Delice Bette | January 20, 2023


The Souda (from ancient Greek: Σοῦδα

The Souda is a dictionary that presents both definitions of rare words in ancient Greek and complex grammatical forms. It is also an encyclopedia commenting on people, places or institutions. The sources it uses are often biblical or ancient and it provides little information on the Byzantine period. Ignored in the Middle Ages, the work was produced in the Byzantine Empire. It was first published in Europe in 1499, in Milan, as the Lexicon græcum.

This massive work, with one and a half million words, contains 31,342 entries covering historical, biographical and lexicographical data. The entries are arranged according to both an alphabetical and phonetic system: diphthongs are listed after single vowels. Thus αι

It is a compilation of compilations, using biographies, bibliographies and other information on pagan and Christian writers, most of which have disappeared: the scholies on Aristophanes, Sophocles and Thucydides have been very useful. The biographical notes often come, by the author”s own admission, from the Onomatologion or the Pinax of Hesychius of Miletus (6th century). Among the other sources used extensively are the Excerpta of Constantine Porphyrogenes, the Chronicle of George the Monk, the biographies of Diogenes Laërce, the works of Athenaeus and Philostratus.

Single author or collective work

For some, Suidas – or Souidas – is a compiler of the end of the ninth century known only by the Souda, which would thus have practically the same name as him: Souda, Suidas, Suida, as we would say today the “Bayle”, the “du Cange”, the “Larousse” or the “Littré”. An erroneous note of preface, erudite conjecture of Eustathius of Thessalonica, made believe for a long time that Souda was the work of a single author called Souidas. Angel Politian, a Florentine scholar of the late fifteenth century, considered this name to be merely assumed. In support of Politian”s opinion are the facts that no one can say in which country Suidas lived, or even at what time, and that several styles are present in the work.

If however Souidas did exist, he is considered to be a Greek lexicographer of the late ninth century. This scholar would have written a first draft which would have been modified and increased by successive copyists.

For others, it is a compilation made by a group of scholars, corrected and augmented by the copyists who succeeded one another until its first printing.


When it was rediscovered in Renaissance Italy, dates ranging from the reign of Augustus to the fourteenth century were mentioned. Uncertainty about the date of its composition still persisted in the 19th century: “it is believed that it flourished during the reign of the Byzantine emperor, Alexis I Comnenus”.

The work is now dated to the end of the tenth century. The approximate date of composition of the work can be deduced from its contents: under the article “Adam”, the author of the lexicon gives a brief chronology of world history which ends with the death of the emperor John I Tzimiskès (976), while in the article “Constantinople” are mentioned his successors Basil II and Constantine VIII: the question is to know if it is not a later interpolation than the original text.

Before its official rediscovery in the Renaissance, however, the work had circulated in medieval England because Robert Grossetête (1175-1253) translated substantial passages in a notebook for his personal use.

Origin of the name

Several etymologies are considered for this name of Suidas or Souda. In 1998, Bertrand Hemmerdinger considers that Suidas is the name of the creator or the editor of the group of compilers of the lexicon.

Another interpretation explains the title as an acronym constituted from the letters of Sunagogè onomastikès ulès di alphabeton, “collection of onomastic material according to the alphabet”, or “according to different men”, which could also mean “alphabetical lexicon or biographical lexicon” or with diaphorôn andrôn: “classification according to different historians or different authors”.

Finally, the Byzantine Greek word for “fortress” and the Latin words for “guida” and “sudarium” (“shroud”) were also evoked via the late Greek “soudarion”.

Review and comments

This compilation of compilations is somewhat of an inextricable jumble: a dictionary of words intertwines with a dictionary of things; articles on the interpretation of words alternate with articles on the lives of famous people; it can even become disconcerting when an article on Aristotle is followed by an article against Aristotle, as if it were a different character. On the other hand, it can become very interesting as biographical notes or quotations are added.

The facts it relates are not always accurate, but books on Greek antiquity very often cite this source. It was a very popular work and, for this reason, many manuscripts or extracts have been preserved. Later authors such as Eustathius of Thessalonica, John Zonaras, Constantine Lascaris and Maximus the Greek made extensive use of it.

If the author has simply copied the compilation of scholars of his time, he has done so without any criticism or personal judgment. If successive copyists have added error upon error in duplicating this handwritten work, this compilation contains a very large number of facts, details and quotations from authors which are found nowhere else and which would have been lost forever if such a work had not existed. Erasmus quoted and commented on the Souda very frequently in his Adages (1508-1536).

After Küster, many scholars were busy restoring or explaining passages of the Soudas. Jakob Gronovius, a famous, excessive and quarrelsome scholar, argued a lot with Küster about this work.

Several Hellenists have extracted and commented on different passages: Etienne Bergler, Lambert Bos, Theodore Hase, professor of theology in Bremen; in Michaud, Louis Valkenaer is also quoted.

The Recueil de l”ancienne Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres has collected corrections of the Souda made by the abbé Sellier and the baron de Sainte-Croix.

J.L. Schultze published: Specimen observationum miscellanearum in Suidam, cum prolusione critica de glossarii a Suida denominati indole et pretio, Halle, 1761, in-4°.

John Toup”s Corrections on the Suidas (Emendationes in Suidam), London, 1760, 1764, 1775, 3 vols. in-8°, made him well known among scholars.

Chardon de la Rochette, after having given in the Magasin encyclopédique (1812) clarifications on some articles of Suidas, gathered them in his Mélanges de critique, t. 1, p. 92.

John Christian Gottlieb Ernesti has taken from the lexicons of Suidas and Favorinus all the passages relating to the ancient cults, and has published them with notes, under the title of Glossae sacrae.

In the public library of Leiden, an etymological Lexicon attributed by Gronove to Suidas is preserved, which belonged successively to Henri Estienne, Goldast and Vessies.

External links


  1. Souda
  2. Suda
  3. a et b Gallica
  4. a b et c Blair 2010, p. 24.
  5. Dictionnaire historique de Feller
  6. Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne
  7. Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle
  8. ^ Unii autori trimit redactarea lucrării la sfârșitul secolului al IX-lea.
  9. ^ a b Stelian Brezeanu, O istorie a Bizanțului, Editura Meronia, București, 2005, p.188
  10. ^ a b Blair 2010, p. 24.
  11. ^ Dictionnaire historique de Feller
  12. ^ Gaisford Thomas, ed., (1834), Suidae Lexicon, 3 vols.
  13. ^ Hemmerdinger, Bertrand (1998). “Suidas, et non la Souda”. In: Bollettino dei classici, 3rd ser. 19: 31f. Hemmerdinger defends the name Suidas (Σουΐδας), arguing that the form Σουΐδα/Σοῦδα is a Doric genitive.
  14. Gaisford, Thomas, ed., (1853) (Suidae lexicon: Graecè et Latinè Архивная копия от 18 августа 2020 на Wayback Machine, Volume 1, Part 1, page XXXIX (in Greek and Latin)
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