Trivium Pursuit

Ancient Greek and Roman Literature — what should I read?

Have you ever looked at the Classical Writing Curriculum? It looks rigorous and thorough, covering classical writing skills following the progymnasmata, grammar, logic and rhetoric. I am interested in it, but, as a Christian, I worry about my kids reading some of the material used. I do not have any experience with ancient Greek writing. Can you give me any help here? I want my children to have a thorough education without compromising Biblical principles. Here is a list of the main books used:

Aesop’s Fables
Autobiography by Ben Franklin
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
St. Basil’s Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature
Antigone by Sophocles
Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Oresteia by Aeschuylus
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Histories by Herodotus
On the Incarnation by Athanasius
The Prince by Machiavelli
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by Bede
Plutarch’s Lives vol.I & II
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Cicero’s Letters
The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle
Public Orations of Demosthenes vol. I & II
Utopia by Thomas Moore
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Spenser’s Faerie Queene
Milton’s Paradise Lost

Thank you,
Jessica

No, I haven’t looked at that particular curriculum, but a few years ago we wrote an article to help Christians to develop their own Biblical approach to evaluating literature. In the article we describe the three common approaches to the study of classical literature, then we explain our own distinct approach.

1. The Secular-Intellectual Approach is that everyone should be intimately familiar with the standard collection of classical literature in the Western tradition – a collection often called the Western canon. This includes such works as those of Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Gibbon, and so forth. The Harvard Classics or the Great Books philosophy represents this approach.

2. The Religious-Devotional Approach is the opposite of the Secular-Intellectual Approach. The Religious-Devotional Approach holds to a smaller, more denominational canon consisting of religious and devotional literature, which may include confessions and catechisms, theologies and commentaries, devotional and practical works. The religious tradition or denomination will determine what particular literature is included. Many of those who follow this approach will discourage reading outside of the canon of their own denomination. They tend to withdraw from the secular world into their own private circle. They particularly fear the defilement which can come from reading much worldly literature, particularly the Western canon of classical literature. William Penn serves as an example of this approach.

3. The Religious-Intellectual Approach uses the identical Western canon of classical literature of the Secular-Intellectual Approach, to which it adds some religious literature, although the religious literature is much broader in perspective than the denominational canons of the Religious-Devotional Approach. Os Guinness would be an example of someone who identifies with this approach.

If the Secular-Intellectual and the Religious-Devotional Approaches were opposites to each other, then the Religious-Intellectual Approach is the compromise between them. By blending the two more extreme approaches, more territory is covered and a broader balance is thus achieved – or so it seems.

However, the Religious-Intellectual Approach uses the same Western canon as the Secular-Intellectual Approach, which places Humanism in the driver’s seat, and improperly exposes the young to graphic descriptions and clever justifications of the degeneracies of men. We believe the authority of the Word of God must be brought forward as the absolute standard by which to measure all literature. So we propose yet a fourth way. You can read the rest of the article here.

Below, we have divided Greek and Roman authors into three main classifications according to our own considered opinion of general standards of “acceptability,” with several categories within each classification. None of these classifications is absolute, and we note only a few of the many exceptions.

1. Authors Who Are Useful (But Should Be Pre-Read)

Generally speaking, the more useful works are found in the categories of history, geography, biography, oratory, rhetoric, logic, grammar, science, medicine, mathematics, architecture, military, agriculture, and fables. We recommend that they be pre-read by parents. Remember, all of these works are written from a pagan worldview, so none of them can be considered truly “neutral.”

Historians, Geographers, & Biographers
Ammianus
Appian of Alexandria
Aristotle
Arrian
Augustus
Dio Cassius
Diodorus Siculus
Diogenes Laertius
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Eusebius
Eutropius
Herodian
Herodotus
Josephus
Julian the Apostate
Julius Caesar
Justin
Livy
Lucan
Nepos
Nicolaus of Damascus
Pausanias
Philo
Plutarch
Polybius
Priscus
Quintus Curtius
Sallust
Socrates Scholasticus
Sozomen
Strabo
Suetonius
Tacitus
Theodoret
Theodosius II
Thucydides
Velleius
Xenophon

Orators
Aeschines
Antiphon
Cicero
Demosthenes
Dio Chrysostom
Isocrates
Lysias
Pericles (included in Thucydides)
Pliny the Younger

Rhetoricians, Logicians, & Grammarians
Aristotle
Cicero
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Gellius
Quintilian
Varro

Scientists, Physicians, Mathematicians, Architects, Military, & Agriculture
Aristarchus
Aristotle
Archimedes
Cato the Elder
Celsus
Eratosthenes
Euclid
Frontinus
Galen
Hippocrates
Nicomachus of Gerasa
Pliny the Elder
Varro
Vegetius
Vitruvius

Fables
Aesop
Avianus

2. Authors for Mature Christians

After they are firmly grounded in Christian philosophy and theology, more mature Christians may read the philosophers and the Christian apologists. Remember, there is nothing truly neutral about the philosophers, and even the Christian apologists have many unbiblical ideas in their thinking.

Philosophers
Anaxagorus
Anaximander
Aristotle
Cicero – Stoic
Epictetus – Stoic
Epicurus – founder of Epicurean school
Lucretius – Epicurean
Marcus Aurelius – Stoic
Philo – Jewish
Plato
Pyrrho – founder of Skeptic school
Pythagoras
Seneca – Stoic
Socrates (found in Plato and Xenophon)
Thales – first philosopher
Xenophon – follower of Socrates
Zeno – founder of Stoic school

Christian Apologists
(Some of these writings may be appropriate for younger students, but many of these writings are philosophical in nature.)
Ambrose
Aristides
Athanasius
Augustine
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Rome
Commodianus
Cyprian
Ignatius
Irenaeus
Jerome
John Chrysostom
Justin Martyr
Lactantius
Origen
Prudentius
Salvian
Tertullian
Theodoret

3. Authors with Much Questionable and Graphic Content

With few exceptions, the poets, satirists, tragedians, and comedians wrote questionable and graphic content which is simply inappropriate. Mature adults who have a special purpose may find a need to handle this material, but put on the chore boots first, and take a thorough shower after you’re finished.

Poets and Satirists
(Some exceptions: The political poetry of Solon and Tyrtaeus is useful. Virgil’s Georgics may be useful. Lucian’s Life of Peregrinus is useful.)
Catullus
Hesiod
Homer
Horace
Juvenal
Lucian of Samosata
Lucilius
Martial
Menander
Ovid
Pindar
Sappho
Solon
Theocritus
Tyrtaeus
Virgil

Tragedians and Comedians
(Exception: The historical play The Persians by Aeschylus may be useful.)
Accius
Aeschylus
Aristophanes
Ennius
Euripides
Pacuvius
Plautus
Seneca
Sophocles
Terence

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3 Responses to “Ancient Greek and Roman Literature — what should I read?”

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  3. Anonymous Says:

    […] Ancient Greek and Roman Literature — what … – Trivium Pursuit http://www.triviumpursuit.com/blog/The Secular-Intellectual Approach is that everyone should be intimately familiar with the standard collection of classical literature in the Western tradition – a collection often called the Western canon. This includes such works as those of Homer, Herodotus, … Authors for Mature Christians. After they are firmly grounded in Christian philosophy and theology, more mature Christians may read the philosophers and the Christian apologists. Remember, there is nothing … […]

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