For as long as I’ve been interested in the classics (which is a very long time), I’ve been intrigued by the medieval compilation known traditionally as “Suidas” but more properly, apparently, as the Suda (which is apparently a Latin word for ‘fortress’); I kept seeing it quoted for bits of arcane information and points of grammar. Now I discover (thanks to the terrier-like industry of aldiboronti at Wordorigins) that it’s been online since January 1998, with more and more of its entries translated and annotated by its corps of volunteers. The About page says:

Although the Suda defies easy categorization it is without question one of the most remarkable extant of Byzantine Greek scholarship. The Suda was compiled probably in the latter half of the tenth century and certainly no later than 1000 CE, but its exact date is unknown, as is the identity of its compiler or compilers. Even the exact meaning of its title is obscure; it now seems most likely that suda is actually a Latin loan-word meaning “fortress,” a fitting title for a work whose purpose was to preserve and protect samples of ancient learning and literature. This was one of the primary goals of Byzantine scholarship in the tenth century; rather than creating new knowledge and areas of study, the scholars of that era labored to preserve the legacy of the past, and the Suda is one of the culminating achievements of “the encyclopedism of the tenth century.” Now, after yet another millennium has passed, we are revisiting the still-valuable work of these anonymous Byzantine scholars and preparing it for new media and new centuries of readers.
The Suda’s more than thirty thousand entries of names, terms, and phrases are arranged in simple alphabetical order, so that grammatical points and philosophical concepts intermingle with biographies of ancient authors and quotations from ancient texts. According to N. G. Wilson, the Suda represents a “significant stage in the evolution of this type of reference book,” since it “incorporates a mass of articles that are intended to be informative rather than lexicographical, and the result is a cross between a dictionary and an encyclopedia…”

Despite its importance, the Suda has never been translated into a modern language. This means that access to this crucial source of information on the ancient world has been effectively limited to those who know ancient Greek…
However, many of the entries in the Suda would be very difficult for non-specialists to understand, even in translation. This is where the need for annotation comes into play. Hypertextual glosses helps students who are unfamiliar with such direct evidence properly to contextualize it, while their direct confrontation with a tenth-century view of the ancient world provides insight into the processes and preconceptions of classical scholarship and the methods and materials of modern scholars’ interpretations.

Here’s an example of an entry whose bare four words of original text would be almost useless without the annotation:

Headword: Aiolopôlos
Adler number: alphaiota,251
Translated headword: with piebald (or swift-circling) ponies
Vetting Status: high
    Having multicoloured horses.
Greek Original:
    Aiolopôlos: poikilous hippous echôn.
This epithet is used only of the Phrygians (Homer, Iliad 3.185 = 2.798a, a papyrus fragment, and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite 137). They were famous for their horses, as was, of course, the Trojan plain, where they were a gift of Zeus in payment for Ganymede, cf. E. Delebecque, Le Cheval dans l’Iliade (Paris,1951) esp. 27-30. In the Iliad the ill-fated Asius of Arisbe (Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos 1.1398-1400) was inordinately proud of his horses and chariot (12.96-173, 13.384-401), as was the Trojan Pandarus (5.192-204). We cannot tell which of their possible characteristics is described by this compound adjective: they were piebald in colour or some other variegation; they were good at turning, i.e. exceptionally nimble in circling the enemy (cf. the native Americans in the Indian Wars); their motion in pulling the chariot was undulant; the undulating motion of their galloping feet was particularly swift; a mass of horses was a mass of different colours. On a Linear B tablet from Cnossos either a stallion or a bull is named a3-wo-ro, probably “Piebald” or “Roan” from his colour (cf. alphaiota 252 note). See alphaiota 253 for these meanings of ai)o/los.
Keywords: daily life; definition; epic; geography; zoology
Translated by: Robert Dyer on 27 February 2003@05:44:03.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (added keyword; cosmetics) on 27 February 2003@08:14:22

Incidentally, in my search for the putative Latin word meaning ‘fortress’ I ran across a page (the glossary to a History of Venice by Tommaso Salmon Scozzese) that gives 18th-century Italian proper nouns, including the equivalents of Greek place names (one of which is “Souda, fortress on a little islet not far from Canea,” which is why it turned up in my search)—a serendipitous pleasure for a lover of alternate place names like myself.


  1. In a few seconds I have found two epithets for the Huns, “Akrosphaleis” (= “stumbling”: nomads hate to walk and aren’t good at it) and “apodas” (= “footless”).

  2. Wow. That’s something I will be coming back to often, just for the sheer joy of browsing.

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