Citing Plato and Aristotle: Stephanus and Bekker Numbers
  • 3-minute read
  • 23rd November 2019

Citing Plato and Aristotle: Stephanus and Bekker Numbers

There are many referencing systems, all with their own rules. But Plato and Aristotle – the breakout stars of ancient Greek philosophy – don’t play by anyone else’s rules. In fact, these toga-wearing rebels have special citation styles of their own known as Stephanus numbers (Plato) and Bekker numbers (Aristotle). But how do these work? Let us explain.

Citing Plato with Stephanus Numbers

If you read a text by Plato, you may notice numbers and letters in the margins. We call these “Stephanus numbers” or “Stephanus pagination.” They’re named after Henricus Stephanus, who published a famous edition of the collected works of Plato in 1578. And since then, the page numbering from this edition has become a standard part of published Plato texts.

The advantage here is that people with different editions of the same text can use the same numbers. To cite one of Plato’s dialogues, then, you will need to give the title, a section number, and a letter:

Socrates describes those who trust writing as naïve (Phaedrus, 274c).

The number here refers to the page number from the Stephanus edition. Each page was then divided into five sections, which we indicate with the letters a-e. So in the example above, we’re citing text from page 274, section c of the Stephanus edition. The same passage will be labeled with the same number and letter in all modern versions of the Phaedrus.

Knowing the details of the pages, sections, etc., is not that important, though! The key is to use the numbers and letters in the margins of Plato’s works for citations. And the same is true of Aristotle and Bekker numbers.

Plato and Aristotle, making an entrance.
Plato and Aristotle, making an entrance.

Citing Aristotle with Bekker Numbers

Just as Plato has Stephanus numbers, Aristotle has Bekker numbers (or Bekker pagination). These are named after August Immanuel Bekker, who edited a version of the complete works of Aristotle. Bekker numbers are based on the page numbering used in this edition of Aristotle’s collected writings. To cite a text by Aristotle using Bekker numbers, you’ll need:

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  • The title of the book you’re citing
  • A book and chapter number from the collected Bekker edition
  • The page, section, and line numbers from the Bekker edition

For example, we could cite Aristotle’s famous Nicomachean Ethics as follows:

Being happy takes a complete lifetime (Nicomachean Ethics, 1.7, 1098a16).

Here, we see the title (Nicomachean Ethics), the book and chapter number (1.7), and a pinpoint citation (page 1098, section a, line 16). Since most modern editions of Aristotle include Bekker numbers, this citation would work for any version of the Nicomachean Ethics.

Plato and Aristotle in Reference Lists

Some referencing systems have special rules for adding “classical” texts, including those by Plato and Aristotle, to a reference list. APA, for instance, says you don’t need to include ancient Greek texts in the reference list at all as long as you clearly identify the version used in citations.

However, it’s usually a good idea to list texts by Plato and Aristotle in your reference list, so make sure to check your style guide for the correct format.

If you’re still unsure of the best approach to use in your work, ask your supervisor or lecturer about how to list them. And if you’d like anyone to check the referencing in a document, just let us know.

Comments (7)
melissa stroganow
3rd March 2021 at 10:40
I have scoured the internet to find out how to cite a passage from Plato's Republic. I have seen a quote that I want to use, but since I can't it in the work I can't be sure it is correct. It is "A need or problem encourages creative efforts to meet the need or to solve the problem."
    Proofed
    3rd March 2021 at 11:25
    Hi, Melissa. I can't claim to know the Republic inside out, but a quick google brings up this page: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention I think what that definition is saying is that "necessity is the mother of invention" occurs in Plato's writing, not that the quote in your comment does. I also found the sentence "Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention" in at least one translation of the work in question, so I'd imagine that's as near as you're getting to the quote you found from Plato himself, unfortunately: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1497/1497-h/1497-h.htm
Steyn Verster
20th April 2021 at 08:26
Hi there - do you have any advice on how to cite Socrates?
    Proofed
    20th April 2021 at 09:21
    Hi, Steyn. Socrates didn't leave any written works, so there is (unfortunately) nothing to cite. He is typically cited via Plato, whose dialogues feature Socrates and his thought prominently. So, if you're citing a Socratic dialogue by Plato, you can follow the guidance here.
Ricky
20th September 2021 at 12:01
Hello, where do I find the book Republic by Plato in which there is Stephanus Numbers for me to cite ?
    Proofed
    20th September 2021 at 17:15
    Hi, Ricky. Most scholarly editions of Plato's works, including the Republic, should include Stephanus numbers (e.g. the Penguin Classics editions translated by Desmond Lee). If you're not sure, look for the little numbers and letters in the margins. You can also find an online version with Stephanus numbering here: https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168%3Abook%3D1%3Asection%3D327a
Thomas Riggins
29th July 2022 at 15:05
Greeks did not wear togas.

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