Classics for the non-Classicist: 10 Greeks

So, let’s say you survived my list of 10 and wish to try some more Classics.  The influences upon Classical culture are broad and diverse, but the Greeks are the foundation upon which it is all built.  Therefore, moving on from those ten, here are some pieces of Greek literature worth reading.

Poetry:

Perhaps, like me, you fell madly in love with Homer.  Other epic:

Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days.  I have West’s translation for Oxford World’s Classics.  Theogony covers the birth of the gods and the formation of the universe and gives numerous genealogical bits.  Works and Days is ostensibly advice to H’s bro about farming and stuff, also including some nice tidbits of mythology.

Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica.  This tells the tale of Jason and the Argonauts as they quest for the Golden Fleece.  I recommend Rieu’s translation for Penguin, The Voyage of Argo.

Having read Aeschylus’ Oresteia, you may be itching for more Greek tragedy.  I recommend these:

Sophocles’ most famous are the Theban plays, Oedipus the King, Antigone, Oedipus at Colonus.  These do not constitute a trilogy but merely focus on the same royal family for their stories.  They even differ in details sometimes.  Unsurprisingly, I have the Penguin Classics translation by Robert Fagles.  If you really dig Sophocles, try out Ajax.  It’s good.

Euripides seems to be the most popular of the tragedians amongst moderns.  I recommend The Bacchae, and Morwood’s Oxford translation is reliable.  Medea is also worth a read, being one of his most famous.

If tragedy isn’t your style, try out comedy:

Aristophanes is the only surviving poet of Old Comedy, a contemporary of Euripides.  You can get all of his plays in one volume from Bantam or scattered in editions by Oxford and Penguin.  Read Lysistrata, and Frogs to start.

If you want to try out shorter poems, Richmond Lattimore has a nice little book called Greek Lyrics with a number of lyric poems by a variety of different authors.  It has some of my favourite bits from Archilochus, Sappho, Anacreon, et al.

Prose:

Herodotus, The Histories.  H is the so-called “Father of History,” though some call him the “Father of Lies.”  Nonetheless, he’s a good storyteller, and in this work he recounts the events of the Persian War, including Thermopylae, for all those 300 fans out there.

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.  This guy can be a bit dry, but his account of the war between Sparta and Athens is important both for the history of Greece as well as the history of Greek prose literature and the history of writing history.

Xenophon, Anabasis.  This is the story of a bunch of Greek mercenaries hired by the younger brother of the Persian King to overthrow him.  It recounts their various adventures in Asia Minor on the way there and then on the way back to Greece.  Kind of a Hobbit-thing, “There and back again.”  Very entertaining and high on my list of enjoyable, readable Greek prose writers.

Aesop, Fables.  Penguin has a complete edition.  This is worth reading and will give you a different view of the Greek world than the others listed.  Fables are an important genre in the ancient world and are still read and used today.

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