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Academic Proofreading: A Quick Guide to Bekker Numbers

Aristotle is one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. Thus, if you proofread academic work, you may encounter Bekker numbers at some point. But what is Bekker pagination? And what do you need to know about it as a proofreader? Let’s take a look.

What Are Bekker Numbers?

Aristotle – a Greek philosopher and polymath from the fourth century BCE – was one of the most influential writers in the history of Western thought. He discussed subjects ranging from poetry and ethics to logic and physics, and academics still discuss his work today.

Due to the importance of Aristotle’s work, moreover, it has its own numbering system. This is based on the page numbers used in an edition of the complete works of Aristotle edited by the philologist August Immanuel Bekker, who gave his name to these “Bekker numbers.”

Also known as “Bekker pagination,” all modern editions of Aristotle’s works intended for scholarly use feature this numbering. This ensures consistency across different versions, meaning that readers do not need the same edition as the author to check references.

As such, Bekker numbers have become the standard way to cite Aristotle in academic writing.

How Does Bekker Numbering Work?

As noted above, Bekker numbering is based on a specific edition of Aristotle’s collected works. Bekker numbers therefore reflect the layout of this edition, with three key components: a page number, a letter denoting a column (either “a” or “b”), and a line number.

Bekker numbers in a margin.
Bekker numbers in a margin.

Typically, this number is preceded by “Aristotle” and the name of the work in citations:

The book begins with an overview of what it will address (Aristotle, Poetics, 1447a8).

Here, we’re referring to the first page of Poetics, Aristotle’s work on poetry and literature. The Bekker number includes a page number (1447), a column letter (a), and a line number (8). And this number will be the same in any edition of Aristotle that uses Bekker pagination.

All Bekker numbers follow this basic format. The exact citation style, however, may vary depending on the style guide your client is using. Common variations include:

  • Adding book and chapter number(s) for works that are divided into books and chapters (e.g., in “Metaphysics, XI.9, 1065b5–15,” the “XI.9” means “Book 11, Chapter 9”).
  • Abbreviating author and title names (e.g., Arist., Met., XI.9, 1065b5–15).
  • Omitting the author name and work title and just giving the Bekker number (typically, this is only appropriate if there is no doubt about which work the author is discussing).

You may therefore need to check how your client is using Bekker numbers before you start proofreading. You can then check that they use the correct format consistently.

In the reference list, meanwhile, the correct format for an Aristotle text will depend on the system your client is using (e.g., MLA, APA, Chicago). If you are checking the references as well, then, make sure to check for advice on classical texts in your client’s chosen style guide.

Works Without Bekker Numbers

Not every edition of a work by Aristotle will include Bekker numbers.

For some sources, this is because they weren’t available when Bekker created his edition of Aristotle’s complete works (e.g., the Constitution of the Athenians or various fragments from otherwise lost works). These are typically cited with section numbers from the edition used.

In other cases, it is simply that the text was printed without Bekker numbers. For scholarly work, you may want to gently suggest that your client finds an edition that uses this system, as Bekker pagination is the standard way of citing Aristotle in academic writing.

However, if your client decides not to use Bekker pagination in their work, you should just make sure references to Aristotle are consistent with other citations in the document.

Proofreading Aristotle Citations

In terms of proofreading Bekker numbers, the main thing is being aware of how they work! That way, if your client seems to use a different style for citing Aristotle than for any other source, you’ll know this is deliberate rather than an accidental inconsistency.

That said, you may want to highlight issues with Bekker numbering if:

  • You spot any glaring errors (e.g., part of a Bekker number is missing).
  • References to Aristotle do not match the format shown in your client’s style guide.
  • Your client uses different citation styles for different Aristotle texts (with the exception of the texts that do not use Bekker pagination, as noted above).

In these cases, you can prompt your client to check the problem(s) you’ve identified. If required, you might also want to suggest a solution in a comment.

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