Citing Sources for Classics Courses: A Basic Guide

The most important thing in citing sources, whether primary or secondary, is to be consistent. There is no one correct way, but you should choose one way and stick with that throughout a given paper. The suggestions below, unless noted, are not the only correct way to cite literature, but they reflect current scholarly norms.

The point of a citation is to allow your reader to find the passages you are referring to if they want to check out for themselves what the passages say.

This guide assumes you know basically nothing about citation. This is to avoid misunderstandings rather than to insult your intelligence. It is recommended that you read this entire page, even if you only need one specific piece of information right now.

Primary sources (i.e. ancient texts)

Give the name of the author (ask your teacher if you are not sure what the English form of the writer's name is), the title of the work (either underlined or italicized; standard abbreviations are fine, but do not invent your own abbreviation), and the complete citation. The citation, which identifies where in the text your quotation comes from, will vary in form depending on i) the specific text and author you are quoting from, and ii) the length of your quotation. It may contain a book number, a section number, a chapter number, and/or line number(s).

If you are quoting directly from your source, for quotations of one line or less use quotation marks and include the quotation in your regular paragraph formatting. For quotations longer than one line, indent and single space the quotation but do not use quotation marks around it. If you are quoting poetry, always indicate where line breaks occurred in the original. Unless your teacher tells you to, you do not need to include the edition, the publisher, or information about the specific book from which you are quoting the ancient author.

Standard abbreviations for names of both authors and ancient texts can be found starting on page xxix of the Oxford Classical Dictionary in the reference collection at McCabe (call number DE5 .O9 1996).


i) As Ovid says, "In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas" (Met. I.1).

Here, a short quotation is given in quotation marks and is not set apart from the text of the analysis [what you put inside these "" is the quotation, or what the text says]; the title is italicized and abbreviated with a standard abbreviation, and then the book number is given in Roman numerals followed by the line number in Arabic numerals. 1.1 -- both Arabic numbers -- would also be fine. A period is the standard way to separate book and line numbers. [this information about where to find the quotation in the text you are talking about is the citation]

ii) As Ovid says,

My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes,
Will help me -- or so I hope...
Met. I.1-3

Here, the quotation is long, and so it is single-spaced and indented within a double-spaced paragraph. Line breaks are preserved. The citation is essentially the same in format as in the previous example, except that several verses are quoted, and so we have 1-3 instead of just 1 for the line number.

If you were quoting a short passage that included a line break, it might look like this:

iii) As Ovid says, "bodies changed / To different forms..." (Met. I.1-2).

iv) In his Symposium, Plato depicts a very interesting speech by the historical figure Alcibiades (215a3-218b7).

This citation is not quoting any of Plato directly, it just tells the reader where in the Symposium this speech can be found. When you refer to something without quoting it directly, you should usually still give a citation telling your reader where to find the passage you are referring to.

Secondary Sources

The most important aspect of using secondary sources (i.e. works that discuss or interpret ancient material) is to take careful detailed notes on them while you are reading them. This will avoid the problem of knowing that you read something somewhere, but not remembering where. Secondary sources include assigned books, articles, Web sites, images, videos... If you are in doubt, always cite your source.

As with primary sources, you can either quote directly from a secondary source (if its exact wording is important to your argument) or simply refer to or paraphrase it (if you are interested in the gist but not the exact wording of your source). Also like primary sources, a short quotation can be given in quotation marks within a paragraph, while a longer quotation should be single-spaced and indented. A sample is given below.

We may reasonably agree with Jones when he tells us that "all generalizations stink," and admire the pithy and vivid phrasing he uses to convey this simple but important idea. (1) Nevertheless, Smith is going too far in asserting that stereotypes have lost all validity in the modern world. (2)

The numbers in parentheses (superscript is standard format for footnote numbers; most word processing programs have a function to automatically insert footnotes and number them sequentially) are keyed to footnotes with the same number at the bottom of the page. Footnotes should follow periods and commas, not precede them.Your footnotes at the bottom of the page containing the above excerpt might look like this.

1) Jones 1990: 34. [author's last name publication year colon page number on which your quotation or paraphrase appears]
2) Smith 1994: 498-9.

Concerning the Latin abbreviations you sometimes see in footnotes, we discourage them. If you are trying to understand what you see in a source you are reading, Ibid. means "the same" and is used if one footnote is citing the same book or article as the one immediately before it. E.g. Ibid. 34 would mean that pg. 34 of the source in the preceding footnote is being cited. Op. cit. means "work cited [already]" and is used to refer back to a book or article that has been cited before, but not in the footnote right before the one in question. E.g. Jones op. cit. (note 1) 36 means pg. 36 of the work by Jones already cited in note 1. These abbreviations are NOT used in bibliographies.

Then, your bibliography entries for these two sources might look like this:

Jones, M. 1990. The Fine Art of Generalizations. New York. [a book published in 1990 by a publishing house in NY]
Smith, D. 1994. "Stereotypes and Their Discontents." Semiotica 8: 490-500. [an article published in 1994 in volume 8 of the journal called Semiotica that goes from page 490 to page 500 of the journal; an article title is given in quotation marks and the title of the journal in which it was published gets the same formatting as any other book title; do not include the publisher or place of publication for a journal]

**Note that books and articles look the same in footnotes, but slightly different in a bibliography.**

If you are using a Web page as a source, one possible format for citing it in either a footnote or a bibliography is to give the complete URL and the date on which you accessed the cite, like this:

A commonly held belief about classical mythology is that "the religions of ancient Greece and Rome are extinct." (1)

1), accessed September 10, 2003.

***Be aware that cutting and pasting from a Web site without attribution is plagiarism and will be treated as such.***

We hope this is helpful. Let us know if you have suggestions.