The best books on ancient Rome by ancient Romans

Philip Matyszak Author Of Hercules: The First Superhero
By Philip Matyszak

Who am I?

They say true happiness is finding something you love, and getting paid to do it, which makes me one happy bunny. Ancient history has been my passion, my hobby and my job for the past three decades, and I still wake up every morning looking forward to another day of it. Thanks to the internet I can study the classics and still hike in the mountains and kayak the mountain lakes of my corner of British Columbia. It doesn't get better than this.

I wrote...

Hercules: The First Superhero

By Philip Matyszak,

Book cover of Hercules: The First Superhero

What is my book about?

Hercules the superman, the monsterslaying machine, the myth – who was the man beneath the lionskin headdress, and does he really live up to his legend? This unique biography tells the story of the first superhero from his traumatic birth to his dramatic death.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The Golden Ass

By Apuleius, P.G. Walsh (translator),

Book cover of The Golden Ass

Why this book?

Not so much a novel as a loosely connected set of rambling anecdotes dealing with everything from incompetent market officials to Greek myth and sex and superstition. The whole thing is told with great verve and is a sackful of fun. Try P.G. Walsh's translation available from Oxford. World Classics.

The War Nerd Iliad

By Homer, John Dolan,

Book cover of The War Nerd Iliad

Why this book?

Don't look for some high-brow version full of pseudo-Shakespearean language. Homer's story is a blood-and-guts tale (literally) of hard-bitten heroes, feuding among spiteful gods and bombastic military commanders. Try John Dolan's version from Feral house publishing, deliberately written as he imagined the story was first told – by soldiers sitting around a campfire exchanging yarns.

Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers

By Plautus, Henry Thomas Riley (translator),

Book cover of Menaechmi; Or, The Twin-Brothers

Why this book?

Ever wonder where Shakespeare got his ideas from? He plundered the classics, especially Plutarch and Plautus. Plautus can't really complain about that as his plays are mostly re-workings of (now lost) Greek originals. This play is Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, set 1500 years earlier. It's still a good read and should elicit a few giggles. Try Riley's translation on Digireads.

Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories

By Sallust,

Book cover of Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories

Why this book?

A self-contained description of a war fought in Africa against an ambitious monarch, in which the Roman superpower struggles with an elusive enemy. Roman efforts are badly hampered by corrupt generals and Sallust, writing a generation later makes no attempt to conceal his contempt for the aristocratic establishment which happily pocketed Jugurtha's bribes. A book that reads well and is relevant today. Get the Oxford University Press edition, and get the Catiline conspiracy thrown in for free.

The Epigrams Of Martial

By Henry George Bohn,

Book cover of The Epigrams Of Martial

Why this book?

With this one I'm not going to recommend an edition, because while Martial is witty, bitingly sarcastic and a keen commentator on his society he can also be breathtakingly obscene. Imagine teenage scrawls on toilet walls - if those scrawls were written by Shakespeare - and you'll be close enough. So pick your edition with care – however broad you imagine your mind to be, an unexpurgated Martial will stretch it a bit more and have you chuckling and nodding the rest of the time.