Adventures in LSJ: From J to Cypriot Epigraphy

One of the many current things occupying my overfull plate is trawling through betacode entries of LSJ headwords to sort out things that are ‘odd’. And LSJ has some odd things. Like


Why is there a j there? That ain’t no Greek letter. So off we go to the print version.

The print version of LSJ is a host of mysteries, and mystery resolution. Most mysteries are far less interesting than this one. Lo and behold, there is a j in the entry. It’s not a typo in LSJ, and it’s not a typo in the data-entry.

So next we look at the entry.

= πεδιεινός

Now, if you happen to look up the page, you see πεδινός is also listed as equivalent to πεδιεινός. So it’s also worth looking at πεδιεινός, which finally yields an actual gloss and meaning: flat, level, of the plain.

But back to πέδιjος. We clearly need to look at the source:

E. Schwyzer, Dialectorum Graecarum exempla epigraphica potiora, Leipzig 1923. 679.18 (Cyprus).

Sadly this doesn’t appear available online. A copy resides in my erstwhile institutional library, controlled by robots. But in this case an easier alternative is at hand, a more recent collection of Cypriot inscriptions (Les Inscriptions chypriotes syllabiques, O. Masson, Paris 1964 [1985 with Addenda nova]. And we are after 217, the Tablet of Idalion, B side, line 18, and this can be accessed online! (This last sleuthing by none other than J. Tauber again).

So 217 B18 gives us the syllabic transcription pe-ti-ja-i, and the alphabetic transcription πεδίjαι

And so the j represents a consonantal iota preserved in Cypriot epigraphy, and there’s no mistake in the betacode headword anyway. Thus we carry on. In my next installment of LSJ adventures, we shall discuss the mystery of the upside-down smiley face.



The interpreter’s task

The first thing an interpreter needs to do is to examine the text under consideration in order to establish the text. We call this the work of Textual Criticism.

Next, the interpreter must read the work. This involves understanding the correct phrasing of the text, and if necessary making decisions about appropriate breaks in words and phrases.

Third, the interpreter should move to analysis of the text at the level of grammar. They should explain the meaning of any difficult words, whether because they are rare, have heightened significance, or contain an ambiguity that must be discussed. They should also discuss the technical elements of grammar, illuminating any difficult constructions or explaining their sense. If the text is poetic, they should likewise give an account of its metrical features; if prose, they may give an account of elements of genre and discourse.

At this stage the interpreter may also relate the text to any historical issues, debating its relation with other historical texts, intertextuality, archaeology, and other findings of the scientific disciplines that may bear on our understanding of the text. They should also explain at the textual level the functioning of figures and tropes.

The last stage of the interpreter’s work is interpretation proper. Here they will explain not merely the meaning of the text, but its significance. What is the author’s purpose, how does the text function for its original audience, how has the text been understood and utilised since, how is it reframed in a canonical context, what is its theological significance, what does it teach us about God, Christ, and the history of salvation, how may believers today understand and appropriate it.


Does this sound like a reasonable description of, say, contemporary historico-grammatical exegesis? Because the outline I have just written is pretty much the template of literary studies in Late Antiquity. It’s what someone like Dionysius Thrax discusses briefly in his “Grammar”. It’s the methodology of that too-easily dismissed theologian, Origen. It’s a description that applies equally well to the so-called ‘Antiochene’ and ‘Alexandrian’ traditions.

I’m going to have a bit more to say on this shortly, but I am tossing around a few ideas at the moment. One is that a large chunk of what is being called ‘Nicene Culture’ is in fact just standard Late Antique literary studies, and what makes it Nicene is not as expansive as we sometimes take it for. Another is that the real difference between interpretative ‘schools’, ancient and modern, has very little to do with most of the above elements, and rather has to do with the area of interpretation of figures, tropes, and non-literal referents. More on this in a forthcoming post.

Copyright, Critical Editions, and Ancient Texts

I don’t really like Copyright. No, let me rephrase it. I think copyright is often immoral, is rarely in authors’ interests, and is primarily used to protect vested interests, not creators’ rights or interests. There are multifaceted and complex reasons for this, which I do not intend to make the main aim of my post today.

Instead I want to talk about ancient texts and copyright. Here I think the moral issue is much, much clearer. Wherever you fall on contemporary copyrights, it simply cannot be disputed that it is of no value to Socrates, Cicero, or the mysterious author of Hebrews, to assert ‘copyright’ over their works. They are gone, done and dusted, and their works rightly belong in the public domain.

(Translations are another separate issue, I’ll leave them aside.)

It’s critical editions that are the sticking point. If I read 5 manuscripts and then decide which variants to include in an edition, the current default hypothesis is that I have somehow acquired a copyright over this work. This is the practice of various monopolising bodies, whom you know well, and the overpriced and underutilised editions of ancient works they release. This is, in my view, a fairly insidious example of ‘enclosing’ the public domain. Of taking what belongs to all, and putting a fence around it and re-privatising it.

I also suspect that if put to the test, it might well fail in court. Because while there is certainly work in assembling a critical edition, and more than that, there is skilled and detailed work, there is no creative work. Nothing is added to the work, nothing remixed, nothing generated. There is no new work done. Under many countries’ copyright regimes this does not pass the standard tests for acquiring a copyright to a work. It’s about on the same level as organising word lists or printing phone books. Sheer volume of labour does not copyright make.

There is another devious way that the monopolies lock things up. Not under copyright, but under ‘terms of service’. Those malicious legalesque babellings that no-one reads because to do so would literally consume our lives in minutiae that no one genuinely has time for. Many of these could be found non-binding as well, especially those that require no ‘active’ assent beyond, say, using a website. Passive assent generally does not stand up well under legal scrutiny either.

Unfortunately the reality of our copyright tyrannies is such that few can afford to challenge such monopolies. So, like many other things in academia, closed shops and inaccessibility continues unabated. And, to be fair, I will not be the one to challenge this any time soon. I, also, have too much to lose.


Perhaps, though, there might be another way? I think there is. And that is simply to get as many public domain editions accessible as possible. To skirt and subvert these attempts to lock up ancient texts. There is, as well, the movement away from critical editions, to single manuscript editions, in some areas. These, definitively, cannot be locked up under copyright.

We live in the age of copying. The whole internet is one giant copying machine that excels at one purpose: duplication. Let’s duplicate texts so that there are so many that no one ever needs to say, “Gee, if only I could enter that locked enclosure and read that highly priced text”. Let’s make knowledge free.