Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Laboratory and library: Reviving the mental lexicon of the ancients

Wharton David.

One of the great successes of the 19th century philology was the invention of the exhaustive historical lexicon: for English, the Oxford English Dictionary; for Latin, the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (still under construction, working through the letter p); for Ancient Greek, Liddel and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon.

Though these monumental works are now indispensable tools for scholars, there are important ways in which they obscure for modern readers the mental experience of literature as it was received by its earliest audiences.

I will argue that recent research in lexical processing can help us understand the workings of the ancient linguistic mind more clearly than do the traditional lexica; that they can guide us in mapping the ancient mental lexicon more precisely and more fully; and that they can thus help us bring the inner literary experience of the ancient dead to life more vividly.

Insights gained from this research should therefore be of keen interest to translators and readers of ancient texts; several examples from Latin poetry (translated for the Latin-less) will be adduced to illustrate main points.


Wharton David  (United States)
Associate Professor
Department of Classical Studies
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

  • Psycholinguistics
  • Linguistics
  • Latin
  • Greek
  • Lexicon
  • Classics

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)