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 The Mortola Library, in cooperation with the Department of English on the Pleasantville campus, has set up a display highlighting the Great Books of the Western World in the Library display area. The unique feature of this collection is its index volume: SYNTOPICON (vols. 2-3). Using these two volumes, readers can communicate with great thinkers of the past in the western world who helped shape the civilization of today and a researcher can gain access to the ideas of great philosophers on many topics instantly without combing through texts page by page. The set is so essential for the Arts and Sciences that some liberal arts colleges use these books as the foundation of the educations they offer students and students study from the texts throughout their college years. In the words of a modern scholar, this set is an excellent series for anyone who wants to know who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.  All are invited to view the exhibit which will be on display through the month of February 2005 in the Mortola Library in Pleasantville.



Definition:  Index volumes to the Great Ideas contained in the Great Books of the Western World (GBWW) indicating all the wisdoms of the great thinkers and writers on topics of interest.  The aim of the Syntopicon is to discover the unity and continuity of the Western thought in the discussion of common themes and problems from one end of tradition to the other.  Syntopicon serve as a guide to the readings of GBWW as a unified whole.

The Syntopicon is organized into 102 chapters on broad common themes.  Each chapter consists of five parts:

  • Introduction - an essay/statement which comments on the various meanings of the idea under consideration, and takes note of the problems it has raised and the controversies it has occasioned in the tradition of western thought.
  • Outline of topics - states the major themes of the conversation to be found in the GBWW on the idea of that chapter.  There are about 3000 topics in the Syntopicon as a whole, an average of 30 to a chapter.  There is an inventory of terms to find out if a specific topic is discussed.
  • References - these are the heart of each chapter.  Organized by topics, the references are designed to enable readers to turn to the GBWW for the discussion of a particular subject.  Under each topic, the references are arranged in the order in which the authors and their works appear in GBWW.  There are about 163,000 references in the Syntopicon as a whole.
  • Cross references - direct the reader to other chapters in which similar or related matters are considered.  By relating the topics of various chapters, the cross references show the interconnection of the great ideas.
  • Additional readings - a list of further readings representing some of the works in the wider field of literature, in which the great books occupy a central position.  The recommended titles are divided into two groups - those written by authors represented in GBWW and those written by others.

For more information about this display and resource, please contact John Lee (

Note:  This resource has a copyright of 1952.

Created by Pace University Library
Revised 2/6/05
Christina Blenkle


To make the display more attractive and interesting from the standpoint of readers, professors who link a course assignment to Syntopicon and their students who participate by submitting a list of quotes and descriptions from the two volume Syntopicon on the topics of their interest, such as Citizenship, Civic Responsibility, Democracy, Government, Liberty, and so on, were rewarded with a small token of recognition by the Library