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Great World Literature Part One: The Ancient World through Roman Times

C. E. Stevens
The list author says: "Having gone through a pretty good public school education and having always loved to read, I entered my adult years knowing enough about world literature to know that I didn't know as much about world literature as I would have liked. A few years ago, I purchased The New Lifetime Reading Plan, and while one can nitpick about which works deserve to be included in such a book, I personally found it to be a great inspiration to go ahead and dive in to the exciting world of world literature. It has been no surprise that reading these works has been immensely intellectually stimulating; what has been a bigger surprise is that these works are more often than not immensely enjoyable--dare I say "fun"?--as well.

I did not read some works in the Reading Plan and added others along the way, so while my list is heavily influenced by that book, it is not identical. Like the Reading Plan, my list is not intended to be all-inclusive; certain works I read and enjoyed will not be enjoyable to all, and there are certainly works I did not read that others might consider indispensable. Instead, I offer this list in the hope that it inspires YOU to deepen your familiarity and enjoyment of the great works of humanity and offer you a few recommendations and starting points for your own journey. I have made a point to specifically list the translations I read and enjoyed as a general reader, but some of them are a bit controversial amongst expert scholars of the classics, so take the time to find a translation that works best for you.

Part One offers an eclectic mix (ordered subjectively--but not arbitrarily--by a combination of date and geography/cultural sphere) from the dawn of civilization in Sumeria to the fall of the Roman Empire. Enjoy!"
Gilgamesh: A New English Version
Gilgamesh: A New English Version
"This work had always intimidated me ... I was afraid I'd find it too old, too foreign, too incomprehensible ... instead it was one of my favorites on this list.  Purists dislike Mitchell's version, but personally I found it very interesting and accessible."
The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
"Perhaps more than any other writer, Homer has made a profound influence on the language, culture, and literature of Western hemisphere.  Debate rages about which translation is "best", but I greatly enjoyed Fagles, personally."
The Odyssey
The Odyssey
"Not only are Homer's works "great", they're immensely enjoyable as well!"
The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides
The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides
"Immensely powerful and moving."
The Complete Greek Tragedies: Sophocles I
The Complete Greek Tragedies: Sophocles I
"The great tragedy of Oedipus."
Ten Plays by Euripides
Ten Plays by Euripides
"There is something unmistakably "modern" about Euripedes' sensitivities and style."
Four Plays by Aristophanes: The Birds; The Clouds; The Frogs; Lysistrata (Meridian Classics)
Four Plays by Aristophanes: The Birds; The Clouds; The Frogs; Lysistrata (Meridian Classics)
"After reading the great Greek tragedies, these comedies come as a bit of a shock to the system.  Nevertheless, they are quite enjoyable (although I think the tragedies have weathered the test of time a little better than the comedies)."
The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics)
The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics)
"Socrates, through the eyes of Plato.  I found the Phaedo particularly interesting."
The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition
The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition
"A difficult read, but an ambitious and important work."
The Basic Works of Aristotle (Modern Library Classics)
The Basic Works of Aristotle (Modern Library Classics)
"Also a difficult read; in retrospect I probably should have bought separate volumes of the specific works I was interested in (Ethics, Politics, & Poetics) in order to have better introductory material on these difficult but interesting works."
The Analects of Confucius
The Analects of Confucius
"Although often reduced to a fortune cookie wisdom-spouting caricature in the West, Confucius' Analects are immensely interesting and thought-provoking; more than anyone else, he has arguably had the greatest influence on Eastern philosophy."
Mencius (Penguin Classics)
Mencius (Penguin Classics)
"Not quite as great as Confucius, but close."
Tao Te Ching, 25th-Anniversary Edition (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition)
Tao Te Ching, 25th-Anniversary Edition (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition)
"Cryptic, yet oddly compelling.  A journey down the "Tao" will not soon be forgotten."
Zhuangzi: Basic Writings
Zhuangzi: Basic Writings
"Another interesting work of Daoism, its style is similarly profound and yet quite different from the Tao Te Ching."
The Art of War (History and Warfare)
The Art of War (History and Warfare)
"The "Art of War" became popular in the West in the last few decades, particularly in the business context; it is an interesting blend of philosophy and strategy that merits its world fame."
The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic
The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic
"This was my first exposure to Indian literature, and was easily one of my favorites on this list.  The Ramayana is an epic in the class of Homer, yet is little known in the West."
The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic
The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic
"Another enjoyable Indian classic; I read this abridged version by Narayan that in retrospect was a little *too* abridged to do this epic justice.  I look forward to revisiting this text by reading a longer version at some point in the future."
The Bhagavad Gita (Classics of Indian Spirituality)
The Bhagavad Gita (Classics of Indian Spirituality)
"Although the Gita is essentially a chapter out of the much larger Mahabharata, in some ways this philosophical treatise transcends it."
The Loom of Time: A Selection of His Plays and Poems (Penguin Classics)
The Loom of Time: A Selection of His Plays and Poems (Penguin Classics)
"Kalidasa has been called the "Shakespeare of India", and while I don't know that I'd go that far (in translation at least), his works stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the great poets of the ancient world."
Lucretius: The Way Things Are: The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus
Lucretius: The Way Things Are: The Way Things Are: The De Rerum Natura of Titus Lucretius Carus
"After finding Plato and Aristotle difficult to wade through, I was pleasantly surprised by Lucretius' interesting and engaging work; plus, it's not often that works of science and philosophy are in poetic form!  This Epicurean work stands in contrast to Platonism and Stoicism (and later, Christianity), and provides an interesting viewpoint on "the way things are"."
The Aeneid (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
The Aeneid (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
"Inspired by Homer, inspiration of many others (including Dante and Milton), Virgil's epic does not just tell a "story" but provides an important and nationalist founding myth for the Roman civilization."
Meditations: A New Translation
Meditations: A New Translation
"Marcus' notes were never intended for publication, but it would have been a great loss if they had never seen the light of day.  These "meditations" are a representative work of Stoicism and provide a fascinating insight into the mind of this philosopher-king."
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version
"Easily the most influential work of all time, the Bible is also a work worth re-reading as a *work of literature* with a fresh set of eyes regardless of what your religious persuasion might be.  I put the Bible at this point in my list because it is the influence of Christianity and the New Testament that is of particular interest here."
An Introduction to the New Testament (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)
An Introduction to the New Testament (The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library)
"The rise of Christianity coincided with the fall of the Roman Empire, and given its obviously strong influence on the culture and literature of the Western world I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the New Testament.  Brown's introduction is an excellent work that provides a nice balance between the history and meaning of the disparate works that came to be known as the New Testament."
Confessions (Penguin Classics)
Confessions (Penguin Classics)
"This important work is a perfect place to end "Part One", as St. Augustine's own life (and "confessions") mark an important transition in world (and particularly European) history from classical antiquity to the middle ages."