Citing Ancient Authors

When citing classical texts scholars employ a specialized, precise method that does not use page numbers. In outline, the proper format for citing classical texts is as follows:

Author, Title Book#.Section#.Line#

Different texts have different structures that might alter this schema slightly. Using this method ensures the reader can find the exact passage no matter what translation or edition he or she is using.



Homer, Iliad 18.141–143.

That’s Book 18 of the Iliad, lines 141 to 143. A “book” for classical works represents what once fit on a single scroll of papyrus. When referring to books of classical texts, the word is capitalized (“see Iliad, Book 18” or “in the eighteenth Book of the Iliad).

Sophocles, Antigone 904–922.

Antigone is a play, with one continuous sequence of line numbers, so there is no “Book” number.

Horace, Odes 4.1.1-4.

Book 4 of Horace’s Odes, poem 1, lines 1 to 4. The individual Odes have numbers, rather than titles.

Catullus 85.2

Poem 85 of Catullus, line 2. Catullus’ poetry exists in a single collection, with poems numbered sequentially. There are no “Book” numbers, and no title, since it’s just Catullus’ surviving poems, one after another. Note that when there is no title, no comma is needed after the author’s name.


Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.11.6.

Book 9, section 11, paragraph 6 of Pausanias’ Description of Greece. Since Pausanias has only one work surviving, the title is actually optional. There would be no ambiguity if it were omitted.

Apollodorus 2.5.4

Book 2, section 5, paragraph 4 of Apollodorus’ Library of Greek Mythology. Apollodorus only wrote one work, so mentioning its title is optional. When there is no title, no comma is needed after the author’s name.

Herodotus 4.1.

The first section of Herodotus’ Histories, Book 4. This section actually has three sentences, each individually numbered. But there is no reason to give a specific sentence number if you are referring the reader to the whole section.

Plato, Symposium 215a3–218b7.

Plato has his own special reference numbers called “Stephanus pages” after an early editor of his complete works. Each numbered section has subsections labeled a, b, c, d, e. Within each subsection, each sentence has a number. This reference specifies a range from Stephanus page 215, subsection a, sentence 3, to Stephanus page 218, subsection b, sentence 7. Modern translations put these reference numbers in the margins, so you can always locate the specific passage.

Abbreviations: Most classical authors and texts have standard abbreviations that you may want to employ; these can be at the Oxford Classical Dictionary Abbreviations list.

Multiple references to the same work in the course of a paragraph can be abbreviated even further. Once it’s been established that you are discussing Iliad Book 18, for subsequent references you can simply put line numbers in parentheses, rather than repeating the whole “Homer, Iliad 18” part. Efficient! The goal is clarity, so if you refer to something else, then come back to Iliad 18, put the full form in again just to be sure.

Those are the basics. Any questions? Leave a comment and I will respond as soon as I can.

Chris Francese, October 7, 2020