How I write greek-greek definitions

There’s an excellent Latin<>Latin dictionary available online, Forcellini. But there isn’t a good Ancient Greek one.

There is Emiliano Caruso’s Monolingual Dictionary of Ancient Greek, which is hard to get, and expensive, but good from all I hear. But also entirely physical.

So, there’s a gap here, isn’t there. It would be useful, incredibly useful, to be able to provide Greek definitions of Greek terms, especially for learners wanting to use more L2 and less L1.

I’ve done some work on this piecemeal before, but now I’m tackling it a bit more systematically, to fit in with both data work with James Tauber, but also teaching with Athenaze. So I’m working through the Italian Athenaze, trying to generate slides for vocabulary items, that include (a) pictures, (b) a Latin gloss, (c) English gloss, and (d) Greek definition.

But how does one write a Greek definition?

Here’s some of my tricks:

(1) Getting a good sense of the word, using GE (Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek), LSJ.

(2) Looking at a number of comparable English terms in the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary. And seeing how they compose simple definitions.

(3) Making use of Latin>English and English>Greek lexica to get a sense of other Greek words I’ll need to write a definition.

(4) Checking on the usage of those other Greek words, to make sure I’m not misusing those in the definition.

(5) Writing the definition.


Here’s a very brief sample of the kind of stuff I’m working on, just on the definition side of thing:

βίος ὄνομα τὸ ὑπάρχειν ζῶντος, ἢ ἀνθρώπου ἢ ζῴου
οἶκος ὄνομα τόπος ἢ οἴκημα ἐν ᾧ ὅστις οἰκεῖ ἢ βιῶ
ἥλιος ὄνομα ὁ ἀστὴρ ὃς τὴν γῆν φωτίζει τε καὶ θερμαίνει
σῖτος ὄνομα σπέρμα τι ἐκ οὗ ἄνθρωποι ἄλευρα, ἔπειτα ἄρτον, ποιοῦσιν
γεωργός ὄνομα ἄνθρωπος ὃς τὴν γῆν γεωργεῖ ἢ κλῆρον ἔχει ἐν ᾧ ἐργάζεται
κλῆρος ὄνομα (1) ὃ κατὰ τύχην νέμεται. (2) μέρος χώρᾱς κατὰ κλῆρον νέμεται
ἀγρός ὄνομα μέρος τῆς χώρᾱς ἐν ᾧ ἄνθρωπος σῖτον ποιεῖ ἢ ζῷα φύλαττει
αὐτουργός ὄνομα ἄνθρωπος ὃς αὐτὸς κλῆρον ἑαυτοῦ γεωργεῖ
λίθος ὄνομα ὕλη ἢ σύστασις σκληρά, ἣ ἐν τῇ γῇ κεῖται
μόσχος ὄνομα βοῦς νεός
πόνος ὄνομα τὸ ἐργάζεσθαι, χαλεπῶς καὶ πολὺν χρόνον

8 responses

  1. Pingback: How I write greek-greek definitions — The Patrologist | Talmidimblogging

    • Hmm, I don’t think there’s a singular answer to that. But it also plays into ‘what’s a star?’ and what they thought fit into the category of ἀστήρ which may also not map to our definition of ‘star’.
      But also I wasn’t planning to write ‘definitions that only fit an ancient understanding of the world’.

  2. What about Hesychius?

    βίος. ζωή. περιουσία

    Much shorter, but does a longer definition that already use the words ζῶντος and ζῴου really help more than simply listing ζωή as a synonym?

    • Sure, it works. I think there are multiple ways to ‘solve’ definition writing, and it depends partly on purpose. My purpose isn’t exactly to write definitions that are the simplest possible. That is, I’m not bothered by the definition having some degree of complexity.

  3. Ευ, ευ, ευγε, ευγε, ω φιλε Σεαμα! I’m glad you’re doing this. I’ve long felt such resources are helpful in learning. I’ve been reading Rouse’s edition of Lucian’s Dialogues, and found his Greek to Greek definitions of the vocabulary very helpful. Most of the time, I can follow them with no problem.

    Here’s a couple more possible resources you may have overlooked:

    Latin to Greek dictionary (Greek from Attic authors):

    Hederick, A. Benjamin, Gustav Pinzger, and Francisco Passovio, eds. Novum Lexicon Manuale Graeco-Latinum et Latino-Graecum. Editio Quinta. Tomus Posterior. Lexicon Latino-Graecum. A—Z. Leipzig, 1827. Adobe PDF edition, Google Books. Link:

    This set also has a Greek to Latin section. I believe I shared the set with you once upon a time via my Dropbox.

    Greek to Greek dictionary: Ancient to Modern Greek (Katharevousa), adapted from LSJ. Known as the LSK after its editor, Anestis Konstantinidis, who translated the LSJ into Modern Greek in 1904.

    4 vols. Link on for vols. 1 and 2:“Knstantinids%2C+Anests%2C+1846-1901”

    Vols. 3 and 4: (from a different site):

    Note: vols. 1 and 2 are in two separate pdf files; vols. 3 and 4 are in one big pdf file.

    Textkit discussion thread about the pros/cons of the LSK:

    I have used the Latin to Greek one. I have the LSK but haven’t used it yet. While I am not fluent in Modern Greek, I think I could use it. A while back I downloaded and browsed a grammar of ancient Greek written in Modern Greek. I was able to find my way around and at least get the gist of the discussions. Since I also have LSJ and use it frequently, I think it would be easy enough to use LSK.