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Looking for some good books for my pile


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Since there are a lot of readers here, I'm on the lookout for interesting books to add to my pile. I mostly prefer reading ancient sources, though I'll read modern books that provide nice "overviews" and am particular interested in books concerning individual cities. My primary focus is Greek, though I've read some Roman material. Most of the Romans I've read though deal with more Greek history.

Here are some recent reads so the same works aren't recommended.

Currently reading
On the Cessation of Oracles - Plutarch
The New Complete Works of Josephus
Plutarch's Lives - am on Volume III of IV


In the pile for my next reads
Parion: The Flourishing City of Ancient Troad - Cavat Basaran
Land of Sikyon - Yannis Lolos
On Sparta - Plutarch
Essays - Plutarch
Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words - Jeremy Mynott


Ancient history already read
On Isis and Osiris - Plutarch
The Landmark Herodotus
The Elephantine Papyrii in English

Politics - Aristotle
The Histories - Polybius
Homeric Hymns
Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
 - Justinus
Guide to Greece - Pausanias
The Geography of Strabo
The Alexander Romance
The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika
The Landmark Xenophon's Anabasis

The History of Alexander - Quintus Curtius Rufus
The Landmark Arrian
The Library: Books 16-20
 - Diodorus Siculus
The Twelve Caesars - Suetonius


Ancient fiction already read
The Interpretation of Dreams  - Artemidoros
Tale of Dionysus: The Dionysiaca
The Comedies
 - Terence
Four Comedies - Plautus
Leucippe and Clitiphon - Achilles Tatius
The Aeneid - Virgil
The Iliad
The Odyssey
Complete works of Euripides
Complete works of Aeschylus
Complete works of Aristophones
Complete works of Sophocles
The Complete Odes
 - Pindar
Daphnis and Chloe - Longus
The Voyage of the Argo - Apollonius of Rhodes
Calirrhoe - Chariton
An Ephesian Story - Xenophon of Ephesus
Sappho: A New Translation
The Golden Ass - Apuleius
The Satyricon - Petronius
The Library of Greek Mythology - Apollodorus of Athens
The Republic  - Plato
Theogony and Works and Days - Hesiod
Metamorophoses - Ovid
Aesop's Fables
The Plays and Fragments
 - Menander
Characters - Theophrastus
Civil War - Lucan
The Consolation of Philosophy - Boethius
How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership - Plutarch


City overviews already read
Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries - George Emmanuel Mylonas
Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World - Michael Scott
Miletons: The Ornament of Ionia


Modern works already read
Emperor of Rome - Mary Beard
Aramaic: A History of the First World Language - Holger Gzella
Demetrius: Sacker of Cities - James Romm
Ghost on the Throne - James Romm
I, Claudius - Robert Graves
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire - Gibbons
Classical Mythology - Mark Morford
The Macedonian Phalanx - Richard Taylor
The Greek World After Alexander - Graham Shipley
The Macedonian War Machine - David Karunanithy
Olympias: Mother of Alexander the Great - Elizabeth Carney
Una Giornata nell'Antica Roma - Alberto Angela
Women and Monarchy in Macedonia - Elizabeth Carney
Impero. Viaggio nell'Impero di Roma seguendo una moneta - Alberto Angela
A History of Cyprus: Volume 1 - George Francis Hill
Phoenicians: Lebanon's Epic Heritage - Sanford Holst
Twelve Caesars - Mary Beard
Memnon - Scott Oden


Edited by kirispupis
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12 minutes ago, Deinomenid said:

If there's one to read that is not on that list, it has to be Thucydides.

Not city-specific but a fascinating read.





Thanks! I read his work several years ago and agree.

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Whoops, I just saw  you only  mentioned a few books of Diodorus. If you didn't mind  his style, there are quite a few other surviving  ones too. For western  Greek cities (my "area") there are very few strong works that discuss mostly one polis. Taylor's Ancient Naples is excellent  but stronger for later years. Redfield's Locrian Maidens for Epizephyrian Lokri is interesting, though he, like  most, tends to fall down Orphic rabbit holes. Some of the modern Syracuse ones are awful - the tyrants seem to attract all sorts of speculative rubbish. Noe and Johnston are as good as you'll find on Metapontum.

All other major Western poleis have no one superb book on their Greek period (I'd love to learn otherwise, as that's a sweeping statement.)

Otherwise it's piecing together a more detailed history from many separate articles on a wide range of themes. Dunbabin - the Western Greeks is "required" general reading though. Finlay and Freeman are both worth a read on general Sicily. Finlay is worth a read on anything. Genius of a man.

Elsewhere -

Thebes, Cartledge is often recommended,  but one of his weakest in my view. His Very Short History of Greece is  written in city chapters, so is  of some limited use for Massalia, Miletus, Syracuse and a few  others. And the coin specialist books can be great for history too, as they (if good)  place  everything in context.  Williams,  Phokians, Lorber, Amphipolis, Williams Velia, May for  Abdera. For  Macedonia  there's a strangely good one -Sovereignty and Coinage, by TR Martin. Athens  you have plenty of choices, though Seltman is a good start. Sheedy is  as good as it gets for the Cyclades.

This may sound pretentious,  but to  get a good  overall feel for say Syracuse, reading  commentaries on Pindar are often a great source. Or on Empedokles for Akragas or Selinus. It generally seems university output on literature or philosophy is a better source for some of these places as they tend  to place their  subjects in a proper background context. Ditto say Zeno for Velia or even Pythagoros for Kroton, Archytas for Tarentum etc.


And  for  the possibly risible but actually a good read, there's an old "schoolbook" called A Day in Old Athens,  by Davis, where he imagines  he  wanders around the city and  its suburbs, harbour, temples, the  nearby hills, the Academy etc. There's something about it that brought that polis to life.


For novels @DonnaML recommended Mary Renault in another context, and I read some of her books as a result. One of Renault's lesser-known ones, The Mask of Apollo, has for  much of its setting Syracuse from the  last days of Dionsyius to Dion and Dionsyius the Younger. And Plato's frequent interaction with the 3. I can't of course tell how accurate it is, but it comes across well. That whole  period is fairly confused but it  helped me. (Her 2 main books on Theseus are very readable too.)


Your The Consolation of Philosophy - Boethius made me smile as  that's the book of choice for Ignatius in the wonderful Confederacy of Dunces.

"“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?"
"Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers."
"Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age," Ignatius said solemnly. "Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. "

Now that's a reading list!

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4 minutes ago, Deinomenid said:

Your The Consolation of Philosophy - Boethius made me smile as  that's the book of choice for Ignatius in the wonderful Confederacy of Dunces.

Thanks! Confederacy of Dunces is on my reading list, but is on the other side that I didn't mention with novels. Most of the books I read are fiction, but I didn't list them here because I didn't feel they're relevant. On that side, I'm nearly finished with The Forsyte Saga and am about a week away from completing The Ascent of Money (though not a novel).

Would you have any recommendations for the East? I rarely pay attention to the Western Greeks, though I pick up coins when I see a bargain and I'm meandering my way through a collection there. I'm primarily focused on mainland Greece and Asia Minor, or roughly the territory that was within Alexander's grasps.

I'm also writing two novels of my own around this topic. (apologize for the lame summaries since they haven't been through copywriting yet)

There Must be Monsters - Fictional account that actually includes true history involving Adea Eurydike and a young man from the 21st century face off in ancient Macedonia against Olympias and dinosaurs

All the Wonderful People - (working title) Variation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and Homer's Iliad taking place in modern day Seattle in a love + family history story spanning 2500 years

And I've published one novel (available on Amazon) loosely related

Allen, King of Seattle - The evil queen who is the primary antagonist fell in love with Alexander the Great, but was spurned by him. So, she turned to dark magic and killed him, then progressed through history until eventually becoming a middle school principal today. Also, tetradrachms minted under Perdikkas (who was actually a parrot named Purdy and is depicted on the coins) contained counter-spells that thwarted her magic.

I also have another published novel (The Paramount Dimension) and am working on its sequel (The Orchata Syndrome) that have nothing to do with this era but are great sci-fi works. 🙂 

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The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, by Frankfort, Wilson, Jacobsen and Irwin. University of Chicago Press, 1946. A tour de force of comparative religion, contrasting the cosmologies and philosophies of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and Hebrews. Highly recommended!

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3 minutes ago, CPK said:

I, Claudius is great. Have you read the sequel, Claudius the God?

Not yet. I liked I, Claudius, but I didn't love it, so I'm on the fence about Claudius the God.

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I also would recommend Ammianus Marcellinus' Res Gestae, of which works from 353-378 survive, though the original scope was much broader but those sections are lost.  It is available in Penguin's or Loeb Classical Library. A primary source for the reigns of Constantius II, Julian, Jovian, Valens and Valentinian. The digressions are most interesting and are focused on a variety of topics, illustrating a mid-fourth century perspective on the world, Egypt, Iraq, etc.  There are versions in Latin and English freely available online, also the Penguin book under the name History of the Later Roman Empire is a paperback and quite handy to read. 


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With several caveats:

- I lean Roman more than Greek

- these books are modern not ancient sources

- I don't read these cover to cover, but use as starting point for cities that interest me (no surprise that this is often coin related)


Getzel Cohen's 3 volume series on Hellenistic settlements might interest you.

  • Cohen, Getzel, The Hellenistic Settlements in Europe, the Islands & Asia Minor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Reviewed here: https://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/1998/1998.11.19/
  • Cohen, Getzel M., The Hellenistic Settlements in Syria, the Red Sea Basin, and North Africa. Hellenistic Culture and Society XLVI. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006. Reviewed here: https://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2008/2008.08.40/
  • Cohen, Getzel M. The Hellenistic Settlements in the East from Armenia and Mesopotamia to Bactria and India. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2013. 

Available from University of California Press (and many other places used and new) https://www.ucpress.edu/search.php?q=Getzel+M.+Cohen#gsc.tab=0&gsc.q=Getzel M. Cohen&gsc.page=1

I just purchased the third having enjoyed the first two on my shelf for a while.

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I haven't seen Plutarch's biographies of Greek and Roman notables listed yet (though you included some of his other works). There are various translations and anthologies available (under a number of titles), I generally like the ones published by Penguin but others may have reasons to prefer other versions.  Isidore of Charax's Parthian Stations gives some geography of the East, though it's a) pretty short and b) mostly just lists places and the distances between them with little other information, so not exactly a page-turner.  Pliny the Elder's Natural History is worthwhile to see how an intelligent and cultured man in the early Roman Empire understood the natural world.

Modern historians: Michael Grant is extremely readable, but he was focused on the Romans.  Tom Holland's Persian Fire is a good attempt to understand the Achaemenids on their own terms, and not just as a bunch of faceless mooks for the noble Greeks to righteously slaughter.  George Rawlinson's Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy is a very readable history of Parthia, though it's badly out of date (being written in the Victorian era); Fred Shore's historical sections in Parthian Coins and History are much more up-to-date, but first you have to actually find a copy of the book.  G.R.F. Assar's essay in the Sunrise collection book is probably the most up-to-date overall history of Parthia, though of course it's heavily numismatic-oriented.  Touraj Daryaee's Sasanian Persia is a worthwhile description of that period in Persian history.  Finally, John Julius Norwich's History of Byzantium is well worth a read if you care at all about that part of history (and even if you're indifferent, he is great at telling a story, so check it out anyway).  He also wrote a history of Norman Sicily that is out of print and a bit hard to find, but well worth the trouble.


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