Must Read Classics for Your Reading List
Part 1: The Greek Classics
Sometimes you find yourself wanting to put down the pop lit about werewolves or teens with cancer and to pick up some classic literature, but it is hard to know where to start. There is so much literature to be read. Why not start at the beginning?
The “Classics,” as it is properly referred to, are a body of ancient literature covering the vast wealth that is Ancient Greek and Roman writing. The following is a list of accessible texts, or classic “Classics” as I call them, from ancient Greece. It covers every area of interest: mythology, history, drama, philosophy, and poetry. In this digest it is assumed that you would read Homer. If you haven’t go do that first! Try the Odyssey! Homer is the Shakespeare to the English 101 class of ancient Greece.
If you are curious as to where to find these reads, check out this other Offerisor article on how to find them for free!
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology
You may recognize this title. You may have even used it as a textbook in High school. If so, it is definitely for a reason. Edith Hamilton’ work on mythology has become a classic when it comes to classical mythology. If you are looking for an introduction to this subject, Hamilton is a solid place to start, and this goes both for the Greeks and the Romans.
“Great art is the expression of a solution of the conflict between the demands of the world without and that within.” – Edith Hamilton
It would be impossible to just select one piece of drama as “best” in the ancient Greek tradition. If you pressed me, I would have to point you to Euripides’ Medea as my favorite. Euripides is typically more approachable than his colleagues concerning his style and the references he makes. The Medea is no exception, but don’t underestimate the power of this piece. Through Euripides’ account beings to life the psychological trauma of Medea’s tragedy in an eerily real way. It still resonates with modern audiences.
“Stronger than lover’s love is lover’s hate. Incurable, in each, the wounds they make.”
If you are interested in history, why not read one of the first historians. Herodotus’ Histories will give you a good idea of the ancient Greek variety of historical work. Be forewarned: it is very different.
“In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.” – Herodotus
Here is another standard that everyone should be familiar with and everyone should read. It has been said that all of philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Plato’s dialogues are short reads so you really have no excuse not to pick one up. A great one to start with it’s the Symposium, the dialogue about love. If that whets you’re appetite at all, Plato’s more dense work The Republic is a great place to turn to next.
“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”
– Plato, The Symposium
For the poets out there, look no further than Sappho. We don’t have very much of Sappho left, but the works that we do have are absolutely worth attention. Poetry like Sappho’s reminds us how being human does not change over time. Though we look through an ancient and forgotten window, she is a window that feels as we do.
“Stand and face me, my love, and scatter the grace in your eyes.”
This brief digest of ancient Greek works serves to emphasize our common humanity throughout history. What does it mean to be human? How does that change? The works of the ancients not only educate us about them, they educate us about ourselves.
Don’t be intimidated by the Classics. They are not just for college professors to read. They are available and accessible to us all, and we could all benefit from their wisdom. After all, their wisdom is our wisdom.
Be sure to check out part two of this review that covers the Romans side of the classical world.
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