Modern Greece has a complicated relationship with its ancient counterpart. Greek novelist Christos Chomenidis talks about how the modern myths of Greece are related to its relationship to the past and chooses books to illustrate this. The modern Greek state, he maintains, was founded on a romantic vision of resurrecting the glory of the past. “It was a very effective vision, but also a trap.”
Among his books is the autobiography of Markos Vamvakaris, The Man and the Bouzouki, which he describes as “one of the greatest books I have ever read”. Vamvakaris, the patriarch of folk music in Greece, describes “real life in Greece at the point where working-class life meets the underworld before the second world war.” In contrast, The Third Wedding by Costas Taktsis is a novel that “offers a picture to those who really want to understand how the Bourgeoisie in Greece was.” He also chooses a selection of poems and short stories, Oktana, by the surrealist Andreas Empeirikos, Deadline in Athens by the contemporary crime novelist Petros Markaris, and No! I’m a Stork! by the comic artist Arkas.
Christopher Pelling, the Emeritus Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, chooses the best books on Ancient Greece that trace “what Greek authors and Greek ideas have meant, and may still mean.” As well as The Iliad, Herodotus’ Histories and Euripides’ Medea, he chooses two modern books, Democracy: A Life by Paul Cartledge and Greek Fire: The influence of Ancient Greece on the Modern World by Oliver Taplin, both of which examine the influence of ancient Greek ideas and culture on later eras.
We also have interviews looking at the best books on Greek cooking, the best books on Greek myths, the best books on the Levant, on ancient history in modern life and on learning ancient Greek. We have a separate section devoted to ancient philosophy and philosophers, much of which is dedicated to the Greeks. Their influence is discussed throughout the rest of our philosophy section.
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.
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.
Greek myths are not all classical tales of heroes and tempestuous gods. Here, the novelist Christos Chomenidis chooses five books that get to the heart of what it really means to hail from Greece, and why it’s hard to live in the wake of the Ancients.