Latin Research Tools: Forcellini’s Lexicon

By the time you’ve reached an advanced stage of study, you probably know how to use basic dictionaries, whether they’re online or hardcopy (admission: I often still use my little Bantam paperback that I’ve had since high school). But sometimes you need something a little more in-depth — something that gives you a better sense of how a word was used and how that usage changed over time.

If you have access to an academic library, your first choice is probably the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL). But this major reference work has a few drawbacks: it’s not searchable (in any way other than alphabetically), it’s often available only in hard copy (and heavy), and as of the time of writing, they were still on Re-. So if you need a word that’s closer to the end of the alphabet, the TLL isn’t able to help you yet.

Another option is the Oxford Latin Dictionary (OLD), which is a solid (if sometimes contested) source for classical Latin. But again, it’s hard-copy (and heavy), and if you’re working on later Latin or very early Latin, it’s less likely to have good parallels.

(Etymological dictionaries are a slightly different beast — the standard is Ernout and Meillet’s Dictionnaire étymologique, but I have my eye on de Vaan’s new(ish) contribution. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, so keep your eyes on this space.)

Meanwhile, back to the problem of words. Let’s say you’re interested in the word templum — one that definitely has multiple meanings, but isn’t yet in the TLL. Here’s where Forcellini’s lexicon comes in handy — it’s online and, thanks to the power of OCR, totally searchable. (You can also download it from Google Books, but you need to make sure you get all of the volumes.)Here’s the beginning of our search — it’s pretty basic, but that makes it easy. You should use the nominative form for your entry, like in a regular dictionary:

Main search page

Main search page

As you see, we get a scanned page from the original book as our result — nicely blown up and easy to read:

The beginning of the entry

The beginning of the entry

In our case, the entry actually goes over onto the next page and fills up almost three columns!

The end of the entry

The end of the entry

You might have noticed that this dictionary is monolingual — it’s written in Latin. So this is not a tool for beginners — the point of this dictionary isn’t to find out “what does X mean?”, but rather “what is the range of meanings that X can accomodate?”. In that way, it is very similar to tools like the TLL or TLG.
The entries are listed in a fairly typical dictionary structure, just more compressed in space (note the paragraph signs [ ¶ ] for new entries). So it’s best to start with the major headings (letters and Roman numerals) to get a bird’s-eye view of the semantic field, and then focus in on the particular entries you’re interested in (Arabic numerals).

Tips to remember:

    * use consonants for consonantal vowels (i, u)
    * use the nominative
    * have a basic sense of what the word means before searching




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Latin Research Tools: Forcellini’s Lexicon by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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