When someone tells you to read the classics, what do you think of? For most people, Fitzgerald, Dickens, Bronte, and Austin pop into their heads. Not mine though. My mind flits to the literature that my degree dictates: Homer, Virgil and Ovid’s works, to name a few.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the other classics; Jane Eyre and The Great Gatsby are two of my favourite books of all time. But there is something so incredible about literature dating all the way back to around 800 BC that we can still relate to today. (Just for context, in 800 BC there wasn’t even a certain method of writing, so Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad were originally spoken and memorised- they were written down much later).
If you’ve never read Greek of Roman literature, or feel slightly intimidated by it, allow me to explain why I think they’re so awesome, and give you some suggestions to start you off on your ancient literary journey. (I’ll try no to spoil too much!)
So going chronologically:
1.The Iliad was orally composed (ie. spoken) by Homer around 800 BC. It is a Greek epic poem (ie. A reallyyyy long poem but basically a book) and tells the story of the tenth year of the Trojan War. It focuses on the Greek Hero Achilles and his destructive anger that causes the main aspects of the plot to happen. It’s kind of hard to follow in certain places but is worth the read if not only to experience the friendship of Achilles and Patroclus and the adorableness(?) of Hector and his wife, Andromache.
2.The Odyssey was another Greek epic poem orally composed by Homer around 800 BC. It is a sort of prequel to the Iliad and tells the story of the the Greek soldier, Odysseus on his ten year journey from Troy and the Trojan war to his home, Ithaca. If you like fantasy, this poem is full of magic, monsters and divinities, and if you like romance, Odysseus hasn’t seen his wife for twenty years and just wants to get home to her. For all you feminists out there (this should be everyone reading by the way), Odysseus’ wife Penelope is often seen as the basis and beginning of feminism.
3.The Aeneid was written by Virgil from 29-19 BC and is a Roman epic; it is my absolute favourite piece of literature of all time. When Virgil wrote it, he tried to outdo Homer’s works and combine in one poem what Homer took two to do and in my humble opinion, he succeeded. Like the Odyssey, it is a sort of sequel to the Iliad but tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan who lost the Trojan War. It’s his journey of moving from the defeated Troy to the land that will one day become the land of the Romans. (Virgil writes in the past about a person who will affect the future…kinda hard to get your head around at first). Anywhoo… I love the Aeneid because it combines so many of my favourite genres. Its got action, magic and romance in abundance and if you only decide to read one of these awesome epics, pick the Aeneid!
4.The Ars Amatoria by Ovid. Ovid has written so much stuff, but if you want to read something of his, pick the Ars Amatoria. They were written around 2 BC and, to put it frankly, they are hilarious. Unlike the Epics above, they are a more obvious collection of poems that teach both men and women how to find, attract and keep a member of the opposite sex. You’d be surprised at how many ideas are similar to notions today (both fortunately and unfortunately) and it’s really interesting to see the same and different customs of then and now. If you enjoy these, go on to read Ovid’s Amores– his love poetry is both interesting and disturbing.
These are just four of the hundred books I could offer as a place to start when reading literature from Antiquity; these just happen to be my favourite.
Next time you’re in a reading slump, pick up a copy of the Aeneid and start reading. Not only will you make me happy that you’re trying to appreciate how cool these books are, but you might just be pleasantly surprised and really enjoy it.
Leave me a comment if you do decide to read one, and tell me what you thought of it x