhaps, at the top of his game in the 1980s, when he produced a three volume edition of the plays of Euripides for the Oxford Classical Texts series. It is a fine piece of work. Some of the problems encountered in editing Greek plays are like those which crop up in dealing with Shakeseare ... involving matters such as variant editions resulting from mss which respond to stage performances or rehearsals. But what the woman or man in the street will at once notice is that the Diggle Euripides employs the 'lunate sigma'. 

This way of writing the Greek letter S had become popular among those who edit fragmentary texts for publication: the old orthographic habit of having a different sigma for the ends from words is problematic when a papyrologist does not know whether the sigma in a tiny scrap came in the middle, or at the end, of a word. And after all, the Greek you find in Christian mosaics and Uncial mss only had one ... the lunate ... sigma: sigma written like an English letter C. Hence, the Diggle Euripides was 'lunate' (so, indeed, was the personal practice of my own Mods tutor, Margaret Hubbard, who infected me with it).

But (was Diggle overruled by colleagues or publisher?) the CGL is, sigmatically, conventional ... indeed, 'Victorian'!

The 1980s were also marked by Diggle's tenure of the role of Orator of his University. This enabled him to have light-hearted, hilarious, but learned fun ...

... which leads me on to my next piece.


william arthurs said...

This has had an effect on the second-hand value of Liddell & Scott. I recently bought one for £4 in Very Good near Fine condition from a Christian bookshop. Previously owned by a vicar, it appeared to have been referred to on one occasion alone, to look up the word ekklesia.

If only a dictionary definition could resolve the problems of ecclesiology once and for all!

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

One of the "flaws" of the L & S was that it lacked any Aristotelian vocabulary, so I'm glad about this aspect of the new lexicon.