This week we tackle a big one: the Perseus Digital Library is one of the largest (and oldest) online resources for the study of classical antiquity. Many beginning and intermediate Greek and Latin students are already familiar with Perseus’ word parsing tool, but many scholars of all levels overlook the other abundant and useful resources that Perseus has to offer.
The sheer number of resources that Perseus has to offer means that this post will be the first in a series of posts. In today’s post, I will provide an overview of the site and a brief description of each of the resources that are most useful for the study of antiquity. Perseus is home to many different databases for studying different periods in history. The future posts will highlight the more important resources for studying Greek and Roman materials.
Basic Site Navigation
Navigating the site is pretty straightforward, although some of the features are a bit more difficult to use effectively. The site is mainly navigated by a series of tabs at the top of the page and a search box in the upper right hand corner which provides a global, basic search of the entire Perseus collection. The search box will help you quickly locate things on the site. Searching for a word like ‘Agamemnon’ will by default run as an ‘Author and Title’ search, returning the results for texts titled Agamemnon. Clicking on the link ‘here’ will expand the search for Agamemnon in all texts hosted on the Perseus site.
Searching for a specific author, work, and location (such as Homer, Odyssey 9.1) will call up the page for the text of that particular work at the beginning of section designated. By default, the search produces results in the original language (so Ancient Greek for Homer’s Odyssey). The panes on the right hand side of the page will display notes and translations of the text. More details on the usefulness of these panes in future posts!
A search for a word like ‘denarius‘ results in a list of hits for that specific word on the Perseus site. The search by default shows all the places where the word denarius shows up in various texts in English. The refine search pane provides options for changing the language and adding search terms (more info on refining the search in future posts).
The navigation bar at the top of the page provides links to browse the various sections of the site: Home, Collections/Texts, Perseus Catalog, Research, Grants, Open Source, About, and Help. Collections/Texts will be subject of a later, much longer post. The Perseus Catalog allows for a global search across all of the different collections hosted on the site. The other sections provide information about the site in general. The Research section has information on the mission and aims of the Perseus project, the Grants section details the grant monies received by Perseus to fund its development, and the information regarding Perseus’ open source code is under the Open Source tab. The About section has information on the history of the project, publications, and job and research opportunities.
The Help Page
Perseus has a detailed Help and Information Center to help you navigate and use the many features of the site. This section of Perseus covers copyrights and has a Frequently Asked Questions section and webmaster contact information.
The Perseus Quick Start Guide has detailed information for using the site and is a great reference if you get stuck while using the site.
Collections and Texts
The Perseus project has several collections: Greek and Roman, Arabic, Germanic, 19th century American, and Renaissance Materials. Perseus is also the home of the Richmond Times Dispatch (a newspaper from Richmond, Virginia; its archives on Perseus run from 1960-1965), and more conventional Neo-Latin material, like humanist and Renaissance Italian poetry. Here you can also find links to the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (DDbDP, now housed at papyri.info) which used to be hosted on the Perseus site, and the Tufts University Archive. The link to the Bolles Collection is, at the time of this post, not functioning. The majority of the material present in the Perseus database is Greek and Roman materials, with the 19th-century American materials coming in as a close second. While most classicists will only use the materials pertaining to Greece and Rome, there’s more to explore if you find your attention wandering.
The Perseus project is an amazing resource for the study of classical antiquity. Look forward in the following weeks more detailed posts on word searches, parsing tools, vocabulary tools, and the Perseus image database.