As a former student of Greek and Latin, I have a soft spot for classical literature. These works however have a reputation for being difficult and dense. So where do you have to start if you want to read more classical texts but, you know, maybe not Plato? I’ve made a small selection of some of my favourite works, and I’ve divided them by subjects you might be interested in, so you can find works that might suit you.
If you like politics: Cicero & Sallust
I’m a big fan of Cicero myself. If you’re interested in this subject, try his speeches about Cataline (The Catalinarian speeches). When Cicero was consul of Rome, Cataline was the head of a conspiracy against him and Cicero had to make a few amazing speeches to defeat him. It’s great politics. If you want to hear the other side of the story, read what Sallust wrote about Cataline in The Conspiracy of Cataline: he puts the conspiracy in a whole different light.
If you like history: Herodotus & Caesar
Herodotus is seen as the father of history, mainly because of the way he treats his sources. Not all of them are very dependable, but Herodotus makes sure the reader knows just how dependable a source is so you can make your own choices about what to believe. Which is great, because his book The Histories is full of detailed descriptions about all kinds of people, and some of the stories just seem too fantastic. Do you want something more down to earth? In The Gallic Wars Caesar tells you all about Roman warfare and how he won so many battles.
If you like love: Sappho & Ovid
Sappho is one of the greatest love poets of world literature and the feelings she describes in her poems are still so universal. I’d love to tell you so much more about her, but I guess you just have to experience her. If you want something more light, try Ovid. In The Art of Love, he tells you all about the best places to meet and seduce a partner. It can be so much fun to see how little has changed!
If you like comedy: Plautus & Martial
I love the plays by Plautus. A lot of ancient comedy tends to be about… well, farts and sex and violence. Plautus isn’t afraid of those subject, but the situations he describes are also funny on a whole other level. I would recommend Pseudolus and Miles Gloriosus. If you don’t feel like reading a whole play, Martial wrote short, funny poems, reflecting on Roman society.
If you like adventure: Homer & Xenophon
I love Homer, but if you’re just getting started with classical literature, maybe don’t read the Iliad cover to cover. Take a look at Wikipedia to see which scenes interested you to get a taste of it first. A good place to get started might be the story of Odysseus and the cyclops, which is just so thrilling! If you like your adventures a bit less magical, try Xenophon. In his Anabasis he tells all about his travels through Persia trying to get back home to Greece.
Of course, this is just a very small selection. Do you have other favourite works? Tell me in the comments!