10 books to immerse yourself in the world of classic literature [reading list]
The term classical literature refers to the written works of the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as various other ancient civilizations. Although it can be daunting to tackle such large and often heavy works, reading classic literature opens doors to the innermost thoughts of some of history’s greatest minds and allows exploration of distant civilizations. .
Here are 10 books we recommend you read if you’re looking to immerse yourself in the world of classic literature, but aren’t sure where to start.
1. Elegies of Chu
One of two surviving collections of ancient Chinese poetry, Elegies of Chu is a must on the reading lists of lovers of poetry and classical music.
The elegies are a key source for the entire tradition of Chinese poetry and contain impassioned expressions of political protest as well as shamanic themes of magical spells and wandering spirits. For this reason, they present an alternate face of early Chinese culture; one that does not align with orthodox Confucianism.
2. Property management and symposium
Property management and symposium is a new translation of two of Xenophon’s most famous works.
The Economicus describes Socrates conversing on the subject of successful management of his “oikos”, or domain. The focus is on an affluent Athenian household, which proves a testing ground for the moral qualities of the patriarch, but also a space in which the role of women proves essential. Symposium moves to the men’s quarters of the household, describing an evening of conversation and entertainment at the home of an Athenian plutocrat. The conversation probes timeless questions of wisdom, love, and feminine ability, and above looms the deadly and serious question of Socrates’ trial and death.
3. Antigone and other tragedies
Considered one of the greatest playwrights of all time, Sophocles and his works have directly influenced many artists and thinkers over the centuries. As such, we’d be remiss to leave it out of this list.
Antigone and other tragedies is composed of three of Sophocles’ well-known pieces: Antigone, Deianeiraand Electra, who present all women as their inflexible heroes. These three tragedies depict the extremes of human suffering and emotion, transforming heroic myths into supreme works of poetry and dramatic action, all with a new and distinctive verse translation that seeks to convey the vitality of poetry. of Sophocles and the vigor of plays. , doing justice to both the sound of poetry and the theatrics of tragedies.
4. Epigrams from the Greek anthology
Encompassing four thousand epigrams, or short poems, this ramshackle classic brings together a millennium of snapshots of ancient everyday life. Victorious armies, ruined cities, Olympic champions and lovers’ squabbles can all be found between its covers – along with jokes and riddles, art appreciation, potted author biographies and scenes of country life and the workplace.
This selection includes over 600 epigrams in verse and is the first major translation of the Greek anthology for nearly a century.
Ovid’s Poetic Calendar of the Roman Year is both a day-to-day account of feasts and celebrations and their origins, and a delightful account of myths and legends associated with particular dates.
With tones ranging from tragedy to farce, and its subject matter ranging from astronomy and arcane rituals to Roman history and Greek mythology, the poem recounts a multitude of customs and beliefs, such as the bad luck of get married in May.
6. Constellation Myths
Constellation Myths is the only comprehensive compendium of ancient star and constellation myths, including the two main sources, Eratosthenes and Hyginus, as well as Phaenomena of Aratus, the oldest surviving account of the Greek constellations. This fascinating collection of mythological stories covers the constellations of the zodiac, the northern and southern skies and the Milky Way and includes the stories of Europa, Orion’s pursuit of the Pleiades, kneeling Heracles, Pegasus, Perseus and Andromeda, the ram gold, and many more.
Together with Aratus’s astronomical poem the Phaenomena, these texts provide a comprehensive collection of Greek astral myths; Imaginative and picturesque, they also offer intriguing insight into ancient science and culture, perfect for historians and astronomers.
seven. The Odyssey
The Odyssey is undoubtedly one of the best-known pieces of classical literature.
Homer’s great epic poem encapsulates the power of cunning over strength, the snares of temptation, and the importance of home.
The Odyssey competes with the Iliad as the greatest poem in Western culture and is perhaps the most influential text in classical literature.
8. The interpretation of dreams
Artemidorus’ The interpretation of dreams is the richest and most vivid pre-Freudian account of dream interpretation, and the only dream book to survive from Greco-Roman times. Composed at a time when many believed that dreams offered insight into future events, the work is a collection of dream interpretations on a wide range of topics related to the natural, human and divine worlds.
Artemidorus’ technique of dream interpretation uniquely emphasizes the need to know the dreamer’s background, making this work more than just a dictionary of dreams, but also a fascinating social history that reveals them. much about ancient life, culture, beliefs and attitudes towards the world. dominant power of Imperial Rome.
9. Six Tragedies
If you’re looking for something on the darker side, this compilation of six Seneca tragedies is exactly what you’re looking for.
Tutor to Emperor Nero, Seneca lived through uncertain and violent times, and his dramas depict the extremes of human behavior. In these works, his passion constantly trumps reason, and rape, suicide, the killing of children, incestuous love, madness and mutilation afflict the characters, obsessed and destroyed by their feelings. In his works, Seneca forces us to think about the difference between compromise and hypocrisy, what happens when emotions outweigh judgment, and how, if so, a person can be good, calm or happy in a corrupt and constantly threatened society. of death.
Phaedrus is widely recognized as one of Plato’s most profound and beautiful works.
It takes the form of a dialogue between Socrates and Phèdre. Both begin by discussing love, which Socrates describes as a kind of divine madness that can allow our souls to sprout wings and soar to their greatest heights. Then the conversation then changes direction and turns to a discussion of rhetoric, which must be based on the passionately sought truth, thus combining it with philosophy. The dialogue ends by denigrating the value of writing in any context, compared to the living teaching of a Socratic philosopher.