Writing the Thesaurus of Latinity: A Study in the History of Philological Practice

Writing the Thesaurus of Latinity: A Study in the History of Philological Practice

What constitutes a philological “contribution” and how can such contributions be preserved or outmoded? This project examines these questions historically through the lens of three signal lexicographical works: the sixteenth-century Latin and Greek lexica of the French scholar-printers Robert and Henri Estienne; the final (1749) edition of the Estienne Latin lexicon by a professor at the University of Göttingen, Johann Mathias Gesner; and the nineteenth-century German-led effort (still underway) to create a Latin dictionary of unprecedented proportion, the Thesaurus linguae Latinae. From collaborative compilation to archiving to “mechanical” evidence-collection and overtures of “completeness,” there emerges a history of the practices by which philologists have looked to make an old language reveal robust new truths.

A principal emphasis is to examine moments of scholarly production that do not appear in print. To that end, libraries and archives are tapped for evidence of knowledge-in-the-making. Estienne-owned books and working copies portray the collection, revision, and interpretation that supported word-study. Preserved in Göttingen, Gesner’s manuscript corrections to an eighteenth-century version of the Estienne lexicon offer glimpses of a scholar painstakingly re-working the foundation laid by his predecessors. Extensive records in Munich and Berlin, meanwhile, show the negotiations, preparations, and intellectual preoccupations underpinning the Thesaurus linguae Latinae and its archive of millions of bits of lexicographical evidence. Sources like these, chronologically far-flung but similar in orientation, provide the foundation for a longue-durée consideration of interpretive practices since the Renaissance. 

Funding Institutions

American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)