Referring to ancient texts
However, this system isn't appropriate for citations of ancient texts. There are a gazillion different translations and editions of Plato's Republic, for instance, so referring to a page number from the translation you're using would make it very difficult for others to track down the passage.
Because of this, more-or-less standards system of reference have developed for many ancient authors, to facilitate finding passages across differing editions and translations. Please use these systems in your paper.
For references to (or quotations of) Plato use the Stephanus numbers, either in a footnote or in-text parenthetical citation, e.g., "Blah blah blah." (Apology 18e)
For Aristotle, use the Bekker numbers, e.g., "Blah blah blah." (Nicomachean Ethics 1173a10-15)
The situation with Hellenistic philosophers (the Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics) is a little trickier, as we have a huge range of sources of information to contend with. However, for our purposes, most of our references will be in passages in one of the widely-used compendia: either Long and Sedley, or Inwood and Gerson (The Epicurus Reader or Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings). Please piggyback on their way of referring to the primary texts, e.g., for text 2 of The Epicurus Reader, go ahead and do the following: "Blah Blah Blah." (Letter to Herodotus 82), and for text 29, "Yadda yadda yadda." (Plutarch, Against Colotes 1111a). You may also wish to include the 'number' of the text as used in your compendium. The following convention would work: (IG [text number]) for Inwood and Gerson, (LS [text number]) for Long and Sedley, e.g., (Plutarch, Against Colotes 1111a, IG 29).
For references to Lucretius, the most common reference system is (DRN [for 'De Rerum Natura,' the poem's title] Book-number line-numbers); e.g. (DRN IV 1121-1140).
Unless you are doing your own translations, please indicate in a footnote which translation you'll be using, e.g., "All translations of Lucretius are from Smith (2001)."
For most of the sources above, it might occasionally be difficult (using your translations and their marginal numbers) to pinpoint exact line or section numbers: did that quotation from Plato end at 460d or 460e? If you were writing a journal article, you'd have to go back to the Greek or Latin text and pin it down exactly, but for our purposes, don't sweat it.
If you are referring to other ancient sources that aren't covered in the guidelines above, please feel to ask me if there is some widely-adopted convention that you should follow.
Send e-mail to tokeefe AT gsu DOT edu
Think that you’ve finally got your head around citing sources in academic writing? Think again! There are plenty of exceptions to the normal rules, especially when it comes to classical texts.
This is because there are many editions of certain books by historically important authors. In this post, for example, we’re looking at two exemptions from the usual rules of referencing: the works of Plato and Aristotle.
Plato and Aristotle were both ancient Greek philosophers. Their work has been studied ever since, so you may come across them in your studies (especially if you’re a philosopher!).
These thinkers share more in common than togas and sandals though: each one is associated with a unique referencing system. Plato’s writing uses Stephanus numbers, where you cite a text by giving the title, a section number and letter:
Socrates describes himself as a ‘gadfly’ (Apology 30e).
The citation above, for instance, points to section 30e of the Apology.
This system is based on a Renaissance edition of the complete works of Plato. Pages in this were numbered continuously (so later books have higher numbers) and divided into five columns (labelled with letters from ‘a’ to ‘e’). Since this edition was historically important, most later versions of Plato’s writing have included Stephanus numbers in their margins.
Aristotle’s works, meanwhile, are cited using Bekker numbers. This system combines the title, a book and chapter number, and an extra number to specify the part of the text cited:
Aristotle distinguished between actuality and potentiality (Metaphysics, XI.9, 1065b5-15).
This system is based on an edition of Aristotle’s writing used by August Immanuel Bekker. In the citation above, ‘Metaphysics’ is the work, ‘XI.9’ shows that it’s chapter 9 of book 11 within this, and ‘1065b5-15’ shows us the page, column and line numbers in the text.
Most modern editions of Aristotle’s writing include Bekker numbers in the margins. However, there are some variations of this system (e.g. abbreviating titles of works or using letters instead of Roman numerals). If you’re not sure which approach to use, check your style guide (or ask your supervisor).
In the Reference List
Some systems have specific rules for listing classical texts, such as those of Plato and Aristotle, in a reference list. APA, for example, says that ancient Greek texts can be left out of the reference list as long as you identify the version you’re using the first time it’s cited.
However, most referencing systems require full publication information in the reference list for texts by Plato and Aristotle. And this approach is usually better when writing an essay, even if you are using Stephanus or Bekker numbers.