Considered the great war epic of Western literature, Homer’s timeless work vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods wrestling with towering emotions and battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves inexorably to the wrenching, tragic conclusion of the Trojan War.
If The Iliad is the world’s greatest war epic, The Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of an everyman’s journey through life. Odysseus’ reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War is at once a timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance.
Fleeing the ashes of Troy, Aeneas, Achilles’ mighty foe in the Iliad, begins an incredible journey to fulfill his destiny as the founder of Rome. His voyage will take him through stormy seas, entangle him in a tragic love affair, and lure him into the world of the dead itself. An unsparing portrait of a man caught between love, duty, and fate, The Aeneid redefines passion, nobility, and courage for our times.
The Three Theban Plays
Towering over the rest of Greek tragedy, the three plays that tell the story of the fated Theban royal family—Antigone, Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus—are among the most enduring and timeless dramas ever written.
Forming an elegant and subtle discourse on the emergence of Athenian democracy out of a period of chaos and destruction, The Oresteia is a compelling tragedy of the tensions between our obligations to our families and the laws that bind us together as a society.
The earliest surviving work of nonfiction, The Histories works its way from the Trojan War through an epic account of the war between the Persian empire and the Greek city-states in the fifth century BC, recording landmark events that ensured the development of Western culture and still capture our modern imagination.
Heraclitus’ great book, On Nature, the world’s first coherent philosophical treatise and touchstone for Plato, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius, has long been lost to history—but its surviving fragments have for thousands of years tantalized our greatest thinkers, from Montaigne to Nietzsche, Heidegger to Jung. Now, acclaimed poet Brooks Haxton presents a powerful free-verse translation of all 130 surviving fragments of the teachings of Heraclitus, with the ancient Greek originals beautifully reproduced en face.
The Greek Myths
From the creation of the world out of Chaos and the birth of the Olympians to the Trojan War and Odysseus’s return, Robert Graves’s superb retelling of the Greek myths has long been acclaimed as the definitive edition. It is a classic volume of many of the greatest stories ever told—stories of the gods, heroes, and extraordinary events that inspired Homer, the Greek tragedians, and so much of subsequent European literature.
The Last Days of Socrates
The trial and death of Socrates (469-399 BCE) have central a place in Western consciousness. In four superb dialogues, Plato provides the classic account.
Lysistrata and Other Plays
Writing at the time of political and social crisis in Athens, Aristophanes was an eloquent yet bawdy challenger to the demagogue and the sophist. These three plays are among the most famous from this comedian of Ancient Greece.
The Greek Classics belong to everyone. The Ancient Greeks were a diverse people, as diverse as their lands. They were a sea people, their chosen form of transportation their seaworthy vessels that broke the foaming whitecaps and took them to distant shores. As they travelled across the seas they came in contact with other civilizations as advanced as their own—the Phoenicians, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians. They travelled as far as India and Asia Minor. They brought back to their own settlements their knowledge and stories of all these other lands. They began to synthesize the cultural underpinnings of other civilizations and other cultures, blending all they had learnt with what they already knew to create a uniquely Greek way of interpreting and experiencing communities, lives, and human destinies. From ideas of democracy and totalitarianism, to the perils of war and the benefits of peace, the Greeks showed over and over again that to be civilized, it was only necessary to be human. Their practice of law, literature, ethics, philosophy, drama, debate, architecture, democracy, medicine, and their findings in science and mathematics continue to influence our own civilizations today.
Here, then, are ten Greek classics to savor, debate, and ponder. From the wily Odysseus, whose dream of home and the wife and son he had left behind carries him back to Ithaca through great challenges and suffering; to trailblazer Lysistrata, who convinces her fellow Athenian women that they must band together to bring peace to their land and end the war between Athens and Sparta by withholding the pleasures of sex from their men; to loyal Antigone, who defies her uncle’s orders and gives her brother the burial he deserves, thus setting in motion a chain of events that brings tragedy to all; to hyper-curious Herodotus, whose histories remain a beguiling mix of illuminating insights, philosophical truth, conjecture, and fabulous myth and legend; to duty-bound Aeneas, a man caught between the opposing demands of love and fate, who must make his way to an unknown land after the fall of Troy, to become the founder of Rome; to enigmatic Heraclitus, who famously told us, “from all things one and from one all things.” If you have already read these books, savor them again. If it’s your first time, treasure the experience.
Want to see these places in person? Join us on a literary journey to the Greek island of Patmos inspired by The Iliad and The Odyssey! On this inaugural Penguin Classics Voyages trip, delve deep into a world of myths and legends as you explore the cultural backdrop, themes, and driving passions of Gods and humans in the Greek classics. Ready to pack your bags?