Letter from the Editor

The first edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary appeared in 1949, aiming to provide “an authoritative one-volume guide to all aspects of the ancient world.” But what is “the ancient world”? In post-war Europe, the answer may have been relatively clear: classical Greece and republican Rome could still be seen as the cultural roots of a continental civilization now deeply riven by conflict. Although OCD1 aspired to being (and in many ways was) a work of disinterested scholarship, it was also of its time, an attempt to condense all that was perceived to be ennobling into one volume.

The subsequent 70 years have changed all of that. It is now much less certain what “the ancient world” is or was: chronologically, spatially, demographically, culturally. The latest edition, a fully digital OCD (hereafter OCD5), remains focused on Mediterranean culture between (broadly) the second millennium BCE and the mid-first millennium CE, with an inevitable emphasis upon Greece and Rome (the best-attested ancient cultures anywhere, but especially in the Mediterranean). Yet you will also find in OCD5 articles on Egyptian, near eastern, and Phoenician culture; on the reception of ancient material; on prehistoric Greece and Rome, for which archaeology and science have massively expanded our understanding; on early Christian and Byzantine culture. The range of “the classical” has massively expanded too: gone is the primary emphasis on the literature of “the canon” (or at least “the canon” as it was understood in the 1940s). For example, OCD5 contains, for the first time, substantial entries on major later Greek poets like Eudocia and pseudo-Oppian. At the same time, however, we are currently undertaking a thoroughgoing overhaul of our provision in more central areas, since this is of course where most of our traffic takes place (you can expect big changes here). Perhaps most significantly of all, OCD5 reflects the huge methodological changes that have taken place in our discipline(s) since the 1940s. We now have articles on feminism, metalepsis, “the self” in Greek and Latin literature, the cognitive anthropology of ancient religion … and there is much more to come.

Even the concept of a “dictionary” is no longer the same. OCD5 exists solely online. This means that we can do a number of things. First, we can provide more substantial articles, without the restriction of space. Although we put a premium on concision and lucidity, we can now aim to offer articles with the heft and authority of, for example, the old Pauly-Wissowa. Second, we can update whenever we need to: bibliographies can be redrafted, conclusions can be reassessed in the light of new findings, and any errors that (di avertant) slip through can be amended. OCD5 is the first major reference work for the ancient world that will be a truly living resource. Finally, we can include links to all sorts of other digital resources: images, texts, websites. This means not just that OCD5 offers easy navigation between platforms; it also makes it a more democratic, open venture. Our articles do not simply asseverate authoritatively from the heights of academic authority: they also offer readers the opportunity to check out the evidence bases and explore for themselves. This is a lesson that we have learned from the worlds of blogging and social media: users nowadays do not simply want to be told; they want to be guided towards the resources that they can then think about for themselves.

These are grand ambitions, and only time will tell if we can achieve them. OCD5 will always be a process, and never an état achevé: unlike printed books, it will keep growing, and no doubt in directions that are impossible to predict at the present. We do – I mean this sincerely – welcome and value the reactions of our users: if there is any content that you would like to see included, updated, corrected, or even removed, please do let me know. Although OCD remains deeply rooted in scholarly expertise, we would also like it to be open to the public, and indeed contributing to public discussion. To this end, we shall also be expanding our free content.

It is hard not to feel over-awed by the scale of the project ahead. But one thing can be counted on: the international community of ancient world scholars, students, and enthusiasts are unparalleled in their energy, enthusiasm, intellectual alacrity, and (not least!) obsession with detail. For whatever else OCD5 is or will be, it is fundamentally a collaborative venture, and rich testimony not just to the ongoing vitality of ancient world studies in the period that has elapsed since OCD1, but also to our ever-increasing reliance on complex, intersecting networks of hyper-specialized expertise. Whether our own individual interests lie primarily in numismatics, critical race theory, bronze-age genetics, or all of the above, we are stronger when we collaborate; and more than anything else, OCD5 aims to reflect and nurture that interdependence.

Tim Whitmarsh, Editor in Chief
A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture
University of Cambridge