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John North and Fay Glinister

Pompeius Festus was a man of whom nothing is known except that he produced a shortened version (epitome) of the Lexicon of Verrius Flaccus, a massive dictionary of Latin as it was in the time of Augustus Caesar. Festus probably wrote in the 2nd century ce, and his epitome survives only in part, even the extant part being damaged. A still briefer version (an epitome of the epitome) was produced in the time of Charlemagne by Paul the Deacon; that version does survive in full. The single damaged manuscript was discovered in the 15th century, first published early in the 16th, and subsequently worked on by a succession of first-rate scholars. Its contents are mostly rare or poetic words rather than everyday ones; but Festus illustrates his entries with quotations from the Latin of the middle republican period, thus preserving texts, etymologies, religious and political antiquities and much other valuable information. The words are arranged alphabetically, but unlike a modern dictionary, the alphabetization only reaches to the second letter, so that looking words up as we do today must have been a long and painful job.