Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A reading list of Ancient Greek classics

This selection of ancient Greek literature includes philosophy, poetry, drama, and history. It introduces some of the great classical thinkers, whose ideas have had a profound influence on Western civilization.

Jason and the Golden Fleece by Apollonius of Rhodes

Apollonius’ Argonautica is the dramatic story of Jason’s voyage in the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece, and how he wins the aid of the Colchian princess and sorceress Medea, as well as her love. Written in the third century BC, it was influential on the Latin poets Catullus and Ovid, as well as on Virgil’s Aeneid.

Poetics by Aristotle

This short treatise has been described as the most influential book on poetry ever written. It is a very readable consideration of why art matters which also contains practical advice for poets and playwrights that is still followed today.

The Trojan Women and Other Plays by Euripides

One of the greatest Greek tragedians, Euripides wrote at least eighty plays, of which seventeen survive complete. The universality of his themes means that his plays continue to be performed and adapted all over the world. In this volume three great war plays, The Trojan Women, Hecuba, and Andromache, explore suffering and the endurance of the female spirit in the aftermath of bloody conflict.

The Histories by Herodotus

Herodotus was called “the father of history” by Cicero because the scale on which he wrote had never been attempted before. His history of the Persian Wars is an astonishing achievement, and is not only a fascinating history of events but is full of digression and entertaining anecdote. It also provokes very interesting questions about historiography.

The Iliad by Homer9780199645213_450

Homer’s two great epic poems, the Odyssey and the Iliad, have created stories that have enthralled readers for thousands of year. The Iliad describes a tragic episode during the siege of Troy, sparked by a quarrel between the leader of the Greek army and its mightiest warrior, Achilles; Achilles’ anger and the death of the Trojan hero Hector play out beneath the watchful gaze of the gods.

Republic by Plato

Plato’s dialogue presents Socrates and other philosophers discussing what makes the ideal community. It is essentially an enquiry into morality, and why justice and goodness are fundamental. Harmonious human beings are as necessary as a harmonious society, and Plato has profound things to say about many aspects of life. The dialogue contains the famous myth of the cave, in which only knowledge and wisdom will liberate man from regarding shadows as reality.

Greek Lives by Plutarch9780199540051

Plutarch wrote forty-six biographies of eminent Greeks and Romans in a series of paired, or parallel, Lives. This selection of nine Greek lives includes Alexander the Great, Pericles, and Lycurgus, and the Lives are notable for their insights into personalities, as well as for what they reveal about such things as the Spartan regime and social system.

Antigone, Oedipus the King, Electra by Sophocles

In these three masterpieces Sophocles established the foundation of Western drama. His three central characters are faced with tests of their will and character, and their refusal to compromise their principles has terrible results. Antigone and Electra are bywords for female resolve, while Oedipus’ discovery that he has committed both incest and patricide has inspired much psychological analysis, and given his name to Freud’s famous complex.

Heading image: Porch of Maidens by Thermos. CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

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