Help with Greek Texts: The New TLG (Advanced Search)

One of our readers asked whether the old TLG’s advanced search functions had transferred to the new interface. The short answer: yes! For the long answer, you’ll have to keep on reading. As an added bonus, with this post the TLG edges ahead of Perseus to become our most-covered classical resource. I think this says something about how classicists work online.

But on to the New TLG!

By ‘advanced searches’, I mean using multiple queries (i.e., search terms) to find the author/text/word you’re looking for in the New TLG. Why would you want or need to go beyond a basic search or the browser? Here are a few possible scenarios:

  • You don’t know exactly how a given author is referred to in TLG materials. For example,’Dionysius’: you’d be surprised by how many Dionysii (Dionysioi?) there are!  help tlg greek text so many dionysii
  • You’re interested in genres or titles, rather than a single author. For example, you want to read all the Greek material on Alexander, or find every account of life in a monastery.
  • You want to check something specific: you need to locate the editor(s) of particular texts, or you’re interested in a specific edition (some works have multiple editions), and/or you want a list of cross-references.

And of course, there may well be other reasons, depending on your research.

How to perform an advanced Canon Search

First, you have to navigate to the Canon menu. You should see a search bar and several drop-down menus. These allow you to choose your search category: author, work, editor, etc. For this example, I’ve chosen author.

TLG dropdown menu advanced search
On the same line, you can choose to include or exclude diplomatic and vernacular (“sub-literary”) texts.

tlg subliterary vernacular diplomatic texts include exclude in search

Depending on the period you work on, this might not change your results at all. Beginners should probably ignore this menu.

The lower sets of dropdown menus will change based on your initial search term. That is, the options that appear when you search for a ‘work‘ are different from the options that appear when you search for an ‘author’ (and so on). That being said, most include ‘date’ and ‘genre‘ options. A reminder of how the TLG works: the dates are centuries only and run in chronological order.The New TLG actually makes this dating system more obvious:

tlg search choose date

As a bonus, you can use the checkboxes to select multiple centuries in a single if you’re not sure of the author’s date or if the author you’re interested in spans multiple centuries (e.g., Plutarch).

Other examples of categories include generic epithet (for literary genres only), geographic epithet, and non-standard generic epithet (usually, a profession). You can choose up to five options in every dropdown menu.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The slideshow gives some of the examples of what you’d see in each dropdown menu. TIP: the menus are common to all search terms. So even though I’m currently performing an author search, I get generic epithets like Acta and Apocryph[a] that are more appropriate for works.

You can combine these different search fields, but sometimes more isn’t better. Here are two examples of overkill:

tlg search author dion 1 bc 1 ad dionysius of halicarnassus

For the example above, I’ve searched for author ‘Dion’ and the date range 1 BC-1 AD (which is a sad holdover from the old TLG dating system). This wasn’t a great  choice because I only get one result: Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It would have been easier for me to choose him directly from the dropdown menu (the first image of this post)!

tlg search basic search

For the example above, I’ve refined my search still further by adding a job description: medical writer. But there are no results for this search (not surprising, given the above example!). So this search was too specific, and the TLG interface has prompted me to narrow my search for better results.

A new feature to the TLG‘s results page is the sidebar with ‘Quick links‘. These offer you further information offsite — some of it peer-reviewed, some of it not. The list is consistently split into two halves; the top half contains open-access resources, while the bottom half contains resources that are behind a paywall. Depending on your institution, you may or may not have access to all of them.

TIP: the search function for this sidebar is a little weird. It searches those sites for your string. So if you searched for “plu“, which easily gets you to Plutarch on the TLG, you’ll find that these links don’t work very well:

(And no, Wikipedia doesn’t even suggest Plutarch from PLU.)

A few other things to note. The default way to order your searches is as a list, but the site also offers you the options of viewing them as a map or a timeline. The timeline is a basic graph, and is probably most useful for visualizing word change over time. I’ll test it out when I try the new statistics tools. The map is a Google map that plots the location of the author(s) in question. So if you ever happened to be confused about how far away Plutarch lived from everything, see below:

tlg map plutarch

(If you were wondering, the reason by he appears to live in Lebadeia is because Chaeronea is too small to get its own label. It’s a little further north).

Those are the basics of the advanced search by author. The other major advanced search type is the search by title. A lot of the features are the same between the two types of search, so I’m going to skip the similar features and move straight to what’s new.

Searching by title, like searching by author, requires at least 3 letters. The TLG will also start autofilling potential titles. You can later filter by date, genre, etc.

tlg advanced search title

The numbers in {} refer to the TLG‘s internal reference numbers, for those of you who keep track of such things.

TIP: the work title autofills as a Latin title (as above), but the search function will yield English title results as well! Here’s an example of the search results for the previous image:

tlg search results aug title
The second result, which includes the string Aug, makes a lot of sense. The first result, which doesn’t, was a mystery — until I read its English title, which (unlike the Latin) includes the word August. So it’s a hit for the search aug.

As in the basic search, clicking on the box with an arrow takes you to the text browser in the same window, and clicking on the book brings up a popup ‘author page’ that lets you search individual works (including works that were not part of your search results).

Because these texts are more complex, they have additional features. Under the first result, you’ll see a collapsed menu for the breakdown of the work. The breakdown explains how the physical volume of the book is arranged. This is particularly helpful for cross-referencing works that have multiple different editions (see my last TLG post). For example, in Jordan’s edition, the month of August begins on p. 220.

jordan acts of the monastery of the theotokos euergetis text breakdown

Knowing the original text’s table of contents (essentially) can help you locate a month if you have the page number, or jump directly to the section you want if you know the month.

The collapsible menu for cross-references takes you to alternative possible authors, if authorship is unknown or disputed. For a results page like the one above, the cross-references are relevant to the entire page — so if you’re interested in only one of the works listed, it’s safer to click on title and see if the cross-references reappear. If they don’t, they applied to one of the other hits. The cross-references also include scholia and other editions when they exist:

tlg cross-references scholia

I think these menus are a huge improvement over the old TLG‘s somewhat tedious way to locate scholia. And, as a bonus, if you’re interested in a particular author (like the obscure-ish Lycophron) and you didn’t already know that there was an ancient commentary, it’s basically impossible to miss. So there’s an element of discovery in the new format as well.

If you decide that you want to search one or more works or authors, you can select them using the checkboxes. They’ll then appear in the ‘My search selections‘ sidebar. You can choose your authors from one search page and continue searching, even if you want to choose new search terms! Your selections will save for your entire TLG session (just make sure that you don’t let it auto-timeout).

tlg search saved selections

If you want to clear the selections, you will have to manually delete them by clicking on the red X next to the author or work you’re no longer interested in. Alternatively, you can start over with a clean slate by hitting Clear all. You can also save these results for later sessions by clicking the red button at the top right (it’s a floppy disk, for those of you who remember them). In order to save them for future sessions, you need a (free) personal TLG account, which is quite easy to set up. As a warning, it isn’t linked to your institutional login, so you need to sign in both ways if you’re working remotely: once with your institutional credentials, and once with your personal sign-in.

The advanced TLG search functions are most useful for professionals, but some of them (such as the links to Wikipedia) are clearly aimed at students. Although I haven’t tried it in the classroom, I think these tools would help students transition into using the New TLG. If anyone has tried or plans to try it with their students, I’d be interested to hear how it went!


~J.

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