Review of the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary for General Users & for Researchers in Mycenaean Linear B: Click cover to order


Morwood, James & Taylor, John, eds. Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary. Oxford, New York etc.: Oxford University Press, © 2002. xii, 449 pp. ISBN 13:978-0-19-860512-6

I just bought the Pocket Oxford Classical Greek Dictionary yesterday, and I can tell you I am fairly pleased with it. It has its drawbacks. The most notable of these is found in the paucity of vocabulary in the English-Greek section, pp. 357-431, which contains only about 5,000 words. Such a lexicon is probably more than adequate for beginners in ancient Greek, at whom this dictionary appears to be mainly aimed, though I cannot say that for sure. On the other hand, the English-Greek section is prefaced with a glossary of proper names, pp. 357-365, which is quite useful to Graecophiles, whether they be beginners or not. The pronunciation guide for the ancient Greek alphabet, pp. ix-xii, is the one of the best I have ever encountered, as it takes into consideration not only Classical Attic, but also early Homeric pronunciation. This feature has real implications for theoretical considerations, as well as practical applications of pronunciation, for not only the Mycenaean Linear B syllabary, but the Arcado-Cypriot syllabary as well, as you shall soon discover for yourselves on upcoming posts on our blog relevant to Mycenaean Linear B and Arcado-Cypriot orthography, considerations that have to date been largely overlooked by linguists, translators and researchers in the field of the archaic Greek dialects, Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot. 

The dictionary also features an appendix of Numerals (pp. 433-435), although it is very basic, as well as appendix of the elementary conjugational paradigms for the “Top 101 irregular verbs ” (pp. 436-447), as arbitrary yet as eminently useful as any other so-called basic table of the top ancient Greek verbs. While persons at the intermediate or advanced level in ancient Greek will find this table inadequate, it is more than adequate for beginners. The dictionary also has a generic map of ancient Greece on pp. 448 & 449, which once again serves its purpose well enough for beginners, but is less than adequate for persons more familiar with ancient Greek. This, however, is understandable for an introductory dictionary for ancient Greek, which we can be sure is all it claims to be, especially in light of the fact that Oxford University Press has had the prescience to co-publish both An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon and an Abridged Greek-English Lexicon, the latter presumably aimed at scholars proficient in ancient Greek. I look forward to reviewing the latter two dictionaries later on, once I have come up with the resources to purchase them.

Of course, this dictionary also has its strengths, which the editors were careful to make the most of. These are:

(1) The Greek-English section, the first in the dictionary, is much more comprehensive than the English-Greek, containing far in excess of 5,000 words and phrases. The editors have even taken into account early Homeric Greek vocabulary to complement the Classical Attic. While the entries in the Greek-English section are not as heavily annotated as they otherwise are in an advanced ancient Greek dictionary such as the Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddell & Scott (1986), I would argue that too much lexical, grammatical and etymological information would amount to nothing less than overkill in a basic ancient Greek dictionary such as this one. Aficionados with advanced knowledge of ancient Greek, being perfectly aware of this, always have recourse to more sophisticated tools for translation and research, including Liddell and Scott, as well as the numerous online lexical resources available at the Perseus Catalog, here:

perseus catalog
(2a) The font is quite large and eminently readable. This is an extremely important consideration in the compilation of any Greek dictionary, ancient or modern, given that Greek accents (acute, grave & circumflex) and especially the initial breathings, soft or unaspirated () and aspirated (), as well as the numerous compound accents, are so annoyingly difficult to see in small font. The editors of this dictionary are to be congratulated for having the foresight to realize this. If there is anything I cannot stand, it is the use of fonts which are too small to adequately display (ancient) Greek accents. Sadly, most editors of ancient Greek dictionaries and lexicons blithely ignore this most paramount of considerations in the format and presentation of entries. Even the eminently renowned Greek-English Lexicon (1986) by Liddell and Scott, the very last Greek dictionary which should be guilty of this practice, makes use of a font far too small for readers to easily read accents, even those with good reading vision. To my mind, this falls just short of being unforgivable, unless the editors of any such dictionary or lexicon passed over the issue of adequate font size by sheer oversight – something I find quite difficult to swallow. So a word to the wise. If the editors of an inexpensive paperback dictionary could make a real effort to make certain the entries would be readable off the top, why wouldn’t – or shall we say, shouldn’t – the editors of top-end hard-cover dictionaries and lexicons take the same trouble? This is even more obvious when the publisher of the inexpensive editions is the same one as the one for the expensive, hard-bound ones – by which I mean Oxford University Press, in this particular instance.

(2b) In the Greek-English section, the Greek entries are in bold, set in Greek 486 Polytonic, while in the English-Greek section the English entries are in Monotype Arial bold, so that they stand out very clearly on the page. Once again, kudos to the editors.

(3) Likewise, the layout of the entries, at 1.5 line spacing, in both the Greek-English and the English-Greek sections is very attractive. 

(4) Throughout the dictionary, the alphabetical entries are flagged with gray tags running vertically down the page, from left to right from alpha to omega in the Greek-English section, and from a to z in the English-Greek. Once again, a big plus.

To summarize, this Greek-English, English-Greek dictionary of ancient Greek, in its physical layout and format, including all font formatting, is very pleasing to the eyes, hence, much easier to consult than practically any other ancient Greek dictionary I have ever encountered in print. The English-Greek section is woefully inadequate for anything but the most basic of ancient Greek vocabulary, so that even beginners are bound to outstrip its usefulness very quickly.

On the other hand, the Greek-English section is more than sufficient for the needs of beginners, and adequate for those scholars at the intermediate level in ancient Greek studies and literature. Given its reasonable price, $17.95 USD, I would recommend it for students who are also beginners in Mycenaean Linear B or Arcado-Cypriot Linear C, given the very restricted lexical base of both these archaic Greek dialects. On the other hand, it is readily apparent that this dictionary alone cannot possibly serve as the sole resource for researchers in Mycenaean and Arcado-Cypriot Greek. It must be complemented by other resources, such as:
1. Chris Tselentis’ thorough Lexicon of Linear B, available free online in PDF.
2. Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B (second edition). Cambridge University Press, © 1970 x, 164 pp.
3. Palmer, R.L. & Chadwick, John, eds. The Proceedings of the Cambridge Colloquium on Mycenaean Studies. Cambridge University Press, © 1966. 309 (310) pp. First paperback edition, © 2011. ISBN 978-1-107-40246-1 (pbk.)
4. A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World. Volume 3. Peeters: Louvain-La-Neuve: Bibliothèque des cahiers de l’institut de linguistique de Louvain. © 2014. 292+ pp. ISBN 978-2-7584-0192-6 (France)   

I leave aside any comparison with online dictionaries and lexicons in the same class, preferring not to compare apples with oranges.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5

Richard Vallance Janke
April 2015