Trivium Pursuit

Ancient literature you can read to your ten-year-old

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Here is an excerpt from the textbook Ancient History from Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn.

A Few General Comments on Authors and Literature

Many persons begin in classical literature with the fables of Aesop (Greek) and Avianus (Latin). These are suitable for all ages, young and old.

Some literature suitable for ages ten and up:

Caesar – Gallic Wars and Civil Wars
Josephus – War of the Jews
Xenophon – Anabasis

Some literature suitable for ages twelve and up:

Ammianus – The History
Appian of Alexandria – The Roman History
Arrian – Anabasis of Alexander
Cato the Elder – On Agriculture
Eusebius – The History of the Church
Gellius – Attic Nights
Herodotus – The History of the Persian Wars
Julian the Apostate – Letters
Livy – The Early History of Rome
Pliny the Elder – Natural History
Plutarch – Lives
Quintus Curtius – History of Alexander
Socrates Scholasticus – History of the Church

The works of Xenophon are a mixed bag. Some are appropriate for even a ten-year-old (Anabasis), while others are quite inappropriate (Symposium).

On the Deaths of the Persecutors, by the Christian apologist Lactantius, is more historical than philosophical and may be read profitably by students age twelve and up.

Most of Herodotus may be fine to read for students age twelve and up, but the very beginning and other short sections of Book 1 may be skipped because of content.

Aristotle’s historical work (The Athenian Constitution) and his works on natural history (History of Animals, On the Parts of Animals, etc.) may be valuable for students age twelve and up, while his works on logic (Categories, Prior Analytics, etc.) and physics (Physics, On the Heavens, etc.) are better suited for rhetoric-level students. We suggest that Aristotle’s philosophical works (Metaphysics, Politics, Nicomachean Ethics) be reserved for mature Christians with a good foundation in theology and with sharpened analytical and critical skills.

Cicero is listed among orators, rhetoricians, and philosophers, but his letters provide us with much valuable historical information, so he could also be listed under historians. Most of Cicero’s works are appropriate for students age twelve and up, except perhaps his Stoic philosophical works (On the State, On the Supreme Good and Evil, etc.), which could be left for the mature Christian.

The mythological works and love poetry (works of Homer, Sappho, Ovid, Martial, Juvenal etc.) have a great reputation with the world, and that is one very strong reason for the Christian to handle them with utmost caution. There is no question that Hesiod and Homer are fundamental to understanding Greek culture, but that is no justification for sacrificing the tender conscience of a child to their fantasies, brutalities, and perversions.

Historical poetry and plays (The Persians by Aeschylus, the political poetry of Solon) can be read by ages twelve and up.

In Ancient History from Primary Sources: A Literary Timeline, the “Timeline of Ancient Literature” lists selected excerpts, and the “Author & Primary Source Index” lists more selected excerpts.

For more of our own philosophy on reading classical literature, see our Appendices, Four Approaches to the Study of Ancient Literature, and “Nothing Is Neutral.”

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