Yesterday I promised some Greek history reading tips. I think it’s fair to say from the outset that my colleagues and I would like to complicate the influential but oversimplified saying of Edgar Allan Poe which observes ‘the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome’.
AA book which you can borrow and read online is Paul Cartledge’s The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others, available here with a free account.
You might ask yourself, why do these books seem from their titles to end in the same year?
Also a good shout is Richard Martin’s Classical Mythology: The Basics.
As for something ancient but accessible and rather fun, try out Herodotus’ Histories: the famous translation by Aubrey de Sélincourt is borrowable here.
A different online translation is available here at a site which we often use for work, called Lacus Curtius. This has the benefit of a chapter overview, to which I’ve linked you here, so you can dip in and out of passages that look interesting.
Herodotus is doing more than telling a bunch of good stories (bro): he reveals Greek cultural assumptions and attitudes. It’s almost a cliché to ask whether his book is a collection of biased lies. One thing you might consider is the claim to have ‘been there, done that’: how does that inform his writing?
My colleague Dr Maria Pretzler worked recently on a later author named Aeneas Tacticus, who wrote a manual called How To Survive Under Siege (a kind of combination of Sun Tzu and Bear Grylls). She has a website which explains more about this: http://www.aeneastacticus.net.
From war-war to jaw-jaw (to paraphrase Churchill): the law court provides insight into life in the ancient world. Why not try a racy and pacy speech which the gun-for-hire speechwriter Lysias wrote for a defendant in a murder trial? On the Murder of Eratosthenes centres on the question: is it right to kill your love-rival when you’ve caught the snake sleeping with your wife? Find a translation here.
Lastly, I want to tell you about something small and perfectly formed. Another colleague of mine, also confusingly named Ian (Dr Ian Repath), researches prose fiction, much of which was written in Greece when it was part of the Roman Empire, a period called the Second Sophistic that looked nostalgically back to the great days of Athens 600 or so years earlier. One short thing which I love by an author of this period, Lucian from what is now Syria, is a speech in praise of the fly. What is this rhetorical gem for? We don’t know. But I hope you try it: the ancient world is full of surprises like this.
Let’s go in for ancient Egyptian reading materials next!