Understanding citations to Classical texts

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Emery Shriver
Classics Librarian



About Classical Citations

Citations to classical works are slightly different than those you may encounter when doing research in other disciplines.  Here are some examples of what you may encounter:

1) Citations that contain:

  • the author's name (sometimes abbreviated)
  • a short or abbreviated title, usually in italics
  • a sequence of numbers and/or letters, which refer to subdivisions within the work. How texts are subdivided varies, so you may see book, chapter, section and/or line numbers. 


"As for the Greeks’ long-term cultural debt to the Minoans, it is notable that even in much later generations (the epics of Homer, for example) the Cretans – now ‘Greeks’ – were famed for their dance-floors and musical performances (e.g. Homer Iliad 16.617, 18.590–2, etc.)"¹

The citation in bold refers to line 617 of book 16 and lines 590-592 of book 18 in Homer's Iliad.

2) Citations that reference authoritative and/or well-known editions. These editions may use similar subdivisions as the aforementioned example, but may cite the author of the edition, rather than the original author of the text.


"Companionship and pleasure are implicitly on the agenda again when Theognis of Megara comments that it is only under compulsion that one mingles at the symposion hosted by a chatterbox, hated for talking unstintingly (295-8 W)."²

The citation in bold refers to lines 295-298 of the Theognidea, found in West, M. L. (1989–92) Iambi et Elegi Graeci ante Alexandrum Cantati, 2nd edition, Oxford.

Examples taken from:

     ¹Mark Griffith, "'Telling the tale’: a performing tradition from Homer to pantomime," in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Theatre, ed. Marianne McDonald and J. Michael Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 14.

     ²Fiona Hobden, The Symposion in Ancient Greek Society and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 7-8.