Reading List: The Ancient World

There are six books that you need to read for HALIFAXTHINKS! - The Ancient World:

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Homer, The Iliad
  • Sophocles, Oedipus the King
  • Euripides, The Bacchae
  • Plato, The Republic
  • Virgil, The Aeneid

The strongly rhetorical cultural of the ancient world - in which the great poems like Gilgamesh, The Iliad, and The Aeneid were sung and recited, the plays staged, and the sacred texts memorized by repetition - suggest that the fine recordings that are now available make them an extremely good way to immerse ourselves in these works and be moved by the currents of the spoken word. Our weak memories, as compared to the ancients, mean that probably none of us can do without the texts but, since we will have roughly a month for each the big book, it may be possible for many of us to hear, as well as to read, them.

All texts are all available from the King's Bookstore and may be ordered online.

Lecture #1 - The Introductory Lecture: Before Civilization
There is no reading other than the posted lecture.

Lecture #2 - Sumer and the First Civilization
The reading is The Epic of Gilgamesh. The old standard is found in the Penguin Classics series, translated by Nancy K. Sandars. There is a widely praised new translation by Stephen Mitchell: Gilgamesh, 2004, FreePress/Simon & Schuster. An audio recording of Mitchell’s translation, narrated by George Guidall, is available from Recorded Books, 2004. The Lecturer uses Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others, translated by Stephanie Dalley in the Oxford World Classics series, revised ed., 2000. Brief selections from The Akkadian Creation Epic, available in this latter volume, will be part of the reading: the references will be posted with the lecture.

Lecture #3 - The Wrath Of Achilles
The reading is Books I-XII of Homer’s Iliad. There are innumerable translations of this work. For those who prefer a prose translation, the Penguin Classics version by E. V. Rieu is very serviceable. The translation by Robert S. J. Fitzgerald, (used by the lecturer), now 30 years old, is amongst the best (The Iliad, 2004, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), as is the more recent, highly acclaimed translation by Richard Latimore, (The Iliad, 1987, University of Chicago Press). The 1990 translation by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, Reissue, 2003) forms one part of a rare trilogy - of The Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, all by the same translator. It is widely acclaimed and is available in a glamorous, high-powered audio version read by Derek Jacobi.

Lecture #4 - The Greeks Against Troy
The reading is The Iliad, Books XIII-XIV.

Lecture #5 The God of Israel and His law
Readings from Genesis, and Exodus. The exact chapters are indicated in the lecture but you will get a better flavor of these central parts of the Hebrew Torah - which also have Scriptural status in Christianity and Islam - if you read these two books in their entirety.

Lecture #6A&B - The Greeks and the Polis: Tragedy
The readings are Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Euripides’ The Bacchae. Again, there are many translations available. A very useful edition of the first is found in the volume called Sophocles 1, which prints the three Theban Plays together (Antigone/Oedipus the King/Oedipus at Colonus), translated by David Greene and Richard Lattimore, (University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed. 1991). The Penguin Classics Bacchae and Other Plays is a handy text.

Lecture #7 - The Invention of Philosophy
The reading is Books I-V of Plato’s The Republic. Those of you who first read The Republic in the 50's or 60's probably used Benjamin Jowett’s classic (and distinctly Victorian) translation, which is still available in the Dover edition. A cleaner, modern version is that of G. M. A. Grube, now revised by C. D. C. Reeve (1992, Hackett Publishing Co) – this is the text used by the lecturer.

Lecture #8 - The Good and Justice
The reading is The Republic, Books VI-X.

Lecture #9 - The Form of the Final City
The reading is Books I-VI of Virgil’s The Aeneid. The excellent and long-anticipated prose translation of Robert Fagles (who has also translated The Iliad - see above) was released as a hardcover by Viking in November 2006. An audio version by British actor Simon Callow was released around the same time. This is the preferred translation of both your lecturers. The poetic translation of Robert Fitzgerald (Vintage, 1990) has been the modern standard and is the version used in both lectures.

Lecture #10 - The Romans and the Universal Empire
The reading is Books VII-XII of The Aeneid.

Lecture #11 - Islam: Perfection of Antiquity
Readings from Arthur J. Arberry’s The Koran Interpreted, (Touchstone, 1996), and other
versions of the Qur’an are contained in the lecture.

Lecture #12 Summary of the Ancient World
There is no reading other than the posted Lecture


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Click here for a sample lecture from 'The Ancient World' (without audio).

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