Hesychius of Alexandria Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

No information exists concerning the particulars of the life of Hesychius (huh-SIHK-ee-uhs) of Alexandria. Therefore, all attempts at placing him in a particular time and identifying him with a particular religion are purely conjecture. Most scholars agree that his work comes from the fifth century c.e., and while most scholars hold that Hesychius was pagan, internal evidence mitigates against a strong conclusion as to his religious affiliation.

The only information historians have about Hesychius is the place of the authorship of his lexicon entitled Synagōgī pasōn lexeōn kata stoicheion (fifth century c.e.; alphabetical collection of all works). The preface reads that this lexicon was written by “Hesychius of Alexandria, grammarian, to his friend Eulogius.” The author states that he based his work on that of the lexographer Diogenianus of Heraclea who lived during the reign of the emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 c.e.). However, although Diogenianus’s lexicon covers the vocabularies of poetry, medicine, and history along with Homeric, comic, tragic, and lyric literature, Hesychius’s lexicon provides Greek scholars with a vocabulary of otherwise unknown words and rare usages of words along with information about lost authors. The only surviving manuscript (from the fifteenth century) shows a disturbance in the alphabetical order, and it contain numerous biblical and ecclesiastical glosses.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Hesychius’s lexicon contains about 51,000 entries, making it the richest surviving Greek lexicon until the invention of printing. Numerous words from the Greek dialects are important, not only for Greek but also for Indo-European philology.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Hornblower, S., and A. Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3d ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Phillimore, J. S. “Hesychius of Alexandria.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Press, 1910.