• Tommaso Spinelli (Creator)




The First Online Dictionary of Latin Near-Synonyms is a digital humanities project aimed at providing students and researchers with the first modern monolingual dictionary of Latin near-synonyms (available online and as an app). The dictionary, which has been invented and developed by Tommaso Spinelli in collaboration with Giacomo Fenzi, is part of the Latine Loquamur project , initiated by Dr. Alice König, Dr. Giuseppe Pezzini, Tommaso Spinelli, and Giacomo Fenzi and awarded funding by the University of St. Andrews Teaching Development Grants in 2018 to support the teaching and independent learning of Latin in Latin.

Within the broader scope of the project, the dictionary of Latin near-synonyms meets the needs of the ever-increasing number of institutions that teach Latin in Latin all over the world (Ørberg method). The dictionary is designed as a database of Latin synonyms (based on a similarity of meaning as established by the OLD), in which each Latin headword is defined by its Latin synonyms grouped according to the different semantic nuances of the headword and completed by grammatical mark up. The dictionary has a simple structure: a JSON file works as a database that a correctly formatted request (GET /{word}) can query using a HTTP Server. To meet the needs of a resilient and scalable architecture, the program uses a structured backend, based on a combination of C++, Java, and Python. The Python side is responsible for data gathering and cleaning and does so by collating and normalizing a variety of sources. The C++ backend is then in charge of turning said information into a graph-based representation, which is loaded in Java and connected with Neo4j for an intuitive display of the connections between words in the graph.

Although the program has been developed to support the teaching of Latin in Latin, and so far includes only the most frequent Latin words, it represents an important innovation also for the study of semantic intertextuality. As recent studies on in intertextuality in prose (O’ Gorman 2006, 2009), in different genres (Coffee & Al. 2012; Buckley 2018) and media (Milnor 2014; Gregori & Bianchini 2017) have confirmed, a significant percentage of intertexts between ancient texts is based on a similarity of meaning in the absence of precise verbal repetitions and, consequently, cannot be mapped via digital pattern-matching research. Recent technologies have addressed this issue by switching their focus to a new cognitively-informed approach of semantic analysis able to detect overlaps of meaning and contextual or phonetic similarities. Yet none of them has thus far successfully combined the robustness of the linguistic research (cf. BTL; Musisque Deoque) with the inclusiveness of the semantic approach (cf. the synonyms function of Tesserae; TRACER). While existing programs currently detect similarity of meaning between texts as based on the English translation of Latin words, the dictionary of Latin near-synonyms makes it possible to refine the digital detection of semantic intertexts by providing reliable lists of Latin synonyms that significantly reduce the linguistic and semantic gap generated by the Latin-English translation of words. To further enhance this functionality, we plan to augment the existing dictionary with a new database of differentiae verborum that will provide lists of historically authentic synonyms as recorded in ancient glossaries and attested in manuscripts dating from the 7th century (Brugnoli 1955). Furthermore, the separation between program’s structure, algorithms and data (obtained by using an innovative combination of C++, Go and Python’s scripts), makes the program suitable to be used on different platforms and implemented with new data, thus allowing for the creation of an online Latin-Greek online dictionary for the digital research of trans-linguistic intertexts.

A sample version of the dictionary is already available on Google store as an android app. The app has been co-developed by Tommaso Spinelli, Giacomo Fenzi and Kamil Kolosowski. (

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-Buckley, E., 2018, “Flavian epic and Trajanic historiography: speaking into the silence”, in ed. König, A., Whitton, C., Roman Literature under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian: literary interactions, AD 96-139. Cambridge University Press.
-Coffee, N., 2018. An Agenda for the Study of Intertextuality. TAPA, pp. 205-223.
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-Gregori, G. L., Bianchini, G., 2017. Tra epigrafia, letteratura e filologia. Due inedite meditazioni sulla vita e sulla morte incise sull'ossario di Cresto. Esclaves et maîtres dans le monde romain Expressions épigraphiques de leurs relations, études réunies par M. Dondin-Payre-N. Tran (2017), pp. 141-159.
-Kristeva, J., 1984. Revolution in poetic language. Columbia University Press. -1986. From symbol to sign. The Kristeva Reader, pp. 62-73.
-Milnor, K., 2014. Graffiti and the literary landscape in Roman Pompeii. OUP Oxford.
-O’Gorman, E., 2006. “Intertextuality, time and historical understanding”, in Macfie, A., The philosophy of history. Palgrave Macmillan. -2009. “Intertextuality and historiography”. The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians, pp. 231-42.
Date made available7 Jul 2023
PublisherUniversity of St Andrews


  • Latin
  • Synonyms
  • classics

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