Greek and Roman literature—what 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.
If you're serious about classics, the first step is probably to learn the languages. 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 (including which ones to avoid).
Turning to literature, Emily Wilson, Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, talks about her recent translation of the Odyssey and recommends books to read alongside or after the Odyssey. Meanwhile, Charlotte Higgins, a chief culture writer for the Guardian, recommends the greats of classical literature (mainly poetry). Daniel Mendelsohn—author, critic and translator—also focuses on classical poems and plays in his top updates of the classics.
On the subject of classical history, Mary Beard looks at ancient history in modern life, including the role of slavery; historians Tom Holland and Harry Sidebottom give us their best books on Ancient Rome. Oxford classicist Robin Lane Fox selects his best books on religious and social history in the ancient world.
If you're looking for books for to inspire young adults, classics teacher Olly Murphy gives us his best classics books for teenagers. We also have Lucy Coats, author of one of the best Greek myth books for young children, recommending her favourites. Also unmissable for learning about Greek myths are Stephen Fry's Mythos and Heroes, both especially fun to listen to as audiobooks.
Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire continue to fascinate children and provide fertile ground for historical novels that resonate with today’s readers. Author and classicist Annelise Gray talks us through some of her favourite books for children set in the ancient Mediterranean world and Roman Britain.
Virgil is one of the most influential poets in the history of Western literature. Here, another poet, Sarah Ruden, talks about the challenges of translating the Aeneid and why, although we know little about Virgil as a man, his great poem’s take on the violence and power struggles it depicts is deeply ambivalent.
Their reputation for self-discipline and self-denial made their way into the English language, but what the ancient Spartans were really like remains a source of debate among scholars, not least because they wrote little themselves. Andrew Bayliss, Senior Lecturer in Greek History at the University of Birmingham and author of an excellent, short book on The Spartans, talks us through what we know about the heroes of Thermopylae, including the darker sides of their culture and society.
The tale of the Trojan War—its causes, its heroes, the wooden horse, the gods and goddesses who dramatically change the course of events—has fascinated us down the ages and is embedded in our collective imagination. But where do the stories come from? British author and actor Stephen Fry lists some of the books that were most useful for Troy, his retelling of the Trojan War.
Catiline’s War, The Jugurthine War, Histories
Sallust (trans. AJ Woodman)
Res Gestae Divi Augusti: Text, Translation, and Commentary
by Alison Cooley (editor) & Augustus
Rome's Cultural Revolution
by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome
by J. Bert Lott
by Karl Galinsky
Is it possible that Augustus was not the first Roman emperor, but the last of Rome’s great populist champions? That’s what classicist Peter Wiseman argues in his book, The House of Augustus: A Historical Detective Story. Drawing on a lifetime of research and writing on this period, the emeritus professor of classics and ancient history gives a brilliant overview of the Augustan age, and recommends what to read to better understand the adopted son of Julius Caesar, who found Rome in brick and left it in marble.
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.
Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, talks us through the books that have had the deepest impact on her thinking about the ancient world and explains why studying Classics is absolutely relevant to modern life.
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.
Interested in philosophy? Drama? History? Within a year you too could be reading seminal texts in their original language. Academic Paul McMullen recommends the best books for learning ancient Greek.
What books should you read if you want to learn Latin? Harry Mount (and Katie Walker) recommend the best books for learning Latin—the language of a small, central Italian tribe that managed to conquer most of Europe.
Lucy Coats, author of one of the best books Greek myth books for children, recommends her own favourites. There’s one for children, one for teenagers, one for scholars, one to read out loud and one that’s very definitely adult in content…
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.
Greek myths were themselves elastic so there is no reason the classics of Roman and Greek literature shouldn’t be updated, says classicist Daniel Mendelsohn. He talks us through some of his favourites.
How accurate is what we think we know about the Romans? Tom Holland, the author of Rubicon, tells us about the exercise of power, the staging of ceremony and the influence of religion in ancient Rome.
From the first book he recommends to students coming up to Oxford to read ancient history, to a short, popular book that weaves together all the scholarly research on the fall of the Roman Empire and the terrible things that happened as Rome was sacked by the Vandals, Oxford historian Harry Sidebottom talks us through five must-read books on Ancient Rome.
The Guardian’s chief arts writer, Charlotte Higgins, believes that the contemporary value of the Classics is incalculable – here, she tells us why, via her selection of the great and good of classical literature.