150 years have elapsed since the publication of August Dillmann’s Lexicon
in 1865. In his preface to this monument of Ethiopian and oriental studies (completed in June 1864), Dillmann mentioned seven years of continuous and uninterrupted work (‘per septennium omnibus fere horis subsecivis’), including four years of proof-reading. The work on the Lexicon
thus immediately followed the publication of the Grammatik der äthiopischen Sprache
(first edition) in 1857, which the Lexicon
under many respects completes and complements. These seven years were deemed reasonable by Dillmann to combine a substantial progress in Gǝʿǝz lexicography, even without attaining the ideal of a thesaurus
, with the goal of a feasible task within a manageable period.
150 years was also roughly the period that, as mentioned by Dillmann (‘plus centum et quinquaginta annos’), had passed by 1865 since the publication of the immediate forerunner of the Lexicon, namely the Lexicon aethiopico-latinum by Hiob Ludolf, the second revised edition of which was published in 1699 (first edition in 1661) and had served as the only reference tool for Gǝʿǝz until the nineteenth century.
In the 1950s, several attempts followed in Dillmann’s footsteps (and reflected what Dillmann himself had planned and foreseen, ‘nostro thesauro facile posthac adjiciamus vel adjiciant viri harum literarum periti qui in posterum sunt futuri’), but did not significantly change the general framework (Sylvain Grébaut’s Supplément in 1952, Gabriele da Maggiora’s Vocabolario in 1953, or even Kǝfla Giyorgis, Kidāna Wald Kǝfle, Dasstā Takla Wald’s Maṣḥafa sawāsǝw in 1955/1956). Only Wolf Leslau’s Comparative dictionary of Geʿez (Classical Ethiopic) in 1987 marked a real step forward in Gǝʿǝz lexicography. Yet, Leslau’s dictionary had a focus on comparative linguistics and programmatically disregarded references to texts, manuscripts, and even inscriptions, not to say of aspects of style, lexical development, and phraseology.