ToposText is a set of tools that projects the geographic elements of ancient texts onto a mapping of the ancient world. Users can follow a classical reference from place-to-text, or from text-to-place. Zooming in on Thebes and clicking on “Cadmeia,” for example, takes us to 63 text entries, such as the Bios Ellados of Heracleides Criticus; clicking on Bios Ellados takes us to 36 map locations through 78 text references. The text is displayed in public-domain English translation (default) with a link to the original ancient Greek (in this case, at Bibliotheca Augustana). The places are located through a Google Map interface.
Can a computer understand the hendecasyllables of Catullus, the declamations of Seneca, or the letters of Pliny? Not yet, and maybe never in any conventional sense of this word. No one has succeeded so far in teaching a computer to comprehend language – that is, to reason about, generate, act upon and, importantly, communicate intentions through symbolic speech – let alone to appreciate texts written in a dead language with a sophisticated literary tradition. (Embodied cognitive science claims, in fact, that without a human body no computer can ever hope to achieve human understanding). But it is possible to represent the meanings of the Latin language in a way that can be manipulated and analysed by computers. The idea of training machines in these meanings forms the basis for the field of natural language understanding, which is a specialized kind of natural language processing (NLP) focused on modelling linguistic semantics.