The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

During the nineteenth century, archaeologists excavating Egypt uncovered a large number of papyri. These discoveries reinforced the importance of the papyrus as the chief writing material in the ancient Greek world and resulted in the emergence of a new area of Classical studies, known as Papyrology. Many ancient authors, texts and documents were discovered during this period. Information from the new papyri motivated scholars to produce new critical editions. British, French and German presses competed in publishing updated and improved editions. Publications for a non-scholarly audience also became popular.

In 1798 Johann Schneider began to compile the first dictionary that defined ancient Greek words in a modern language (German); his work was completed by Franz Passow in 1823. Until then definitions had been for the most part provided only in Greek and Latin. The Liddell-Scott Greek-English lexicon was first published in 1843 and remains to this day the standard Greek-English dictionary. Translations of classical texts in a variety of Western languages also became more common during this period.

At the end of the 19th century, German and British scholars decided that it was time to produce new dictionaries for Greek and Latin. They estimated that nine million words would have to be collected for the Latin thesaurus and ninety million words for the Greek. The Latin project was therefore the more feasible task. Preliminary planning started around 1882 in Berlin, where the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae Project was formally constituted. As of 2004, well over a century later, the Latin thesaurus is still in progress at the University of Munich. Such slow progress discouraged scholars from undertaking work on the Greek “thesaurus” until 1972, when the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae was established at UC Irvine with the promise of speedier progress and more powerful results due to the use of computers.