Hi! I’m Ian Goh, Admissions Tutor for Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology at Swansea University.
So, you’re casting about for stuff to read in preparation for university? Over a series of something like a week or so of blogposts, I’m going to share some of my colleagues’ suggestions of some books that we’ve found over the years to be a good introduction to university learning in all its diversity, which are none the less not too forbidding or obscure.
First up is a very general, useful, yet somewhat provocative overview of Classics in Oxford University Press’s Very Short Introduction series, by Mary Beard and John Henderson. As it happens, it’s available online here.
With regard to our first-year myth modules, you may want to know something about epic poems, which many people have considered the prestige marque of ancient literature. The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer and Virgil’s Aeneid are fantastic poems; all are currently available online to be borrowed:
Lattimore’s translation of the Iliad: https://archive.org/details/iliadofhome00home.
Lattimore’s translation of the Odyssey: https://archive.org/details/odysseyofhomer00home_0.
David West’s translation of the Aeneid: https://archive.org/details/aeneidvirg00virg.
You’ll read some Homer along with Hesiod (West’s translation of that is borrowable online) in the first-year module ‘On Gods and Heroes’, and the Aeneid is useful for my own module on Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the second half of first year. Alongside these particular recommendations, I am very keen on the translation of the Odyssey by Emily Wilson who tweets @EmilyRCWilson, and of the Aeneid by Fred Ahl.
Way back when, if you had a text of the works of Virgil (including the Aeneid) and you put your finger at random on a line in the book, it was said that you could predict the future from the passage you’d identified: this is called the ‘Virgilian lottery’, the sortes Vergilianae. Try it and see.
And come back tomorrow for some Greek history tips!