My antique and medieval Western classics list

As promised in the previous post, here is my current list of antique and medieval Western classics. I know it could be richer, but for now I am satisfied with it. As soon as I finish, I consider either adding to it more interesting authors and books or moving ahead towards the Renaissance and the English-speaking authors.

The Ancient Near East

  • Gilgamesh
  • The Holy Bible

The Greeks

  • Homer: The Iliad; The Odyssey
  • Hesiod: The Works and Days; Theogony
  • Aeschylus: The Oresteia; Seven Against Thebes; Prometheus Bound
  • Sophocles: Oedipus the King; Electra; Ajax
  • Euripides: Alcestis; The Bacchae; Electra; Hippolytus
  • Aristophanes: The Birds; The Clouds; Lysistrata
  • Herodotus: The Histories
  • Plato: Dialogues
  • Aristotle: Poetics; Ethics
  • Longinus, On the Sublime
  • Theocritus, Idylls
  • Plutarch: Lives; Moralia
  • Plotinus: Enneads

The Romans

  • Lucretius: The Way Things Are
  • Cicero: On the Gods
  • Horace: Odes
  • Catullus: Attis
  • Virgil: The Aeneid
  • Ovid: Metamorphoses; The Art of Love
  • Pliny the Elder: Naturalis Historia
  • Tacitus: Annals
  • Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars
  • Seneca the Younger: Tragedies
  • Apuleius: The Golden Ass
  • Marcus Aurelius: Meditations

The Arabs

  • The Koran
  • The Book of the Thousand and One Nights

The Europeans before Dante

  • Augustine: The City of God; The Confessions
  • Boethius: Consolation of Philosophy
  • The Poetic Edda
  • Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda
  • The Nibelungen Lied
  • Beowulf
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

The Western Canon: Defining Classics

What people and works could be called the West’s most important classics? The Western Canon is a relatively recent (1994) book by Harold Bloom in which the author tries to select the most influential authors and books of all time. Despite the fact that the very idea of such a canon is disputed, the 26 authors listed by Bloom are definitely worth reading. As for the entire book list (about 2400 items), I only wish I could read them all.

The earlier attempts to define canonical books were the Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World book series by Mortimer Adler, first published in 1952, and the Harvard Classics series by Charles Eliot, first published in 1909. Both of them were born out of renowned university curriculums which still remain for us another important sources of information on the subject. One of them is The Core Curriculum of Columbia College, developed in 1919, which later became the framework for many similar educational models. Finally, there are many classic book lists of various lengths, like a reading list for having an intelligent conversation compiled by Joseph Brodsky.

The ongoing controversy about the idea behind the Western canon is focused on what authors are worth including in it. Some people point out to the prevalence of so called Dead White Men in it. A deeper question is what schools of thought or approaches to education get priority there. But I am not going to speculate about this.

My opinion is that the older a book is, the higher priority it should be given, because old books influenced the newer ones. Therefore, I would first concentrate on antique and medieval classics in my self studies. Next, I would turn to the books originally written in English (they make the most of most lists anyway), because English is the new Latin 🙂 My third criterion for my book list is inner chemistry: some books, just like some people, look to us more attractive than the others. The fourth and final criterion is my personal interests laying at the intersection of literature, religion and philosophy.

My first step in this direction will be to compare as many book lists as I can and to make my antique and medieval classics shortlist which I will share in my next post.

By the way, there is an interesting discussion on Quora about the Eastern canon.

Related links

Here are some resources I found interesting:


When the child was a child

«When the child was a child…
it had, on every mountaintop,
the longing for a higher mountain yet,
and in every city,
the longing for an even greater city,
and that is still so,
It reached for cherries in topmost branches of trees
with an elation it still has today,
has a shyness in front of strangers,
and has that even now.
It awaited the first snow,
And waits that way even now.»

From a poem by Peter Handke (Wings of Desire)


Fuller’s Critical Path: A 27-years-old perspective, still fresh

I am currently reading Buckminster Fuller’s «Critical Path». However controversial, his vision is bright and integral.

«70 percent of all jobs in America and probably an equivalently high percentage of the jobs in other Western private-enterprise countries are preoccupied with work that is not producing any wealth or life support — inspectors of inspectors, reunderwriters of insurance reinsurers, Obnoxico promoters, spies and counterspies.»

This was written in 1980, and I suspect this is still shamefully true 27 years later, with a bunch of new professions like auditors of seo optimizers, metaverse travel guides, tamagotchi cemetery keepers etc. etc. The difference, however, is that now there is much more individual projects and freelance work one might only dream about in 1980.

Then, there are jobs related to life support but done in a non-sustainable way, like the oil industry which is also mentioned in Fuller’s book, with a reference to an oil geologist who counted that it costs nature well over a million dollars to produce each gallon of petroleum.


«We find all the no-life-support-wealth-producing people going to their jobs in their cars or buses, spending trillions of dollar’s worth of petroleum daily to get to their no-wealth-producing jobs. It doesn’t take a computer to tell you that it will safe both Universe and humanity trillions of dollars a day to pay them handsomely to stay at home.»

Fuller supposes that it would be more effective from the planetary point of view to give people income adequate for high standard of living instead of forcing them «earning a living».

«What do I see that needs to be done that nobody else is attending to?», this is the question people would ask themselves more often in this case, Fuller says.

Of course, one of conditions for this is a special kind of education with focus on individual’s unique talents and their application for the needs of humanity. Here again, Fuller’s view is against the currently dominant system:

«The physical and social costs will be far less for individual, at-home-initiated, research-and-development-interned self-teaching than having individual students going to schools, being bused, and so on.»

Perhaps now, with e-learning, we are much closer to this vision than ever before. And, of course, if parents, too, weren’t so busy «earning a living», they would better help their children with their individual learning.

«I can conclude at the outset of 1980 that the world public has become disenchanted with both the political and financial leadership, which it no longer trusts to solve the problems of historical crisis. Furthermore, all the individuals of humanity are looking for the answer to what the little individual can do that can’t be done by great nations and great enterprises.»

But will people really ask themselves this question, «What needs to be done that nobody else is attending to?» if they wouldn’t have to earn a living anymore? Deepa Chopra in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success wrote about the same question he offered his children:

«I never, ever want you to worry about making a living. If you’re unable to make a living when you grow up, I’ll provide for you, so don’t worry about that. I don’t want you to focus on doing well in school. I don’t want you to focus on getting the best grades or going to the best colleges. What I really want you to focus on is asking yourself how you can serve humanity, and asking yourself what your unique talents are.»

They made it, Chopra says, and are financially independent.

Back to Fuller, he names himself a design science revolutionary, not a political revolutionary. Design science is exactly what gets lots of attention nowadays, when people starts shifting to green, sustainable life, with WorldChanging or Massive Change as some points of reference, to name a few. So, changes are really coming, and who knows — perhaps some Fuller’s prophecies are just about to materialize?