Classicists: How to find key secondary sources on ancient Greek authors?
February 19, 2013 9:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a librarian helping a patron. She's written an essay that, in part, discusses a piece of ancient Greek literature as the origin of a particular theme. She's received feedback from a reviewer that was very critical regarding the omission of several specific secondary sources. There seemed to be an assumption that the author overlooked or neglected these sources, when in fact she hadn't come across them in her research. The reviewer provided a list, but the author would like a way to avoid this kind of criticism in the future. Is there a way to identify key secondary sources on ancient Greek authors?

Here's what I've found so far:

The appropriate entries for authors/works in Brill's New Pauly, Loeb's Classical Library, Grant's Greek and Latin Authors: 800 B.C. to A.D. 1000 (1980), and Wikipedia all contain brief, select bibliographies of editions, translations, and commentary.

The Oxford Classical Dictionary has a more extensive bibliographies. The site A Hellenistic Bibliography is more comprehensive, but does not indicate which sources are more influential, noteworthy, or famous.

The late edition of Sheehy's Guide to Reference Books my library has (we don't have access to the more recently updated online version) lists a handful of single-volume bibliographies for major authors, which is helpful, but the work in question is by a minor author. For these, Sheehy recommends Kessels' A Concise Bibliography to Greek Language and Literature (1979) and Swanson's Modern Greek Studies in the West: A Critical Bibliography of Studies on Modern Greek Linguistics, Philology, and Folklore in Languages Other Than Greek (1960). We have neither of these books, although I'll try to get them.

And, of course, we can look for books and articles via resources such as L’Année Philologique and JSTOR then find the most commonly referenced works.

What am I missing? Is there any easier way to identify these "must have" commentaries for ancient authors?

Thank you!
posted by Boxenmacher to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: And, of course, we can look for books and articles via resources such as L’Année Philologique and JSTOR then find the most commonly referenced works.

This would actually be at the top of my list. And not those long published books, especially the Loeb Classics. There are good books in that series but they are far from definitive.

To be up to date, I think you need to look at as many recent articles as you can find on related topics, especially in blue-chip publications, and consult their bibliographies. If you want to be really exhaustive you can look at recent PhD dissertations where they list more sources. How much bibliography you include is a matter of debate and I can't tell from your question whether the referee is being nitpicky or whether they think the writer is ignorant of the "state of the question."

I think the writer should also get beta readers.
posted by BibiRose at 9:24 AM on February 19, 2013

Best answer: I'm not clear if you mean you're looking for commentaries on an author's work or articles/books and the like, or both.

For commentaries, generally the OCD (which was recently put out in a 4th ed.) will list the most important ones. How recent those are depends on the author. This is where I would start. I would not go to reference books from the 70s/80s (?).

If there are new commentaries on an author, they're generally reviewed in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, which is a good place to search for recent scholarship.

For articles/books, yes, L'Année, of course. You can also use TOCS-IN to search the tables of contents of Classics journals (it's easier than L'Année to use and freely available on the web, which is nice; it is not a subject index, so you have to do some guessing about what would occur in the title of an article about whatever you're looking for, e.g., an author's name in all the standard languages, viz, English/French/German/Italian, separately).

Loebs are not the place to go for up-to-date scholarship, nor are they the standard critical editions.
posted by lysimache at 9:59 AM on February 19, 2013

Response by poster: BibiRose: I don't know if the reviewer was being nitpicky. At the time of the question, the person I was helping had yet to read the suggested sources, so she didn't know if they were relevant to her essay.

lysimache: When my patron did her research, she looked for articles dealing with the work and her particular theme. The reviewer's suggestions include a more authoritative/definitive edition or translation (I'm not sure which) and a few sources described just as "notes" or "commentary".
posted by Boxenmacher at 10:43 AM on February 19, 2013

One issue with JStor is that many publications are under a moving wall, so there's sometimes a 3-5 year gap in access. L'Année and the BMCR especially can help with both newer articles and reviews of newer books or commentaries that have been published. Which books and translations are considered "authoritative" varies by author, which is where the OCD can come in handy. If your patron cited none of the major editions or commentaries, and just used articles, I can see where a reviewer might want to check in to see if they were omitted for a reason. This is a kind of critique that sometimes pops up in BMCR reviews, especially with respects to omitted commentaries published in different languages than the one the book is published in-- it can just be very hard to track down all relevant sources, especially for minor authors.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:00 AM on February 19, 2013

Speaking generally (and coming from a Classics background), some reviewers ARE just nitpicky like that, based on their own fields of study and pet projects.

I remember writing my thesis back in school and was picked on by one of my reviewers because I was missing something that he thought was a useful source... which I had consulted and discarded because it contained nothing of use toward my subject. Ultimately I found anything I could use AT ALL out of that source and included it, just to press that reviewer's buttons.

This was by no means the only time I ever came across that type of approach in that field; it always seemed to be a moving target based on whatever the professor's own interest of the day was, so sometimes it's really just knowing who your audience is (such as reading THEIR bibliographies!) to get an idea of what they are looking for. Classicists are, in my experience, kind of clique-y and immensely fond of their own work.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:45 AM on February 20, 2013

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