On Reading-Part VII: Decline of Classical languages

The second group in our revised literary canon comes about from the decline of classical languages. Herodotus and Thucydides still make most of the lists but many other great works have fallen by the wayside now that we no longer learn Greek and Latin as basic rudiments of our education. Xenophon’s Anabasis was once read by every school child because of his pristine and clear Greek prose. We no longer read him as an introduction to Greek grammar but there is more Xenophon than prose technique. The Anabasis is a classic adventure story and is both great literature and fun reading. Also important, but  rarely read today are the lively and engaging histories of Livy and Polybius.

A lot of what makes most Latin writers great is lost to us without their language. Much is lost from Ovid’s Metamorphosis as well but he fares much better in translation than many other Latin writers. All too often served up as edited or anthologized excerpts, Metamorphosis is a book that best reveals its pattern and purpose when read in its entirety.

Livy-History of Rome


~ by severalfourmany on January 15, 2013.

3 Responses to “On Reading-Part VII: Decline of Classical languages”

  1. Another set of works which used to be widely read was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. I’ve heard that everyone around the time of the Founding Fathers was familiar with it.

    That is a good list of books that I should read myself.

    • Thomas Jefferson outlines an excellent program of Classical reading for his grandson Francis Wayles Eppes:

      “I would advise you to undertake a regular course of history and poetry in both languages. In Greek, go first thro’ the Cyropaedia, and then read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenus and Anabasis, Arian’s Alexander, and Plutarch’s lives, for prose reading: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Euripides, Sophocles in poetry, and Demosthenes in Oratory; alternating prose and verse as most agreeable to yourself. In Latin read Livy, Caesar, Sallust, Tacitus, Cicero’s Philosophies, and some of his Orations, in prose; and Virgil, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Horace, Terence and Juvenal for poetry.”

  2. […] On Reading-Part VII: Decline of Classical languages (severalfourmany.wordpress.com) […]

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