The Perseus Digital Library

by Carl Mueller
Emeritus Professor of Theater
School of Theater, Film and Television
University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Among the excellent resources for the study of classical civilisation and culture on the internet, one of the best as well as one of the most ambitious is the Perseus Project from Tufts University, a distinguished digital library consisting of research materials for the study of ancient Greece and Rome.

Begun in 1987, the Perseus Project contains today just short of 500 of all the major classical texts, which it presents in both the original language and in English translation, and not infrequently in a choice of translations. The Project's texts are drawn from a wide range of current published editions. Many of the original texts and translations are from the Loeb Classical Library series, some from the original volumes, others in the text of the most recent editions. Examples of the latter are the totally new replacement volumes of Euripides and Aristophanes edited and translated by David Kovacs and Jeffrey Henderson respectively.

In addition to Greek and Roman texts in conventional transmission, Perseus features a remarkable electronic edition of nearly 500 papyrus volumes in the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri: non-literary papyri in Greek and Latin from the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. Perseus provides four basic tools for accessing these papyrus texts:

    1. Browsing
    2. Simple String Searching in either a single publication or in the entire collection
    3. Simple Lexical Searching, allowing the search for all of the morphological forms of a given word
    4. Complex Searching with date and place, namely a search for combinations of strings and lexemes, with the option of restricting searches by date and place.

Of these texts, 270 are displayed.

But texts are not all. Perseus offers many ancillary text tools to serve the researcher. Primary among them is a range of dictionaries, of which the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon is the front runner. Ever on the screen of displayed text, tucked away in a little rectangle, is the L-S-J, ready at any moment to pull up the desired lexical information. Equally helpful is the presence on the displayed text screen of a plethora of words primed, upon the click of the mouse, to produce historical, mythological, anthropological, and various other illuminating commentary. Furthermore, if reading a Greek or Latin text on screen, it is possible to check any given word in the English translation against the Greek or Latin original.

Also immediately available is a variety of complete secondary reference works, including The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Classical Sites, as well as individual essays, for further study and information, such as, to cite only from the Greek and Roman collection, of which a massive one hundred and twelve are displayed:

    1. Autenreith A Homeric Dictionary
    2. Allen and Sikes Commentary on the Homeric Hymns
    3. Conington Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid, Volume Two
    4. Jebb Selections from the Attic Orators
    5. Lewis An Elementary Latin Dictionary
    6. Martin An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander

The latter is an indispensable introduction for the newcomer, and the not so newcomer as well, to Classical Studies.

Among the other amenities are a map of Greece produced from satellite images, as well as catalogues devoted to architecture, coins, and sculpture, plus the Project's own encyclopaedia. And by no means least is the vast collection of images devoted to sculpture, ancient artefacts, jewellery, pottery, and the like (to a number in excess of 56,000 and growing), in addition to museum and site photography. Some 70 international museums known for their classical collections, are represented, from the Boston Museum and the Getty, to Berlin's Pergamon and the Louvre. Scores of classical sites are investigated with, at times, a camera move of only a few inches; an heroic thoroughness indeed.

Once one has discovered these riches one finds hours slipping away at a single sitting, amazed at the mass of information at the fingertips. Perseus, it could be said, serves not only the serious researcher, but the simply curious bystander interested in classical culture. What it primarily offers the researcher is a vast body of primary and secondary sources that may not be immediately available in any but the most prestigious of libraries. It puts in the hands of the dedicated student and teacher materials that would otherwise take hours, days, even weeks and months, to locate through such programmes as inter-library loan. Especially in the case of the small school or college with limited library resources, Perseus presents a world of information not otherwise accessible except by travel.

Strong as Perseus is in its classical collections, it has ventured in recent years into areas other than the ancient world, the most prominent of which is the Renaissance and the appearance on line of the complete works of Christopher Marlowe in both contemporary printings and significant modern editions. The same effort is well underway for the works of Shakespeare.

Finally, although the Project originates at Tufts University in the United States, it has mirror sites in both Chicago and Berlin in the event that the Somerville, Maine site is temporarily overloaded. It should also be said that Perseus is available on CD-ROM in various versions and for various prices, stretching from a Comprehensive Edition to a Concise Edition. Though the CR-ROM edition may be convenient to have immediately on hand in a pinch, the web version has the advantage of being updated and added to on a daily basis, and is therefore the most authoritative as well as the most comprehensive.

As for copyright, is fully protected. It is open for private use by the general public, whereas any professional use, such as publication, requires permission.

In short, the Perseus Project is a major source of classical research material immediate to hand, frequently vast in its scope, and highly useable in its manner of presentation.

Carl Mueller


Those seeking information regarding CD-ROM editions of Perseus should contact:

Yale University Press Special Projects Department
PO Box 209040
New Haven, CT 06520

The Internet edition may be accessed at:

The mirror sites are accessed through the above.