Digital archive puts the ‘e’ in Homer

UC IRVINE (US)—The Iliad and about 20,000 other Greek classics are available online through the first digital humanities archive. One of the world’s largest collections of e-texts, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, or Treasury of the Greek Language, includes virtually all surviving Greek texts from 800 B.C. to 600 A.D., as well as the majority of existent works up to the fall of Byzantium in 1453.

The sheer numbers say it all: The online archive includes almost one million words, or about 1 gigabyte of text data. Built and maintained by the University of California, Irvine, the site logs more than 10 million hits a year and has about 2,000 subscribers, including individuals, academic institutions, and governments.

“Greek writing recorded the birth and development of Western civilization,” says Maria Pantelia, UC Irvine classics professor and Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) project director. “We have gained much of our knowledge of the ancient world by preserving and analyzing these texts. With the help of TLG, students and scholars worldwide are studying Greek authors such as Homer and Plato in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago.”

Perhaps, not completely unimaginable. The project first took shape in 1972 as a computerized databank managed by Marianne McDonald, a former UC Irvine graduate student.

David W. Packard, son of Hewlett-Packard cofounder David Packard, made it possible to process, store, and search the archived works by developing a customized hardware and software system called Ibycus. Packard also wrote the code converting the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet into computer-readable text based on the English alphabet. A system he later developed, called Beta Code, remains the most practical way to electronically convert Greek characters.

The digital archive became available on CD-ROM in 1986, after Packard designed a microcomputer specifically designed to read TLG discs. It was the first time the larger storage capacity of a CD-ROM had been used for data other than music.

“Scholars literally could carry a whole library in their pockets,” Pantelia says.

“Every new generation of digital technologies brings enhanced possibilities for exploring the ancient world,” Pantelia says. “I can easily imagine the next 38 years of growth and exciting work for TLG. There is no end in sight.”

The project has received financial support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the University of California, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among other sources. The governments of Greece and Spain and the Greek-American community also have provided support.

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Maria Pantelia’s “Electronic Resources for Classicists: The Second Generation”:

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