Book Review: A Student’s Guide To The Classics

A Student’s Guide To The Classics, by Bruce S. Thornton

I must admit that while I am not fluent in Greek or Latin, I have long had a complex relationship with the classics as a body of literature.  Without ever having attempted a systematic reading of the classics, I have managed to find myself reading a great many classic works and being influenced by them [1] a little bit at a time.  Whether that means reading some of the works in school and some of them for fun and some of them as a reviewer of books for scholarly journals, I have read a great many of what the author considers to be essential classics, and I would hope that I have been bettered by it.  This book, of course, is intended for those who are younger and who may not be familiar with the writings of the ancient world and their relevance for the contemporary period, and sadly the classics as a whole are an area that are not well-studied either on a formal or an informal basis, something which this book seeks wisely to remedy, even if it is a shortcoming that few seem to be aware of.

This short book is a very thorough introduction for its size of less than 100 pages.  After an introduction and a discussion of what the classics are (namely worthwhile works in Greek and Latin), the author gives a very detailed discussion on the classics in the genres of epic, poetry, drama, prose fiction, literary criticism, oratory and rhetoric, letters, biography, history, and the classical heritage, before giving some suggestions for further reading.  The books recommended range from well-known works to obscure poetry (like the poetry of Catullus), as well as books which defend the importance of the classics in the contemporary world.  By and large the author seeks to encourage readers to seek out works that are readily available and not particularly expensive, which is a good way for the author someone to become far better versed in the classics without having to pay a king’s ransom in order to obtain obscure and rare books in the field.  Even someone like me who has read quite a lot of the books can find some more books to read that both justify and extend familiarity with the writings discussed here, and that is certainly something that I appreciate.

Given that we are a society that remains heavily influenced by the Greek and Roman classical past, it makes a great deal of sense to become familiar with writings in Greek and Latin.  Fortunately, there is a lot of worthwhile ancient writing that can be found, whether one is reading the political speeches of a Cicero or an Isocrates, or whether one is reading philosophical works or poetry or drama or epigrams or works of history or any number of related works, including early efforts at textual criticism.  Many of the writings we engage in now, including the cringeworthy tell-most memoir/autobiography, were originally classical genres, and so it behooves us to understand the writings of the past so that we may be inspired to write well ourselves.  The familiarity that we should have with these sources is great, especially given the way that references and allusions to these works still fill our literature by those who may be unfamiliar with the sources of the allusions.  We are a lot more knowledgeable about ourselves the more we know where we came from, and knowing the classics is a good way to know where we came from, all the more reason to be more familiar with them.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/06/13/parallel-lives-michelle-branch-vanessa-carlton/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/09/25/forsan-et-haec-olim-meminisse-iuvabit/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/04/non-book-review-rome-spreads-her-wings/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/07/31/non-book-review-war-in-ancient-greece/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: A Student’s Guide To The Classics

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Iliad | Edge Induced Cohesion

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