Today’s post on the Perseus Project will focus on all of the great search tools that I promised to give more details about in my last post. This post covers word-based searching, including the dictionary and universal text search tools.
Perseus has a lot of great search tools that can help you look at how words are used, how often words are used, and what authors are using them. There are, however, a couple of things to watch out for when using the Perseus word searches. First and foremost, Perseus does not contain every single text by every author in the original language. Therefore it is not possible to draw conclusions about the whole of Latin or Greek texts from Perseus searches. But if you know that all the works you need to search are on Perseus, then you can use the search tools confidently. You can also do preliminary searches on Perseus to determine if words are common in general, are common to a particular author, or even if a word’s popularity tends to change over time. The Perseus search tools can be incredibly helpful for many kinds of searches and soon you’ll be able to use them with confidence.
As you can see from the screen shot below, Perseus has a lot of really amazing search tools. You can do a global site search for words and phrases plus search specific tools on the site depending on the kind of search that you need.
Search the Collections
The most general search option is ‘Search the Collections’. Because of the large number of collections on the Perseus site, you can select from many languages for your search, including English, Greek, Latin, Old English, German, and Old Norse.
While I certainly would not dissuade anyone from exploring the rest of the materials on the site (especially the ones in Old Norse), the focus of this particular blog is the study of (classical) antiquity, and this post will focus on the relevant searches for Greco-Roman materials.
Selecting Latin from the drop down box and searching for a word like ‘amicitia’ is a very quick way to find works with amicitia in the title (and if that was all you were trying to do, entering amicitia in the search box from the home page would be even faster). Expanding the search to the contents of all documents results in a massive 212 document list. All of the results are from Latin documents, because we selected Latin from the dropdown menu.
The search results are displayed by work, and the works are arranged in alphabetical order by author. The first hit in a given work is expanded by default. In the upper right hand corner of the results box, if there are more hits in that particular work, there is a ‘More‘ link with the total number of hits in parentheses.
A quick look at the results will show you that all of the hits for amicitia are in the nominative or the ablative case. That’s because the search returns the exact result, and the nominative and ablative singular look the same without macrons. For English-language searches, inflected forms are not a problem. But for Latin and Greek, there might be times when you are looking for all instances of a word, regardless of case.
It’s possible to search for all inflected forms on Perseus. On the search main page right under the box where you enter your search terms, you can select the box ‘search for all possible forms‘.
TIP: selecting the box and using the nominative does not always result in the desired inflected forms. I would instead recommend using an oblique case (like the genitive) as well as the nominative, to ensure that you find results for the stem.
Aside from showing that amicitia is an extremely common Latin word, however, this search has not yet revealed much. The right hand pane allows you to refine your search in a few ways.
You can add additional search terms or exclude words (basically all of the options that you were initially given on the first page). These options might help you if you need to exclude words from your search or if you are only looking for certain inflected forms of words. For example, maybe you are only interested in a word used in the plural or in the feminine forms of an adjective. You can also refine the search based on the individual document by expanding the All Matching Documents pane.
Scrolling through the list allows you to check off the individual texts and see how many results are in each one. This kind of filtering would be useful if you only want to search for amicitia in Cicero’s speeches or in Republican authors. Filtering by individual text allows you to easily refine your search in this way. At the bottom of the very long list is the button that allows you to search the selected texts.
The final pane on the right hand side links to the dictionary entries (lemmata) for that particular word. In this case a link to the Lewis and Short and to the Elementary Lewis. Using the dictionary features of Perseus will be covered in the next post.
But what about searching for texts in Greek? Getting those pesky Greek letters into the search box is not as simple as switching your keyboard into Greek and typing in the letters. My own attempt:
resulted in a complete disaster:
You probably noticed on the main search page that there was a small and kind of blurry green and yellow box with Greek letters in it. Let’s take a closer look:
To type in the Greek λὀγος you need to transliterate the word using beta code. Luckily, Perseus gives you a typing guide: it’s lo/gos. You can see how to type accents and breathing from the alphas at the bottom.
TIP 2: the punctuation marks that indicate accents and breathing marks always go after the vowel that you want them to appear on.
Besides the word search tools, Perseus has other types of searches that are accessible from the main search page. Scroll down below the Search the Collection pane and find the other searches:
Only the first three searches will be talked about in today’s post. I will provide a very brief overview here of how these searches work and they will be covered again in more detail in part 3 of our Perseus series.
The English- [Language] Lookup tool lets you look up words in Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Old Norse by their English definitions. This feature is particularly useful if you are searching for all possible translations of an English word into Latin or Greek. It will provide you with a list of search terms that can be used to search the collection. The dropdown box contains four options for searching: words beginning with, words ending with, the exact word, and word containing. Remember that this particular tool searches dictionary definitions that are written in English so a search for the letters ‘per’ in either first part of the word, last part of the word, or word containing is going to result in hundreds of results. These search options do give you flexibility to search for roots of words in English to find various verbs, nouns, etc. in Latin or Greek. Searching by exact word will get you the Latin or Greek equivalent(s) of that particular word. Students may find this useful for writing Latin or Greek sentences.
The Dictionary Entry Lookup allows you to find dictionary entries for words in English, Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Old Norse. Again the four search options are present but they can be applied more widely in this type of search. For instance, a Latin search for words starting with ‘per’ will give you all of the nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. that begin with the prefix per (such as persuadeo, pertineo, and even per the preposition). You could perform the same search for suffixes, such as –sco (gnosco, cresco). The word containing option would give you the opportunity to search for roots which can be embedded between prefixes and suffixes (such as –dit-, which would return dediti, deditum, etc.). Using the exact word search will link you to the word in the available dictionaries, and in this case using the nominative form is probably best.
Perseus also has a section here for searching its art and archaeology collections, which will be covered in a later post. There are also two remaining search boxes on the right hand side under the Greek Entry chart: the word study tool and the vocabulary tool. Most simply, the word study tool will parse words for you and the vocabulary tool will generate vocabulary lists in Latin or Greek. These will be the subject of a later post.