Greek and Roman literature—what now comes under the subject heading ‘classics’ or 'classical studies'—are the foundational texts of Western literature. Everything that comes after them draws upon them. Even if you think you’re not directly interested in the classical world, knowledge of it will likely deepen your appreciation of your own artistic and literary interests. Our interviews recommend books on all aspects of classics and classical studies.
Academic Paul McMullen recommends the best books on learning Ancient Greek, while journalist and author Harry Mount talks about the best books for learning Latin. Turning to literature, Emily Wilson—the first woman to translate the Odyssey in full into English—chooses the best books on what to read with or after the Odyssey. Meanwhile, Charlotte Higgins, a chief culture writer for the Guardian, chooses her best books on the greats of classical literature. Children’s author Lucy Coates looks at Greek myths and Daniel Mendelsohn—author, critic and translator—looks at classical mythology in his top books on updating the classics.
On the subject of classical history, Mary Beard looks at ancient history in modern life; historians Tom Holland and Harry Sidebottom give us their best books on Ancient Rome. (Both choose The Roman Revolution by Ronald Syme.) Oxford classicist Robin Lane Fox selects his best books on religious and social history in the ancient world. And lastly, for the budding young classicist in your life, classics teacher Olly Murphy gives us his best classics books for teenagers.
The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives
by Ian Scott-Kilvert & Plutarch
The Greek Alexander Romance
by Richard Stoneman
by Cornelius Nepos & Nicholas Horsfall
by Harold Mattingly, James Rives & Tacitus
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers
Diogenes Laertius (ed. James Miller, trans. Pamela Mensch)
Whatever modern leadership books may say about what's required to be a good leader, for the ancients there was only one vital requirement: studying philosophy. Jeffrey Beneker, Professor of Classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, talks us through what ancient biographies reveal about how to be a leader.
Caesar, Cicero, Achilles, Socrates, Plato: millennia later, we still talk about them. Olly Murphy, classics teacher at Wycombe Abbey, one of England’s top girls’ schools, recommends books and explains why classics remains one of the most exciting subjects for teenagers to study.
The Odyssey has been constantly rewritten by centuries of writers, but like so much of Greek myth, it’s always already open to revising its own narrative. Emily Wilson, Professor of Classics at the University of Pennsylvania and the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English, recommends the best books to read after (or alongside) the Ancient Greek epic, and offers sage wisdom about both translating ancient epics and why everyone can learn from the Odyssey today.
Ancient Greece’s legacy can be seen all around us, including in our political system — but many of us don’t know that much about it. Fortunately, we have someone who has devoted his life to studying this remote time and place to give us a reading list. Chris Pelling, Emeritus Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, recommends his top five books on Ancient Greece.
Cultural and philosophical changes that occurred in late antiquity are essential to our understanding of the world today, but few us know much about that period. Historian Robin Lane Fox recommends the best books to read to get a good sense of late antiquity.