Trivium Pursuit

Three categories of ancient literature and how to decide what to read

Three categories of ancient literature:

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
Theodore

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

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 War and Civil War
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.

One Response to “Three categories of ancient literature and how to decide what to read”

  1. Lauren Says:

    thank you so much; this is awesome! I have been confused as to why so many are in favor of reading many of the authors that you listed as *dangerous* and I almost… fell in! Thankfully, I use Tapestry of Grace as my guide for literature and history studies, and I am glad to see that your viewpoint is parallel to theirs and vice versa. I am a single mom homeschooling my daughter and Lord willing will make the best use of this gift of .. so much… I do hope that all is well with you and your family and I appreciate all of your work.

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