Welcome to a brief introduction to Ancient Greek Classics! Below, you can read other blogger’s and reader’s thoughts on ancient works and you can sign up for the upcoming (late January) Classics Circuit tour.
Although dates are tentative, the Ancient Greek tour will probably begin Monday, January 24, 2011 and will run for between five days (ending January 28) and ten days (ending February 4), depending on the number of people who join the tour.
For this tour, you can read and write about anything written in Ancient Greece before 338 B.C.E., which was when Philip of Macedon had overtaken all the Greek city states and the Hellenistic age begins. (See note below about flexibility. We aren’t picky.) Below, I have information about epic poets, lyric poetry, Greek tragedy, Greek comedy, historians and philosophers.
About the Classics Circuit: The Classics Circuit: Ancient Greek Classics Tour is a blog tour of Ancient Greek classics. Participants select a work to read and let us know of the selection. Via email, we will assign participants a day to post about the work. On the assigned days, participants post about the work on their blogs. Participants write in their own style, for whatever length of post they’d like. After the tour is over, we will post on our site a list of permalinks to all those who participated in the tour. Note that you must have a blog to participate. Only one day will be included on the tour schedule and only one post linked to on the permalink post, although bloggers may post as many times as they want during the tour.
Get ideas of what to read after the jump.
Sign up is currently closed. If you’d still like to participate in this tour, please send an email to rebecca[at]rebeccareid[dot]com with the following information: your blog name and url, the work you’d like to read for the tour, and any date preferences.
About this information: For information and summaries of the works listed below, the title, when available, links to an information page on Wikipedia. Also, please note that the date I give above is an arbitrary cutoff: if there is something written after that date that you were planning on reading for this tour because you consider it an “Ancient Greek classic,” it is fine to read for this tour. This “introduction” post simply had to have some boundary. Further, please note that the following list is not comprehensive. I have tried to cover the works that are more commonly translated and remain in print or otherwise accessible.
Assumed to have lived around 850 B.C.E. See this Wikipedia link for information on translations of Homer.
The Iliad. “It has become one of those few “favorite books” – books that I love, that I can’t get enough of. Each time I read it, I learn something new and pick up on another theme that I didn’t notice before. … The Iliad is so much more than [a solid work]. It is nuanced and beautiful, it has depth and wisdom in its pages.” S. Krishna’s Books | Find more bloggers’ thoughts of The Iliad via Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search.
The Odyssey. “The Odyssey is really good story, full of all the things we expect in an epic — romance, drama, violence, and redemption — just in a slightly older package.” Sophisticated Dorkiness | Find more bloggers’ thoughts of The Odyssey via Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search.
Assumed to have lived between 750 and 650 B.C.E. See this Wikipedia link for information on translations of Hesiod. Find more bloggers’ thoughts of Hesiod via Fyrefly’s Book Blog Search.
Works and Days. “Hesiod is not so much read for his poetic genius as for the illuminating insight he lends into myth and social practice, especially for those archaic Greeks of agricultural stock. Some of the most famous Greek myths (Prometheus, Pandora, the ‘Golden Age’) enjoy their first inscriptions by the hand of Hesiod, and show considerable eastern influence. … The work reads like a collection of proverbs, rather tenuously linked together but deeply illuminating the simple rituals of daily life.” Eve’s Alexandria
Theogony. “Theogony is a genealogy of the Greek gods. And boy howdy, are there a lot of gods! If you’re like me you’ve learned the standard stories about Kronos and Zeus and Hera, Aphrodite, Ares, Athena, etc, etc. But that’s not all. … Theogony is an interesting poem and I am glad I read it. Not only did I get a bit of an education in the Greek gods, but I also got a glimpse into pre-Socratic Greek thought and begin to understand what a huge change it was when the gods became abstractions instead of reality.” So Many Books
Only fragments remain of some of these poets. Since they are listed on Wikipedia as the Nine Lyric Poets, I’ve included all of them below.
- Alcman (choral lyric, seventh century BC).
- Sappho (monodic lyric, c. 600 BC). “[If Not, Winter translated by Anne Carson] was a fascinating reading experience. I’ve never been much into poetry, you all know that, but this was different. … Each one of these fragments tells a story. … I never fully comprehended the power of words coming to us on mostly-destroyed paper from the BC era. Imagine something you’ve written or said enduring thousands of years into the future!” The Zen Leaf
- Alcaeus (monodic lyric, c. 600 BC).
- Anacreon (monodic lyric, sixth century BC).
- Stesichorus (choral lyric, sixth century BC).
- Ibycus (choral lyric, sixth century BC).
- Simonides (choral lyric, sixth century BC).
- Pindar (choral lyric, fifth century BC).
- Bacchylides (choral lyric, fifth century BC).
Greek Theatre: Tragedies
Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BCE).
“Anything that remains of Aeschylus is priceless.” gmicksmith on LibraryThing
The Persians. “Persians” deals with a people trying to exceed mortal limits. The king of Persia blinds his people into believing they can accomplish deeds that exceed the laws of the divine and it’s natural order. The king invades Greece despite bad omens. … The ending of the play through subject matter is sad enough, but the helpless lines delivered by King Xerxes and the chorus through dialogue toward each other at the end of the play is devastating.” Carl Anderson at Amazon
Seven Against Thebes. “This is the third play in a trilogy, the other two being lost. The play results in an end to the curse on the Oedipus family. However, it is different from the approach later used by Sophocles. Here, there is no redemption from within. … One really sees the pains of conflict and war in this play.”R.D. Allison at Amazon
The Suppliants. “This is the first play of a trilogy by Aeschylus (c. 525-456 B. C.), the other two being lost … The play, which contains very little action, is really serving as a prologue to the other two missing members of the trilogy.” R.D. Allison at Amazon
The Oresteia. A trilogy comprising Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. “Having finally finished the entire trilogy, I am confident in saying that I would recommend it to anyone interested in this time period – especially since it’s pretty quick reading” eclectic/eccentric
Prometheus Bound. “”Prometheus Bound” tells the story of Prometheus, guilty of having given the gift of fire to human beings. For this, he is punished by Zeus and ordered to be chained to the side of a mountain for 1,000 years. This dramatic play focuses on Prometheus’s lament, his stubborn hope, and his proud strength, in the midst of being so tortured.I loved the strong, bold poetry in this play.” joririchardson at LibraryThing
Sophocles (c. 495-406 BCE)
Theban plays, or Oedipus cycle, including the works Antigone (c. 442 BCE); Oedipus the King (c. 429 BCE); and Oedipus at Colonus (401 BCE, posthumous). “’King Oedipus’, ‘Oedipus at Colonus’ and ‘Antigone’ are three snapshots from the rambling saga of poor Oedipus and his rather unfortunate family, and provide a useful introduction to Greek theatre for the uninitiated among us (like me).” Tony’s Reading List
Ajax. “This is one of my favourite of the Greek Tragedies. The Gods wipe out Hercules’ family in the worst possible way for no justifiable reason. … This is an intense dramatization of the apparent randomness of the universe and the heroic struggle of humans to live within it.” mikebridge at LibraryThing
The Trachiniae. “”Women of Trachis” is the story of Queen Deianeira, a wife whose husband is in love with another younger, more beautiful woman. Her good intentioned attempt to reclaim his heart ends up killing him instead, and in sorrow and remorse she takes her own life. This is the original, true “Romeo & Juliet” story. Besides the setting, the plot line is not at all different. Like Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, this telling of terrible events inspired by love is a sad and powerful one. A great work of literature, whatever the category, and one of my favorites.” joririchardson at LibraryThing
Electra. “Sophocles did a masterful job. Electra is vibrant and passionate; her emotions leap off the page. Her approach to life, her anger and refusal to cease mourning her murdered father, are a sharp contrast to the passive, adaptive perspective of Chrysothemis. The two of them represent the two ways people deal with life when dealt a painful blow; some people nurse the hurt and refuse to move on until vengeance is given, while others simply try to roll with the punches in order to avoid more.” valkylee at LibraryThing
Philoctetes. “”Philoctetes” is similar to other plays by Sophocles, which deal with the conflict between the individual and society, although this is a rare instance where Odysseus appears in good light in one of his plays; usually he is presented as a corrupter of innocence (remember, the Greeks considered the hero of Homer’s epic poem to be more of a pirate than a true hero), but here he is but a spokesperson for the interests of the state.”Laurence M. Bernabo at Amazon
Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE)
“Euripedes is astonishingly modern. Characters behave like actual flawed and greedy people. The political analysis of crowd mentality and fear mongering is very insightful.” John Collum at Amazon
Medea. “What I loved was the character of Medea. She was a wronged woman, but ultimately a strong one. Medea had left her home to come to a foreign land, and now she was being cast aside.” Rebecca Reads
The Heracleidae (Herakles Children). “”The Children of Herakles” has usually been considered a minor political play by Euripides. … The play has usually been considered to be nothing more than a glorification of Athens, but, of course, in more contemporary terms it is worth reconsidering this Greek tragedy as a look at the problem of political refugees.” Laurence M. Bernabo at Amazon
Hippolytus. “Magnificent. This seem[s] to personify the gods better than any other tragic author. The Hippolytus won competition in 428bc and I can understand why. It is a very moving work.” jpsnow at LibraryThing
Electra. “Interestingly, the one truly noble and honest character in the play is the peasant. Was Euripides making a social comment about the upper classes of Athens of his time?” R.D. Allison at Amazon
Andromache. “Andromache,” set in the aftermath of the Trojan War and focusing on the widow of Hector, is one of the weakest of the extant plays of Euripides, a work better considered as anti-Spartan propaganda. The scenes are more episodic than we usually find in Euripides with the first part essentially a supplicant play.”Lawrence M. Barnabo at Amazon
The Suppliants. “This is another of Euripides’s “irony” plays in which he points out the folly of war, particularly wars whose origins are long in the past.“ R.D. Allison at Amazon
The Trojan Women (Troades). “The time of the play is after the Trojan War. The women have all been gathered up and they are waiting by the walls of Troy to find out their fate–who they have been awarded to as a prize. The play is a kind of first in Greek plays in that the main characters are not only all women but the story is about the women.” So Many Books
Helen. “My favourite 5th century BC Greek play. In this one the always interesting Euripides gives his twist on the legend of Helen of Troy. According to this version, Helen never actually got to Troy but was hiding out in Egypt until all the brouhaha died down. I’m really not a fan of reading …, but this one is great.” nickelini at LibraryThing
Iphigenia At Aulis (Iphigenia ad Aulis). “This is the most cynical of the Greek plays I’ve encountered so far. … The reader’s only satisfaction is in knowing the fate awaiting Agamemnon some years hence, and wishing it could be visited on a few others. Killing a daughter for a war whose sole basis is satisfying outraged male pride would seem so foreign to modern sensibilities, but we only have to look at honor killings to see that those sensibilities can be wrong.” TadAD at LibraryThing
Greek Theatre: Comedy
Aristophanes (c. 446-388 BCE).
“Anyone can read Aristophanes with enjoyment, which is not the least of his virtues.” Bill R. Moore at Amazon
The Acharnians. “Pacificism and the folly of war are two recurring themes in the comedies of Aristophanes and both are explicit in the “Acharnians.” It is also a good example of the standard format of a Greek comedy, at least as represented by the works of Aristophanes, including the giant party at the end.” Lawrence M Bernabo at Amazon
The Wasps. “The Wasps satirizes the Athenian legal system, particularly jurors, and many of its jeers are sadly still relevant. Though not Aristophanes’ best play, it is very worthy and has the significant virtue of leading one to his better works.” Bill R. Moore at Amazon
The Birds. “[The Birds] is considered one of Aristophanes’ best – a worthy work that is still funny, entertaining, and thought-provoking after nearly 2,500 years and also now of great historical value. Though not Aristophanes funniest or most bitingly satirical work, it may have the best story and is likely the most imaginative.” Bill R. Moore at Amazon
Lysistrata. “I was able to have a real laugh with Lysistrata. The story is set during the 21st year (don’t quote me on that) of the Peloponnesian war and essentially the women of Athens get together with the rest of the surrounding states and decide they are sick of the war and so in desperation they vow to, ahem, abstain from their wifely duties.” Incurable Logophilia
Thesmophoriazusae. Thesmophoriazusae, elsewhere translated as The Poet and the Women, tackles gender identity issues that, if anything, are more pertinent than ever. The question of what makes femininity and masculinity is variously dramatized, provoking much thought even with the comic handling. The play gives great insight into Greek culture, particularly how men and women were viewed. …. Though not his best play, it has the significant virtue of leading to other Aristophanes works and is more than worthy in itself. Bill R. Moore at Amazon
The Frogs. “Frogs” is, according to my funny bone, the funniest of all. … A modern reader with no foreknowledge of Greek drama, I hasten to admit, will NOT get most of the jokes here, but then, hey, I almost never understand the humor in an Adam Sandler film. … No writer has ever made a stronger case for the relevance and significance of ‘literature’ to society than Phanny, in this bizarre comedy.” Giordano Bruno at Amazon
Herodotus (484-425 BCE)
Thoughts on translations of Herodotus on this Amazon review.
The Histories. “Everyone should read this look at a world long dead, brought gloriously alive by the brilliant Herodotus. If you’ve never taken “the long view” before, you’ll soon see that a lot went on before you were born (and a lot, no doubt, is yet to happen). Civilizations created and conquered, Gods worshipped and forgotten– it reads like fiction or fantasy, but it is not: it’s as close as Herodotus could get to telling the absolute truth as he saw it (and he saw a lot). Some “classics” are hard to slog through and appreciate. This is not one of them. Read! Enjoy!” Chris Ward at Amazon
Thucydides (460-395 BCE)
Thoughts on translations of Thycydides on this Amazon review.
History of the Peloponnesian War. “Thucydides is one of the great historians of antiquity. … Through Thucydides work we are able to draw numerous parallels from antiquity to modern times. Thucydides has almost perfectly captured current international politics on miniature scale, making observation and study most beneficial to those interested in learning the underlying processes of global affairs. I recommend a close reading of The Peloponnesian War for any student of political science or for anyone interested in Ancient History. A most fascinating read.” Matthew P. Arsenault at Amazon
Xenephon (430-358 BCE)
Anabasis (also: The Persian Expedition or The March Up Country). “Story is full of descriptions of human nature (loss of discipline (and rise of brigandism) after being faced with what seem to be insurmountable odds (and loss of strong leadership), constant squabbling between officers for power, treachery of those seeking to use this mighty army for their own purposes (be it other Greeks or other nations) to name the few). Great story, brilliantly written (short concise sentences – Oxfords’ edition translation is just great) – highly recommended.” Zare at LibraryThing
Cyropaedia (also: The Education of Cyrus). “The investment of time and effort is dwarfed by the magnitude of the lessons this book has to offer. Make the commitment and you’ll see why this book was a favorite of men like Alexander the Great, Scipio Africanus, Caesar and Machiavelli.” Publius Corenelius at Amazon
On Horsemanship. “Even though the work is literally dated his knowledge has never ceased to be of interest to modern riders. Perhaps the first novel ever written on horsemanship it includes training troops, choosing horses, and putting on army displays.” flame 926 at Amazon
Socrates (469-399 BCE).
Plato (428-348 BCE).
The Republic. “More than just accessible, The Republic surprised me in that a lot of what Plato is getting at is simply practical, community-based observations and realistic theory.” Incurable Logophilia
Symposium. “This work is a real jewel. Entertaining, and full of all sorts of little tidbits about love and sex; the effects of intoxicants on philosophical discourse; the nature of man’s relationship with law. There’s a reason everyone in the modern world knows the names of Plato and Socrates- a must read.” Marielle on Goodreads
Gorgias. “His arguments regarding injustice and punishment were fascinating as was his arguments in regard to temperance and virtue.” Cydney at Goodreads
Apology of Socrates. “When asked whether Socrates had anything to say in his defense, he delivered one of the greatest speeches ever made, and it is this speech which is recorded by Plato in the Apology. Socrates defends his own actions, but does more than that; he argues that virtue is more important than life itself, and that consequently he is willing to sacrifice himself to acheive a higher cause.” Keshav at Goodreads
Crito. “Of particular interest is Socrates’ presentation of a sort of social contract that exists not between men but between an individual and the state itself. There is ample material in this dialogue for fruitful consideration and discussion in our day as throughout all of history.” Bruce at Goodreads
Phaedo. “Phaedo covers Socrates’ last day and his death. The discussion is on the immortality of the soul. Well worth reading, and gives you a good glimpse where early Christian theology got much of its belief in the soul.” Rob Roy at Goodreads
Meno. “This is the first dialogue of Plato I ever read, which is very fitting because it contains many of the best elements from the dialogues. I won’t deny the fact that it is a challenging read, but it is well worth the time and effort. …In this dialogue Socrates discusses with the respected sophist Meno the question “what is virtue?” … This is a superb piece of lierature and, like all works of Plato, a testament to the greatness of which humanity is capable.” Keshav at Goodreads
Timaeus and Critias. “It’s a bit unsettling how much information in this book was the basis for scientific thought for so long, and how powerful some of the ideas. … Great follow-up to The Republic.” Jason at Goodreads
Aristotle (384-322 BCE).
“What I find remarkable … is how applicable all these texts are. I shouldn’t be, however. Aristotle was writing around 350 B.C. and describing society as he saw it. But there aren’t many differences to how we live now – the same financial anxieties, the same political worries, the same existential queries. It is a reassuring reminder that people are people, for better or worse, and that our moment of history is no more unique than any other. This helps me put my seemingly colossal modern worries into perspective.” Incurable Logophilia
Ethics. “A true revelation for me. I’ve never read anything from Aristotle before, and I spent quite a lot of time reading papers and websites about the book to better understand it. I guess in a way I always thought about virtues as something boring conservatives talk about, so Aristotles perspective was really new and exciting for me.” dhoe at LibraryThing
Politics. “Aristotle’s Politics discusses the different ways to manage a state, arguing in favour of those he considers best. Politics is not a complete work: some chapters end abruptly and discussions promised to be included are missing.” P_S_Patrick at LibraryThing
Poetics. “LOVE IT. LOVE IT. LOVE IT. Explains the art of storytelling so well. So profound. Why couldn’t even the primary school teachers have told us to read this?! I did not even stumble across this until university. For shame, I felt! For the logic and the blatant obviousness of it all after you read it! Like a lightbulb that went, AHAH~!” NicoleHC at LibraryThing
Rhetoric. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric contains the greatness of an all-time classic … The Rhetoric is either the first or among the first books that teaches a speaker how to address an audience. … Aristotle writes that we pity the person who cannot enjoy a good thing, and a person who cannot enjoy the Rhetoric certainly ought to be pitied.” Theodore Andre at Amazon
Physics. “I recommend Aristotle’s works to anyone interested in obtaining a classical education, and those interested in philosophy. Aristotle is one of the most important philosophers and the standard that all others must be judged by.” Michael A Neulander at Amazon