Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Cambridge Greek Lexicon 2 - First Impressions



Going full reader-response on the new Cambridge Classical Lexicon, let me share my first impressions when opening my new purchase. Doing what anyone would do who knows people who have been involved in the project, I turn immediately to the title page. I am not particularly involved in the Classics faculty, but I know two of the six people mentioned personally. One is the lovely Anne Thompson. Always softly spoken, always considerate, and someone who has been a great influence by expertise, thoughtfulness, and character on me and many others. The other person is ‘P. James’, who is none other than the ‘Patrick James’ on the title page of the Tyndale House Greek New Testament. I am acquainted with perhaps two people who know classical Greek; he is one of them.

Opening the first volume at random, a number of things strike me immediately. The font is relatively small, but the use of bold headwords and ekthesis make the location of a new entry stand out. The margins are all rather narrow, so this book will not be the place in which I will make any notes. At best I can get a sign in that will refer me to a note I will have made elsewhere. 

But then the first ‘New Testament’ entry I spot on this page, which happens to be δοξάζω.

 And here I get a bit confused. I trust I will get over it, but the variety of font types is puzzling.

Bold Greek, italic, Bold English, dash, small capitals, sans serif font, plus sign, minus sign (correction, probably another dash). Upfront I trust that each variation in font type makes sense, so I expect that different kinds of information are given. At this point I am not interested in reading the introduction and learning what everything stands for. I want to know how intuitive each entry is. 

δοξάζω is subdivided into 5 numbered parts. I know a little bit about the lexical wars that are being fought about the relative merits of glossing versus defining words. I don’t have a strong conviction either way, and at first glance the Cambridge Classical Lexicon doesn’t seem to have either. Have a look at the list for δοξάζω:

1. think, imagine, suppose, expect;
(intr.) think, suppose (sthg.); 

2. think, form or hold an opinion;
holdw.cogn.acc. an opinion

3. make an inference, conjecture, guess

4. estimate, reckon oneself

5. honour, praise, glorify God, His word or name, Jesus

Each of the five parts have at least two glosses, in bold. I take it that the intended  meaning is to be found where these glosses overlap (prototypical for the sense?). The third entry on this list contains a definition, ‘make an inference’, but has two glosses in addition. I assume that the gloss ‘guess’ is qualified by what precedes and that it is closer to the use of ‘guess’ as in ‘I guess it will start to rain in a minute’ than guessing that happen for truly random events. 

I am not sure about the structure of (2) here. It is glossed as ‘hold an opinion’, but then later in this part as ‘hold’ with ‘an opinion’ as a complement (if I am correct in taking italics at this point as a complement, see next). The solution lies probably in the –w.cogn.acc

The final entry sounds the most ‘New Testament’, and indeed, the ‘author source’ is given as NT. ‘honour, praise, glorify’ is followed by a dash and the following in italics, which must mean complements or objects in this context, God, His word or name, Jesus. Interesting to see ‘His’ capitalized! I gather that that strictly speaking ‘or’ in His word or name should not be in italics.

So my first impressions are that I am not sure about the methodology behind the Cambridge Greek Lexicon or the more subtle points of how a lemma is subdivided. At the very least I know that the lexicon includes the New Testament corpus. 

 Next thing to do is to read the introductory material, and, as a cliff-hanger, it will show that first impressions can be mistaken.



  1. It doesn't include the whole NT corpus. Gospels and Acts I think. (You should probably read the introduction at some point.)

    1. Yep, I am at that stage now. And this is indeed where my problems are starting in earnest.

  2. I notice there are no excerpts from the Greek authors like one gets in LSJ or BDAG. Also no references, just what looks like the author (?) where the use is found. This means we are more at the mercy of the editors’ judgments.

    1. Peter, I concur here. Not sure what the rationale was for a lack of references--and not just biblical ones either. It would be nice if it had at least similar information, more like The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2018).

    2. Alexander Thomson4/28/2021 9:03 pm

      The Brill is not a lexicon trhat I have used, being satisfied with my LSJ. But, looking at the 28 or so downloadable sample pages at, and noting that the current price on is just under £62 (while the LSJ price is just short of £300), I can see that the Brill must be a very serious contender for serious use. so, questions to those who know the Brill : first, to the Classicists - does it replace LSJ and/or is it a necessary supplement to LSJ?; and, to the Koinists, is it a necessary or recommendable supplement to BDAG?

    3. Alexander Thomson4/28/2021 9:05 pm

      Alistair, Thanks for drawing attention to the Brill lexicon!

    4. Here ( You can download a flyer with some full pages of the Brill Lexikon. From what I have seen till now: I would spend my Euros to buy the Brill, not the Cambridge Lexikon.

    5. Before (or indeed after) buying the Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, you should read the unusually well-informed review article by John Lee. He summarizes his assessment as follows:

      "(a) Is [BDAG] a “better” lexicon than LSJ? No.
      (b) Is it a competitor to LSJ? Yes; but only because it is a major lexicon aimed at covering the same territory.
      (c) Is it the equal of LSJ? No.
      (d) Can it replace LSJ? No.
      (e) Will it serve the purposes of the ordinary student beyond elementary level? Yes, up to a point.
      (f) Can it serve the purposes of scholars? Again, up to a point.
      (g) Does it apply an improved method of defining meaning? No.
      (h) Is it better at lexical analysis than LSJ? No.
      (i) Does it offer generally better coverage of meanings and attestation than LSJ? No.
      (j) Does it actually provide better coverage of post-Classical Greek, as it claims to do? No, very seldom.
      (k) Does it omit information that LSJ offers? Yes, often.
      (l) Is its presentation easier to follow than LSJ’s? To a slight extent only.
      (m) Is its numbering system easy to follow? No.
      (n) What does it offer that LSJ does not? Limited additions to the attestation of words and some meanings.
      (o) Is it basically a translation of its predecessor [Montanari 2013]? Yes.
      (p) Is [Montanari 2013] basically a revision of a predecessor? Yes.
      [BDAG] is a useful lexicon, but it is not the great advance that we long for. … [It] simply supplies another lexicon of similar size and coverage to LSJ, doing the job no better and often rather worse. The principal reason is that [BDAG] is a descendant of LSJ itself, with some revisions, but with most of the faults as well as merits of LSJ preserved. The major, far-reaching overhaul that LSJ’s material needs has not been undertaken, either by the editors of [BDAG] or by anyone."

      As an ex-lexicographer myself, I must stress that the Cambridge Greek Lexicon is an attempt to do something completely different and altogether more promising: to write a new dictionary based on a direct consideration of the textual evidence. I suspect its most annoying faults will be omissions caused by the practical need to operate with a selective evidence base (e.g. I see that there is no entry for θολός = mud, attested in a fragment of Aristotle quoted in Athenaeus's Deipnosophistae). By rights, though, it ought to be more reliable for the material that it does cover. It will be interesting to see what Lee has to say about it.

    6. Dear Brunellus - bravo! A notable reply indeed.

      p.s., I appreciate the mention of θολός = mud, attested in a fragment of Aristotle quoted in Athenaeus's Deipnosophistae).

      In this regard, it's always good to wash the "mud" from one's eye to see a little more clearly. Thank you for the information above.

    7. I have the Brill version and think of it as a supplement to LSJ. It is helpful but not the be-all to end-all dictionary as I first hoped.

  3. No entry on αὐθεντέω, to give one example...

    I think we should welcome it for what it is -- a helpful new tool, which doesn't do everything.

  4. Alexander Thomson4/28/2021 7:50 pm

    From a comparison of the entry above for "doxazo" with the entries given in the relevant tomes currently on my shelves - full LSJ, the "Little Liddell", Souter, the revision of Souter, the shorter Gingrich, the full BDAG, Newman, Abbott-Smith, MM, Thayer, and Cremer - I cannot see that this volume would add much to either the Classicist or the Koinist. The latter already has good introductory, intermediate, and advanced material. The former, also, has good introductory volumes, the excellent reprint by Simon Wallenberg of the intermediary "Little Liddell", and the full and excellent revised LSJ. If the price of this new book were around £25-£30, I might recommend it to students; but is it cost-effective at £55-£60?

    1. I was thinking the same thing. This lexicon is much less expensive than LSJ, so it might be a reasonable choice for someone who wants to have just one Greek lexicon at a reasonable price. But for someone who is already using LSJ, would consulting this one contribute any additional benefit? From what's been said here so far, it doesn't look like it.

      And then if someone is looking for a single Greek lexicon at the intermediate level, they may see their choice being between the Cambridge and the Middle Liddell, which is cheaper. And based on what I've seen here so far I think the Middle Liddell may have the edge over the Cambridge content-wise as well.

    2. Alexander Thomson4/28/2021 8:34 pm

      Agreed! Mind you, the full LSJ, as I was shocked to learn, now costs just under £300 at, compared to around £100 that I paid when it came out 25 years ago! How can such a price increase be justified? In general, itr seems to me that academic books are far too costly for the average person, not least the average student! how do modern students manage?

    3. Fundamentally this book started life as a revision of the Middle Liddell.

    4. Alexander Thomson4/29/2021 2:31 pm

      Eric, Yes, I omitted mention of Middle Liddell on my shelf! Thanks for the reminder; and may he forgive me!

    5. Alexander Thomson4/29/2021 2:33 pm

      Peter, Yes, thanks for that necessary reminder!

  5. Where can this book be found at

    1. Alexander Thomson4/28/2021 8:36 pm

      It's sold by, eg,

  6. It's $120 here in Canada. Not spending that unless I'll get that much value from it, so I really appreciate this review, looking forward to part 2. Thanks Dirk!

  7. The use of small caps is a good and strong choice in style and content. That's the default for grammatical glossing in the Linguistics Unified Stylesheet.

    1. The above is me, Mike Aubrey. I don't know why I'm listed as anonymous.

    2. Because of the subversive nature of your comments, perhaps.

    3. My comment above needs a question mark and/or a smiley to indicate it was in no way intended as cantankerous, judgemental, or intended as pushing Mike out. All the opposite, in fact.