Reading any piece of classical literature can be quite the undertaking – let alone when the classics you are interested in are thousands of years old. Want to know where to start? We’ve got you covered!
For the politico, Republic is a fantastic read. Considered by many to be Plato’s seminal dialogue, Republic is an exceedingly readable introduction to Platonic thought discussing his allegory of the cave, the tripartite model of the soul, and his vision of the ideal society. Republic’s influence makes it the perfect place to start for those interested in reading more classical political thought, and indeed, political thought from across history: read Aristotle’s Politics, or Thomas More’s Utopia, and you will clearly see the platonic influence.
Aeschylus, The Oresteia
A Greek tragedy may seem a daunting place to start – especially if you haven’t read a play before. However, tragedy is one of the richest ways to engage with contemporary classical life and understand the core philosophical problems of the day.
The Oresteia is an excellent example of this, following the homecoming of King Agamemnon after the Trojan war. The first play follows Queen Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s wife, as she plots to murder her husband in retribution for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia for the sake of the war – the trilogy explores the virtue of individual versus judicial justice, and the concept of revenge.
Histories is a foundational historic text, and an imposing one at that: coming up under just 800 pages, tackling it is no mean feat. For those willing to take the challenge, Histories is a rewarding read both in an academic and personal sense.
Considered the start of the Western historical canon, the historian will find an enriching piece of historiography and an engaging primary source to examine classical military tactics and equipment. Herodotus is also infamous for the ‘liberties’ he took in his descriptions in Histories – such fantastical details are a delight to read, and ripe for analysis in their own right.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a Latin epic poem recounting over 250 classical myths – from Orpheus and Eurydice to Pyramus and Thisbe. This range makes it the perfect introduction to the wealth of ancient mythos, in a form able to be consumed as suits your interest and appetite. Within the literary canon, Metamorphoses influence is immeasurable, inspiring works by authors such as Dante, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. Surreal and dark, Metamorphoses will not disappoint.
Virgil, The Aeneid:
Like Metamorphoses, Virgil’s The Aeneid is an epic poem rooted in myth – this time, following the fabled ancestor of the Roman people Aeneas. The Aeneid is bursting with Roman national mythos: exalting the Roman virtus of pietas, stoicism, and stately devotion, whilst creating a national story that tied the Roman empire to the legends of Troy. For the Roman enthusiast, The Aeneid is a must read to understand Roman national identity and its philosophical basis.