Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books from Before I Was Born (Greek and Roman Literature Style!)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme now hosted by Jana over at The Artsy Reader Girl!

This week's topic is:  
Favorite Books from Before I Was Born (Greek and Roman Literature Style!)

This week's topic is about favorite books from before we were born, and it occurred to me that it might be a fun time to share some of my favorite works from Greek and Roman literature! As some of you may or may not know, I received my undergrad degree in Classics and I'm currently working on my MA in Classics (I'm in my last semester! :O), so I have some strong opinions on various works of ancient literature from Greece and Rome. These are just ten (of many!) of some works that I particularly love and/or enjoy. If there's any interest, I may make some more Greek/Roman literature-based posts in the future because I found putting this list together pretty fun!

The Satyricon and The Apocolocyntosis of the Divine Claudius

The Satyricon (Satyrica) by Petronius
This is a short early novel that I always have so much fun reading. It's definitely on the 'raunchier' side, so keep that in mind, but it's really a fantastic Menippean satire that is full of humor and a nice look into the lower classes of lower classes in late 1st century CE Rome. 
The summary found in the description of this book describes it as follows: "The Satyricon relates the hilarious mock epic adventures of the impotent Encolpius, and his struggle to regain virility. Here Petronius brilliantly brings to life the courtesans, legacy-hunters, pompous professors and dissolute priestesses of the age and, above all, Trimalchio, the archetypal self-made millionaire whose pretentious vulgarity on an insanely grand scale makes him one of the great comic characters in literature." Take from that what you will, but know that it's a lot of fun!

The Odyssey

The Odyssey (Ὀδύσσεια) by Homer
I don't really think this one needs much explanation, but it's a classic for a reason and I love it and think it's absolutely worth the read (I really liked Emily Wilson's translation, if you need a recommendation!). And look, I also love the Iliad, it's great, but as a fantasy/adventure/etc. lover, The Odyssey will always trump the Iliad for me. Every time, no questions. Plus, you have Penelope and Circe and all of these other incredible side characters that make it so much better.  

The Oresteia
"Agamemnon" (Ἀγαμέμνων) by Aeschylus
Technically the entire Orestaia trilogy is great, but Agamemnon is a special favorite of mine. The first time I read it, I was so connected to and compelled by the sheer raw emotion presence found within it, and after that experience it became one of the first plays that I translated from Greek by myself on my own time, so it's even more special to me. The basic gist of it is this: "Agamemnon returns home after the Trojan Wars with his concubine Cassandra and is murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus." Come on, is that not intriguing or what? Who doesn't love a good murder story?

The Life of Alexander the Great

The Life of Alexander by Plutarch

All of Plutarch's Parallel Lives are fantastic, but Alexander the Great is a figure I have particular interest in, and I also think this biography is exceptionally interesting. I just recently re-read it in preparation of my MA final comprehensive exam (totally not nervous about that all, nope) and yep, it's still full of great stuff. Plutarch really focuses on the character of the individuals he writes about, and his goal with the entire Parallel Lives series is to sort of compare two figures against one another for a nice comparison of their virtues/vices. The Parallel that goes with Alexander is Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar. (Also, if you like you biographies a bit more on the gossipy side, might I instead suggest Suetonius' Twelve Caesars?)

Daphnis and Chloe

Daphnis and Chloe (Δάφνις καὶ Χλόη) by Longus

This is a pastoral prose romance that is wonderfully entertaining, with plenty of humorous situations and a nice adventurous and "romantic" story in the end. Daphis and Chloe are both orphaned and brought up by shepherds, they eventually fall in love, then get entangled in a variety of obstacles that take them on various adventures where they are separated, but eventually end up together again. It's pretty fun, I recommend it. 
A quick summary: "Daphnis and Chloe tells the story of a baby boy and girl who are discovered separately, two years apart, alone and exposed on a Greek mountainside. Taken in by a goatherd and a shepherd respectively, and raised near the town of Mytilene, they grow to maturity unaware of one another's existence - until the mischievous god of love, Eros, creates in them a sudden overpowering desire for one another."

"Lysistrata" (Λυσιστράτη,) by Aristophanes
This is always a gem and favorite of everyone's, and there's a good reason for that! The general premise is that a bunch of Athenian women get together and basically decide to hold a sex strike with their husbands until they (the husbands) stop warring and come home. This is sort of a commentary on the war-torn and war-weary time, but it's also a hilarious 'battle of the sexes' sort of comedy.

The Art of Horsemanship

On Hunting (Κυνηγετικός) by Xenophon

Okay so this isn't really technically a must-read or anything, but as a dog lover I really enjoy Xenophon exploration of all the different traits and physical attributes make for the best hunting dogs. The more popular and "important" text from Xenophon is his Anabasis, which is also great! But this one is more fun if you like dogs. He even gives ideal names for hunting dogs, a few samples of which are Butcher, Gazer, Force, Trooper, Stubborn, etc. 

Enchiridion of Epictus (Ἐγχειρίδιον Ἐπικτήτου) by Arrian
Quite frankly, I am not really majorly into the philosophical side of ancient literature, which I know is blasphemous as a budding Classicist, but look, Plato just doesn't do much for me. That being said, for one philosophical set of writings that I do mostly enjoy, we have Epictetus! We don't have any actual writings from Epictetus, but the historian Arrian (whose other works are great, also!) was Epictetus' student and collected some of his writings and ideas and thus we have the Enchiridion, or 'Manual.' (Arrian's The Anabasis of Alexander is also a good one, just throwing it out there!)

The Golden Ass
Metamorphoses/The Golden Ass (Asinus aureus): Cupid and Psyche episode, 4.28-6.24 by Apuleius
This is really just a fun myth-based story that is always on recommended reading lists and that I think offers a lot in the way of entertainment and intrigue about, you guessed it, Cupid and Psyche! "It is both a charming fairytale and an allegory of the search of the Soul for happiness and fulfillment."

Pindar's Victory Songs
Victory Odes by Pindar

I love a lot of poetry from Greek liteature, so I figured I'd include some Pindar here! Honestly, any Greek lyric poet is great and any volume that collects a myriad are going to be good, but the Victory Odes are always a crowd pleaser. 

**Also, I'm just gonig to include a general content warning across the board just to be safe--ancient works don't tend to sy away from mentions of things like rape in various aspects and other potentially uncomfortable topics, so just be aware before going into anything. 

Have you read any of these? Are there any stories from ancient literature you enjoy?


  1. Interesting list! I've never read the Odyssey, although I've read retellings.

  2. I've never read any of these books, but I'd bet they're good.

    My post.

  3. I've only read bits and pieces of the Odyssey, so that's a great place to start.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

    1. It absolutely is, I think it's one of the most accessible works of ancient literature, and there are so many awesome adaptations and retellings available to make it even more accessible! :)

  4. This is such an amazing list! I haven't read any of them (yet), but I'd love to try them, especially (of course) The Odyssey.

  5. How awesome! At one time I was getting a degree in English with emphasis in lit revolving around classic and modern asian lit. The hard part is always finding the best translation, or worse, working on slogging through and trying to translate for yourself.

    1. That sounds so fascinating, I would love to read more Asian literature!
      Totally agree about finding the best translations, it can be SO frustrating. Translating yourself is satisfying, but so slow going haha, especially when you just want the thing read!

  6. Ooh nice topic! And I love posts like these. :) I love mythology so the Odyssey naturally appeals to me. And I've been wanting to read the newish Circe book too, so going back to the source sounds pretty good!

    1. The Odyssey is so fun and has some of the best mythical monsters, and I really enjoyed what Madeline Miller did with Circe's character in her book!

  7. Such a fun twist on this week's topic. I really enjoyed studying mythology back when I was in college but haven't read too many of these titles.

    1. I feel like mythology classes are often some of the best and most-liked ones! :)