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Collaborative digital editions, commentaries, and translations for pre-medieval works in 14 languages

The Oxford Latinist Don Fowler spoke of commentary in which the goal is to open the text to its readers rather than shut it down: that “electronic commentaries ...

The Oxford Latinist Don Fowler spoke of commentary in which the goal is to open the text to its readers rather than shut it down: that “electronic commentaries are not so much guides for the perplexed but guides into complexity and a sense of greater, rather than lesser, difficulty.” Fowler was interested in the possibilities of online commentaries, which he envisaged as texts that by virtue of their markup (in TEI XML, a technology that was just emerging) could blur the distinction between text and commentary.

In the New Alexandria project, we wanted the commentaries and editions to consist of monographs turned inside out, with the evidence being the way into the argument rather than the other way around. We want to court sequential readers while accommodating readers who would turn to the publications here for discussion of a word or a line or a passage with the hope that they would get caught up in threads of the arguments.

Our mission is to open the texts in the digital library for discovery and understanding, to exhibit ways to get into the complexities of their meanings, instead of shutting them down for outsiders and insiders alike. Exposing the text to dialogue among commentators is consistent with that goal and with the notion of an “open” commentary as Fowler described it.

“Electronic commentaries offer us the opportunity to provide ourselves with infinitely large margins to our texts, to fill as we will with our notes, from vocabulary cribs to conjectures...I embrace with enthusiasm the labyrinthine complexity and deferral [using Derrida’s term] that such a view of the commentary presupposes.
- Don Fowler, A Commentary on De Rerum Natura

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“Doctors: they are never allowed to admit uncertainty, but are expected, where there is no solution, to say that there is no problem ... [commentaries] are not so much guides for the perplexed but guides into complexity and a sense of greater, rather than lesser, difficulty“
- Don Fowler, A Commentary on De Rerum Natura