Classics

Classics are works from ancient and medieval times. Cite titles in line with the author–date system. Use correct attribution to help people find the source in its original language or as an English translation.

Cite classics as book titles

Disciplines and sources define the term ‘classics’ in different ways. This guidance covers ancient Greek and Roman works (until the 5th century) and works from the medieval period (from the fall of the Roman empire until the middle of the 15th century).

In references and in-text citations, treat the titles of classics as you would other book titles.

  • Use sentence case  capitalise only the first letter of the title and the first letter of any proper noun.
  • Use italics for the titles of books, series and anthologies.
  • Use quotation marks for the titles of chapters, poems or sections.

If you’re using a reference list, include any classics that you cite.

Examples of in-text citations and reference lists on this page follow the author–date system, as this is the most common way of citing the classics in government content. If your organisation uses the documentary–note system, change the citation and style of reference list accordingly.

Use correct in-text citations

Often there will not be much information for classics. For example, you might not know the date of publication.

Include the information that you know in in-text citations.

If you don’t know the name of the author, don’t use ‘Anon’, ‘unknown’ or ‘Anonymous’ in the in-text citation.

Like this

  • Beowulf is the story of a hero who defeats a dragon.
  • Like Grendel (Beowulf), you seem to suffer with the joy of others.

Not this

  • Beowulf (Anon) is the story of a hero who defeats a dragon.
  • Like Grendel (Anonymous Beowulf), you seem to suffer with the joy of others.

If you don’t know the author or the date of a work, use the name of the translator (trans) and the date of publication of the edition you’re working with. Place the date at the end of the reference.

Example

Beowulf (Heaney S, trans), Faber & Faber Ltd, London, 2002. [Reference-list entry]

Use common names for authors

Most authors of the classical and medieval periods are known just by a common name, rather than a given name and a surname.

Use the author’s common name in text, in-text citations and reference lists.

As with other books, if you mention the author in the sentence, don’t place the author’s name in brackets with the title of the work.

Write this

As Cicero expressed it, ‘Is there anything rasher and more unworthy of the dignity and strength of character of a wise man than the holding of a false opinion?’ (On the nature of the gods)

Not this

As Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed it, ‘Is there anything rasher and more unworthy of the dignity and strength of character of a wise man than the holding of a false opinion?’ (On the nature of the gods)

Include divisions in in-text citations when possible

Some classics have divisions. Divisions organise prose and poetry into, for example, books, chapters, sections, lines and verses.

Example

  • As one of the early philosophers wrote, ‘All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth.’ (Plato Phaedo 65C–66E)
  • He ended his retirement speech with Ovid’s ‘Turn loose the swans that drew my poet’s car.’ (The art of love 3.810)
  • Josh hesitated at the doorway until, like Dante, he ‘went on, timid and full of thought’. (Dante The divine comedy 20.151) [In this example, Dante appears in the text as a character in The divine comedy and appears in the citation as author]

In the examples above:

  • ‘65C–66E’ are section numbers
  • ‘3.810’ means book 3, line 810
  • ‘20.151’ means canto 20, line 151.

If the work you’re citing has divisions, quote them in the in-text citation. The first time you cite a work, spell out the divisions. Place a comma between the title of the work and the first division. Separate divisions with a comma.

Example

  • (Ovid The art of love, book 3, line 810)
  • Josh hesitated at the doorway until, like Dante, he ‘went on, timid and full of thought.’ (Dante The divine comedy, canto 20, line 151)

For subsequent citations, don’t spell out the divisions. You only need the division numbers. Separate divisions with a full stop. Don’t place a comma between the title of the work and the division numbers.

Example

  • (Ovid The art of love 3.815)
  • (Dante The divine comedy 20.151)

If you have only one division to cite, always spell it out. Place a comma between the title and the division.

Example

Virgil and Dante argue over the value of pitying the sinners in their suffering. (Dante The divine comedy, canto 20)

If you’re referring to an edition that doesn’t have divisions, you can refer to specific page numbers. In these cases, place the date of the translation  or edition  you’re working with and the page number after the title of the work. Separate the date from the page numbers with a colon, not a full stop. Don’t use spaces around the colon.

Example

  • As one of the early philosophers wrote, ‘All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth.’ (Plato Phaedo 1954:85)
  • Josh hesitated at the doorway until, like Dante, he ‘went on, timid and full of thought.’ (The divine comedy 1954:265)

Cite titles in the most appropriate language

Most of the time, you’ll be working with translations. The exception is when you’re quoting text in the original language.

Accessibility requirements

If any text should be pronounced in its original language (rather than English), screen readers need to be able to determine what that language is.

WCAG quick reference: 3.1.2 Language of parts – level AA

Translated works

In in-text citations, refer to the English title that appears on the source you’re citing. If you include the work in a reference list, use the date of the translation and the name of the translator (‘trans’).

Example

  • The heroism of women is a common motif in the stories of Hecuba, Andromache and Cassandra. (Euripides The Trojan women) [In-text citation]
  • Euripides, The Trojan women, (Murray G and Allen G, trans), London, 1905; Project Gutenberg, 2011, accessed 30 November 2019. [Reference-list entry: the date of the translation was 1905.]

Works in the original language

You will rarely need to cite works in the original language.

In these cases, cite the title in the original language. If the original language uses a different alphabet to English  ancient Greek for example  use the anglicised spelling.

Like this

Troiades [The ancient Greek name for The Trojan women, a play by Euripides]

Not this

Τρῳάδες [The Greek spelling of Troiades]

List classics with other references

You don’t usually need a reference list for classics.

If you are using a reference list because you’re citing other works as well, then include the classics you have cited.

If you include a classics work in the reference list, cite the particular translation and edition you are working with. Make sure you:

  • specify the date of the edition, not the date of the creation of the work
  • acknowledge the translator (‘trans’)
  • place the date at the end of the reference list entry – this is contrary to author–date style, but it stops possible confusion caused by, for example, ‘Plato (1954)’
  • hyperlink titles in digital content where available.

Example

  • Plato, Phaedo (Tredennick H, trans), Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1954.
  • Dante, The divine comedy (Ruse HR, trans), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1954.

Release notes

The digital edition expands and updates information in the sixth edition about citing the classics. For example, it recommends using the division number as well as the author’s name for in-text references.

The Content Guide did not mention classics.

About this page

References

American Psychological Association (2020) ‘9.42 Religious and classical works’, Publication manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edn, American Psychological Association, Washington DC.

Dante, The divine comedy (Ruse HR trans), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1954.

Ovid, The erotic poems (Green P trans), Penguin Books, London, 1982.

Oxford University Press (2016) ‘Work titles in text’, New Oxford style manual, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Oxford University Press (2020) Oxford classical dictionary, Oxford Research Encyclopedias website, accessed 29 November 2019.

Plato, Phaedo (Tredennick H trans), Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1954.

University of Chicago (2017) ‘Special types of references’, Chicago manual of style, 17th edn, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

This page was updated Thursday 11 March 2021.

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