Top Ten Tuesday: Literature You Should Read If You Love Ancient Greece & Rome


Image via The Broke and the Bookish

I know it’s Wednesday, but I couldn’t resist participating in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, even if it is belatedly! This meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is about literature every [blank] should read, inserting the blank for whatever our hearts desire. I was originally going to title this post, “Literature Every Classics Major Should Read,” but let’s face it, we already have!

As many of you might know, I majored in Pre- and Early-Modern Literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, and minored in Classical History. I am absolutely obsessed with ancient Greek and Roman texts and have read these epics, plays, and essays multiple times. But even if you never studied these in college, you can consider them the best starter course into this fascinating period of history.

This blog post is also perfect timing, considering that I only have one month left (!) before I’m traveling to Greece and Italy to walk the lands where these amazing philosophers, dramatists, and oral historians once lived! To say I’m excited is a huge understatement!

Classics Collage

  1. Iliad by Homer
  2. Odyssey by Homer
  3. Aeneid by Virgil
  4. Art of Love by Ovid
  5. Symposium by Plato (Be sure to watch “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a theater production/film that has a song about this story!)
  6. Medea by Euripides
  7. Bacchae by Euripides
  8. Oresteia (Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, and Eumenides) by Aeschylus
  9. Three Theban Plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) by Sophocles
  10. Lysistrata by Aristophanes

(Side note: As a former scholar, I’m not a fan of using articles in these titles. If you want to sound sophisticated, refer to Homer’s Iliad rather than The Iliad by Homer. After all, it’s an epic that’s part of an oral tradition, not a novel!)

So are you interested in the tales of ancient Greece and Rome? Which of these have you read, and what did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Audiobook Review: The Penelopiad

Cover via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

It seems that I just can’t get enough of ancient Greek mythology, but it’s difficult to pick a good adaptation in the Aegean-sized sea of mediocrity. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry when Margaret Atwood is the one penning the words.

Atwood is, of course, the author of the renowned The Handmaid’s Tale, so it’s no surprise that she reimagines Homer’s Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective. Since the original poem concerns itself with warrior Odysseus and his arduous journey to return home to Ithaca, Atwood depicts what his wife was doing for those twenty years while he was gone.

True to her feminist form, Atwood gives Penelope more depth and dimension. The princess proves resourceful and cunning, evolving from a naive young girl into a strong leader of a kingdom. And as for those pesky suitors, she simply plays coy as to what really happened and whether she was really as faithful as history has made her out to be.

And given that Penelope is narrating her tale from the underworld, the reader also hears her insights on how religion and spirituality has changed from ancient Greece to the present day. For a woman who experienced the meddling of gods, it’s disconcerting to watch immortal power mocked by foolish fortune tellers and magicians.

What haunts Penelope the most, however, was her husband and son’s massacre of her 12 maids while she was asleep. I mean “haunt” literally, since the maids torment Penelope and Odysseus in the underworld for their unjust deaths.

This is one of the reasons many people, even Atwood herself, are hesitant to call The Penelopiad a feminist retelling. Penelope is naturally a biased narrator. Typical of ancient Greek drama, every now and then the maids appear as a chorus to reveal their point-of-view.

This proves most insightful, because while Penelope complains how her sister Helen’s vanity ruined her life by inciting the Trojan War, the maids point out that they were born poor, enslaved into an existence where they were raped by men and treated like cattle. The princess’ woes seem minor in comparison, as if the chorus serves as a reminder of real suffering unlike her #FirstWorldProblems.

The maids are probably the only reason why I would recommend this novella in audio. It was nice to hear them sing both as individuals and as a group, especially since their voices were enhanced with echoing to give off an even creepier vibe.

The Penelopiad (2005) would be a great addition to courses in classical literature, since its parallels to the Odyssey are so nuanced that they deserve closer academic research. I also learned that as a novella in the great Canongate Myth Series, The Penelopiad shares literary acclaim alongside other modern adaptations, including The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (2010) — a story by my favorite author Philip Pullman which I haven’t had the chance to read yet.

So if you also enjoy ancient Greek mythology, pick up The Penelopiad for an interesting take on one of the world’s most popular tales.

My First Guest Review!

I’ve been hosting my ‘little blog that could’ as Book Club Babe since July 2011, and although I’ve reached quite a few milestones and gained some fantastic followers who share my love for all things literary, I’m always overjoyed to use my blog in new ways and share it with contributors. Blogging is an awesome vehicle for collaboration and insightful discussion, and I would be remiss if I didn’t enthusiastically participate!

Thus, I’m pleased to announce my first guest book review! Claire is a talented writer whom I met in the Classical Studies program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. This week she passed her comprehensive exam with flying colors and received highest honors in the major! I’m positive that after she graduates, we’ll be seeing more great things from her! And don’t forget to check out her own blog:

Please give Claire a warm Book Club Babe welcome and share your opinions of her review! I hope that you also feel inspired to submit your own!

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (2012)

Review by Claire Marie Davidson

Rating: 5 out of 5

Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, an anthology of pieces from her popular advice column on The RumpusDear Sugar, is so much more than an advice column. In place of reductive suggestions, Strayed offers expansive meditations, multi-layered stories, and humor, all with a spirit of “radical empathy,” as Steve Almond puts it. She doesn’t distance herself from pain; instead, she embraces it entirely in her work, exploring loss through her responses. In this way, she problematizes the conventional question-answer format of advice columns, turning the reader’s attention instead to the process of a person’s “becoming.”

By connecting the letters to her own life experiences, Strayed localizes and familiarizes pain, wrestling with it on the pages and uniting herself with both the reader and the letter-writer.  In one letter, a father whose only son was killed by a drunk driver writes to her in a list format, which starts, “1. It’s taken me many weeks to compose this letter and even still, I can’t do it right. The only way I can get it out is to make a list instead of write a letter.” His letter ends with the question, “22. How do I become human again?” Strayed responds in a numbered list, which begins:

1. I don’t know how you go on without your son. I only know that you do. And you have. And you will.
2. Your shattering sorrowlight of a letter is proof of that.
3. You don’t need me to tell you how to become human again. You are there, in all of your humanity, shining unimpeachably before every person reading these words right now.

Strayed’s response transcends advice– it offers an intimate, emotional reaction. She suffers with the dad. She acknowledges how infinite the dad’s sense of loss is and, at the same time, delves into the multi-faceted, form-evading reality of humanity and mortality, memorializing his lost son through her words. Her poetic response offers both precision and complexity. This is the magic of Strayed’s writing: through her journey of loss, she creates something beautiful.


Claire Marie Davidson is a student at UC Santa Cruz, where she is pursuing her B.A. in Classical Studies and Creative Writing. She loves to read, write, and run. You can check out her blog at

She is super excited to be a guest blogger for Book Club Babe!

In Defense of Classical Studies

The Spartans would know exactly how to shut Rush up!

I have never liked Rush Limbaugh: he’s an ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic embarrassment of conservatives everywhere. Usually I don’t give him the time of day, but yesterday I read something on his website that infuriated me to no end. It’s called “Deciphering the Sad-Sack Story of a Classical Studies Scholar.”

In the transcript he insults a Wall Street Protester who as a Classical Studies graduate feels hopeless in this recession. He asserts that her degree is useless and calls her “Miss Brain-dead.” He doesn’t even seem to know what Classical Studies entails:

What the hell is Classical Studies?  What classics are studied?  Or, is it learning how to study in a classical way?  Or is it learning how to study in a classy as opposed to unclassy way?

If you aren’t pissed yet, keep reading:

But most of these majors are useless, such as black women studies, women’s studies, whatever studies.

So according to Rush, not only are Greek and Latin scholars worthless, but also anyone who doesn’t worship white male Republicans like himself. I don’t know which majors are acceptable to him, but if you don’t pick one he likes, apparently you’re a socialist.

Since Rush has obviously the intellectual capacity of a dung beetle, I’ll spell it out for him. Because as a Classical Studies minor who spent two years studying Latin and ancient Greek/Roman literature, I’d like to clarify that not only am I highly employable, I have skills the average college graduate could use:

Classical Studies makes you a better reader, writer, and thinker. I have an excellent vocabulary, because I understand the Latin etymologies of English words. This is essential in my job, because I teach high school students how to make educated guesses when they’re faced with an SAT word they don’t know. The analytic skills needed to translate Latin, or any language for that matter, is similar to solving a math problem: you fit together the words one step at a time and the result is achieving a higher level of knowledge–a level Rush can’t even comprehend, let alone reach.

Classical Studies is not dead. If anyone tells me Latin is a dead language one more time, I’m going to go Catullus on their ass. Latin lives in all the Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.) and English to a great extent. The ancient Greeks and Romans created Western civilization as we know it: architecture, art, politics, education, philosophy, the list goes on and on. Next time Rush gushes over an American monument like the White House or references “the Founding Fathers” or “American democracy,” he should thank Pericles and Augustus instead of Reagan and Bush.

Classical Studies is what you make it. Every college grad is struggling right now. I know engineers who can’t get jobs, so don’t make the excuse that it’s all your fault if you picked a major in the humanities or social sciences. We are all victims of this economy, but Rush is too rich to have any pity for the middle class man or woman. That being said, Classical Studies scholars can either further their education to become professors or apply their knowledge to other fields. As a future journalist and novelist, my expertise in grammar and oration will greatly benefit my story-telling. Ever read a little book called Harry Potter? In case you didn’t know, most character names and spells are Latin.

To anyone who’s interested in the Classics, don’t despair. Learning Latin was the best decision I made in college, and now I know a language usually reserved for the most educated and elite people of all time. You can get a job no matter what you study, as long as market your skills accordingly. I’m optimistic that my minor will actually help me stand out in the job market, but I’m also determined enough to make my dream career come true.

As for Rush, I only have one thing to say to you: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo!