5 favorite books about the ancient world

Today I’m sharing a few works of Homeric scholarship that have transformed my understanding of the poems. When I was thinking about them, I visualized the rosebuds on my desk that have been slowly opening up.

The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours by Gregory Nagy. Nagy approaches the poems through significant ancient Greek words, peeling back layers of meaning—whether surface or accumulated from reception—to get to the underneath part. I know I’ve said this eleventy billion times before, but I can’t recommend this highly enough, especially for readers who are seeking historical and cultural context.

Inventing Homer: The Early Invention of Epic by Barbara Graziosi starts from a simple but sometimes overlooked question: who (and/or what) was Homer to the ancient Greeks? This isn’t Homeric Question redux but a deep dive into ancient reception of Homer that throws into relief our assumptions and notions about authorship.

Homer and The Gods of Olympus by Barbara Graziosi. For beginners with epic, Homer is a little gem that succinctly contextualizes the poem and the issues around it better than any notes I’ve yet read (besides Graziosi’s introduction and notes to Anthony Verity’s translation of the Iliad, which are also wonderful, in my humble opinion). I also recommend her delightful The Gods of Olympus: A History for anyone interested in mythology. It’s sweeping in scope and provides an enjoyable whistle stop tour of how the gods have been treated over time.

Regarding Penelope: From Character to Poetics by Nancy Felson. I am not a fan of a great deal of literary theory, as I often find it to be solipsistic, revealing more about the critic’s assumptions and beliefs that the text it analyzes. That may sound harsh, but now I’ve said that, Felson challenged me to find value in a number of literary theories she employs (narratology, psychoanalytic, dialogism, which is actually one of my favorite lit theories) to bring new understanding to a character who has been grossly misunderstood and trivialized by much modern reception.

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