The Suda or Souda (Medieval Greek: Σοῦδα Soũda) is a massive 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often derived from medieval Christian compilers. The derivation is probably1 from the Byzantine Greek word souda, meaning "fortress" or "stronghold," with the alternate name, Suidas, stemming from an error made by Eustathius, who mistook the title for the proper name of the author.
The Suda is somewhere between a grammatical dictionary and an encyclopedia in the modern sense. It explains the source, derivation, and meaning of words according to the philology of its period, using such earlier authorities as Harpocration and Helladios. There is nothing especially important about this aspect of the work. It is the articles on literary history that are valuable. These entries supply details and quotations from authors whose works are otherwise lost. They use older scholia to the classics (Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles, etc.), and for later writers, Polybius, Josephus, the Chronicon Paschale, George Syncellus, George Hamartolus, and so on.
This lexicon represents a convenient work of reference for persons who played a part in political, ecclesiastical, and literary history in the East down to the tenth century. The chief source for this is the encyclopedia of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (912–59), and for Roman history the excerpts of John of Antioch (fifth century). Krumbacher (Byzantinische Literatur, 566) counts two main sources of the work: Constantine VII for ancient history, and Hamartolus (Georgios Monachos) for the Byzantine age.
The lexicon is arranged alphabetically with some slight deviations from common vowel order and place in the Greek alphabet (including at each case the homophonous digraphs, e.g. αι,ει,οι, that had been previously, earlier in the history of Greek, distinct diphthongs or vowels) according to a formerly common in many languages system that is called ἀντιστοιχία, antistoichia; namely the letters follow phonetically in order of sound, in the pronunciation of the tenth century which is similar to that of Modern Greek. So alpha-iota (αι) comes after epsilon and the latter after delta; eta and iota come together after epsilon-iota (ει) and the latter after zeta; omega after omicron and the latter after chi; finally upsilon after omicron-iota (οι) and the latter after tau.2 The system is not difficult to learn and remember, but some editors—for example, Immanuel Bekker – rearranged the Suda alphabetically.
Little is known of the compilation of this work, except that it must have taken place before Eustathius who quoted frequently from it in the 12th century. Under the heading "Adam" the author of the lexicon (which a prefatory note states to be "by Suidas") gives a brief chronology of the world, ending with the death of the emperor John I Tzimiskes (975), and the article "Constantinople" mentions his successors Basil II (976–1025) and Constantine VIII (1025–1028). It would thus appear that the Suda was compiled in the latter part of the 10th century. Passages referring to Michael Psellus (end of the 11th century) are considered later interpolations.citation needed
It includes numerous quotations from ancient writers; the scholiasts on Aristophanes, Homer, Sophocles and Thucydides are also much used. The biographical notices, the author avers, are condensed from the Onomatologion or Pinax of Hesychius of Miletus; other sources include the excerpts of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, the chronicle of Georgius Monachus, the biographies of Diogenes Laertius and the works of Athenaeus and Philostratus. Other principal sources include a lexicon by "Eudemus," perhaps derived from the work On Rhetorical Language by Eudemus of Argos.3
The work deals with biblical as well as pagan subjects, from which it is inferred that the writer was a Christian. A prefatory note gives a list of dictionaries from which the lexical portion was compiled, together with the names of their authors. Although the work is uncritical and probably much interpolated, and the value of its articles is very unequal, the Suda contains much useful information on ancient history and life.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Suidas". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- Bertrand Hemmerdinger, "Suidas, et non la Souda," Bollettino dei classici, 3rd ser. 19 (1998), pp. 31f., defends the name Suidas (Σουΐδας), arguing that the form Σουΐδα/Σοῦδα is a Doric genitive.
- Suidae lexicon: Graecè et Latinè, Volume 1, Part 1, page XXXIX (in Greek and Latin)
- Karl Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Litteratur, pp. 268f.