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Ancient Literature

Most things were still brand-new in ancient times. As a result, they hadn't become established in the ways they are now—as far as literature went, the earliest Greek writers didn't even have the benefit of distinctions between "tragedy" and "comedy." Granted, that issue was worked out pretty quickly, but the way the ancients thought about literature is instructive to our over-analytical Western mindset: for them it was a unity, simply a body of writing that had to be evaluated work-by-work. They didn't stress over genre labels the way we do.

Sure, they had poetry and drama and philosophy, but even those were pretty fluid boundaries. Is the biblical book of Genesis, for instance, primarily a work of theology, poetry, or historical narrative? Is The Aeneid a poetic epic, or is it a political tract defending the claim of Caesar to the throne? Is Plato's republic primarily artistic or philosophical in scope? And what on earth is The Epic of Gilgamesh (other than one of the greatest works ever penned by the hand of man, of course)?

Mankind figured out the benefit of writing things down pretty early, especially considering there are still societies today without a native written language. We should be glad they did—writing ennabled them to freeze ideas, historical events, people, geography and culture in time, so that we can see in what ways the human race has changed and in what ways we've remained the same (most of them).

Humanists, especially post-Enlightenment, are wont to describe man's progress from a benighted cromagnon to an increasingly sophisticated scientific being capable of improving the world through innovation, education and his own innate goodness. A careful (probably even a cursory) reading of ancient texts will thoroughly belie these claims, and it won't take too long. Evolutionary theories existed at least as far back as the Classical-era Greeks, and probably before; atomic theory began with them as well; and the ancient Egyptians were doing successful brain surgery.

Granted, we know more about the nature of atoms than Democritus did, and evolutionary theory has become increasingly elaborate (and, we may add, ridiculous), but they aren't wholly new ideas. Progress is the white-knuckle hope of those who've rejected God, and ancient literature helps us prove it by showing our "progress" to be nothing more than the compounding of human error and pride.

Not that things haven't changed, or that history isn't going in a specific direction, but man's attempts to get it there are ultimately futile when not grounded in faith in the God of the Bible. It's interesting to note that great literature is still compared to (and largely inspired by) the ancient classics, including the Bible itself; if man is so upwardly mobile, surely we've produced better works than a bunch of sandal-wearing Hellenes and Near Easterners.

Or Chinese Mandarins, or Japanese mystics, or North African mathemeticians, or what have you. Ancient literature doesn't begin and end in Mediterranean cultures. The fact that Westerners have only recently been introduced to Eastern literature doesn't mean it hasn't enjoyed just as long (in some cases, longer) and just as rich a tradition. Whether it's Sun Tzu or Gautama Buddha or Confucius, the Far East has a significant history of thought and literature we would do well to become familiar with.

Understanding today's literature is basically impossible without understanding the literature that preceded it, all the way back to the first forays into essay-writing, philosophy, poetry, etc. Nothing is conceived in a vacuum. Not only the literature of our contemporaries, but also the political, theological and philosophical ideas that inform our world can only be understood and analyzed if we first know our past—these books represent a significant source of such knowledge.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

 

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120 Items found Print
Aeneid
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Vintage Classics
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
Everyman's Library
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
by Virgil (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeneid
Penguin Classics
by Virgil (translation by David West)
Reissue from Penguin Classics
for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus I: The Oresteia (old)
The Complete Greek Tragedies
by Aeschylus (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
from University of Chicago
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus II: The Oresteia
The Complete Greek Tragedies
by Aeschylus (translation by Richmond Lattimore)
3rd edition from University of Chicago
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Penguin Classics
by Aeschylus (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aeschylus' Oresteia
Penguin Classics
by Aeschylus (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Greek Tragedy for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Aesop's Fables
by Aesop
from Signet Classics
Fairy Tales & Fables for 10th grade-adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry
by Tony Barnstone & Chou Ping, eds.
from Anchor Books
for 9th-12th grade
in Poetry Anthologies (Location: APO-05A)
Ancient History from Primary Sources
by Hans & Laurie Bluedorn
from Trivium Pursuit
Ancient History Reference/Primary Resources for
in Ancient History (Location: B02-02A)
Annals of Imperial Rome
Penguin Classics
by Tacitus
from Penguin Classics
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Antigone
Dover Thrift Editions
by Sophocles
from Dover Publications
Ancient Tragedy for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Art of War
by Sun Tzu
Later Printing from Oxford University
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Art of War
by Sun Tzu
Later Printing from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by John Davies)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Bacchae and Other Plays
Penguin Classics
by Euripides (translation by Phillip Vellacott)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Tragedy for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Basic Works of Aristotle
by Aristotle
from Modern Library
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Birds and Other Plays
by Aristophanes
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Civil War
Penguin Classics
by Julius Caesar
from Penguin Classics
Primary Source Documents for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Codes of Hammurabi and Moses
by W. W. Davies
from Book Jungle
Primary Source Document for 7th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Complete Fables
Penguin Classics
by Aesop
from Penguin Classics
Fables for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Conquest of Gaul
Penguin Classics
by Julius Caesar
from Penguin Classics
Primary Source Documents for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Conversations of Socrates
by Xenophon
from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Early Christian Writings
by Various, Thomas Wyatt
Revised from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Early History of Rome
by Livy
from Penguin Classics
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Eclogues and Georgics
Dover Thrift Editions
by Virgil
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Epic of Gilgamesh
Penguin Classics
by Anonymous (translation by Andrew George)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Epic of Gilgamesh
Penguin Classics
by Anonymous (translation by N. K. Sandars)
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Poetic Epic for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Essential Illiad
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Euripides I
by Euripides
from University of Chicago
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Euripides: The Trojan Women and Hippolytus
by Euripides
from Dover Publications
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Eusebius: The Church History
by Eusebius & Paul L. Maier (translator)
from Kregel Publications
Church History for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Eusebius: The Church History
by Eusebius & Paul L. Maier (translator)
from Kregel Publications
Church History for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Fall of the Roman Republic
by Plutarch
Revised from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Four Plays by Aristophanes
by Aristophanes
from Meridian Book
for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Frogs and Other Plays
by Aristophanes
Revised from Penguin Classics
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Gilgamesh
by Anonymous (translation by David Ferry)
from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Ancient Poetic Epic for 7th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Gilgamesh: A New English Version
by Anonymous (translation by Stephen Mitchell)
1st edition from Free Press
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Gorgias
Penguin Classics
by Plato
from Penguin Classics
Ancient Philosophy for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Gorgias
Penguin Classics
by Plato
from Oxford University
Ancient Philosophy for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Great Dialogues of Plato
Signet Classics
by Plato
from Signet Classics
Ancient Philosophy for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Greek Lives
by Plutarch (translation by Robin Waterfield)
1st Reissue from Oxford University
Biography for 11th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Aubrey De Sélincourt)
from Penguin Classics
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Everyman's Library
by Herodotus (translation by George Rawlinson)
from Everyman's Library
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by Robin Waterfield)
from Oxford University
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Histories
Penguin Classics
by Herodotus (translation by David Grene)
from University of Chicago
Historical Non-Fiction for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
History of the Church
by Eusebius
Revised from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
Everyman's Library
by Homer (translation by Robert Fitzgerald)
from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Ancient Literature/Epic Poetry for 9th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
Iliad
by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles)
from Penguin Putnam
for 10th-Adult
in Ancient Literature (Location: CLT-ANC)
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