The most recommended books about classical Greece

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to classical Greece, and here are their favorite classical Greece books.
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Book cover of The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum

David Stuttard Author Of Phoenix: A Father, a Son, and the Rise of Athens

From my list on understanding classical Greece.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since my father introduced me to the Greeks, I’ve been passionate about the ancient world and bringing it alive. I read Classics at university and taught for eleven years, during which time I founded the award-winning theatre company, Actors of Dionysus, dedicated to performing Greek drama in translation. A highlight was staging my adaptation of Trojan Women not just in Ephesus Theatre but besides the walls of Troy. From 2010, I’ve divided my time between writing books and articles on wide-ranging classical subjects, editing Bloomsbury Academic Press’ ‘Looking at…’ series on Greek drama (which include my translations), book-reviewing, lecturing, and directing theatrical performances (most recently with Dame Sian Phillips).

David's book list on understanding classical Greece

David Stuttard Why did David love this book?

Much of Classical Greece remains intangible, but some of its artworks have survived (albeit often in fragments) allowing us to gaze upon what ancient Greeks once saw. Among the greatest sculptures are those which adorned the Parthenon, created in Athens’ heyday under Pericles. Few knew more about them than the late and much-missed Ian Jenkins, whose sumptuously illustrated book not only discusses the artworks but reproduces many in such glorious detail that you feel you could almost touch them. You can certainly appreciate their energy. And in the end, for me, it’s this energy – preserved through time in art or literature – that makes the study of Classical Greece so exciting. As Sparta was for Athens, so Classical Greece can be for us a mirror in which to reevaluate ourselves. 

By Ian Jenkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum are unrivalled examples of classical Greek art that have inspired sculptors, artists, poets and writers since their creation in the fifth century BC. This book serves as a superb visual introduction to these magnificent sculptures. The book showcases a series of specially taken photographs of the different sculptural elements: the pediments, metopes and Ionic frieze. It captures the vitality of the sculptures in a group, an individual sculpture or an exquisite eye-catching detail, such as the mane of a horse, a human foot, the swish of drapery or a youthful head bowed in…


Book cover of Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece

From my list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 

Sue's book list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Why did Sue love this book?

Mulvey’s ground-breaking essay on women in film had a huge impact on the scholarship around the visual representation of women in a range of media. Her arguments about masculine voyeurism gave rise to countless discussions of ‘the male gaze,’ and influenced my own exploration of depictions of females in Greek sculpture. Here, the nude goddess Aphrodite was often presented as the object of a desiring gaze. But in ancient Greece the situation was complicated by the popularity of the male nude and the widespread acceptance of homoerotic relations. Mulvey herself went on to distinguish between the straight and the gay gaze. 

By Carolina Hein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seminar paper from the year 2006 in the subject English Language and Literature Studies - Literature, grade: 2,3, University of Constance, 3 entries in the bibliography, language: English, abstract: In a time of rapid technological progress and development, everything changes quite fast. These changes can be seen in every field of life. For instance, the way of supplying basic needs or the way how to make own life better, but also certain norms and values are quite different today. Instead of visiting a theatre in order to be entertained, people can watch TV or use the internet. If a man…


Book cover of Consuming Fashion: Adorning the Transnational Body

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece

From my list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 

Sue's book list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Why did Sue love this book?

"The statements we make just by getting dressed in the morning." This book about fashion and dress codes, and how they interconnect with gender, sexuality, and class, is lively and thought-provoking. My own study of the women who appear in Greek vase paintings led me to look more closely at women’s relationship with their clothing. In particular their handling of shoes became a source of fascination, and in my current research I’m focussing on narratives around female footwear. In the book, Brydon’s chapter "Sensible Shoes" has been an inspiration. Stilettos, for example, are seen as being entirely ambiguous in their significance, items which can both empower and disable the wearer. Like the knife they are named after, they are double-edged. 

By Anne Brydon (editor), Sandra Niessen (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Consuming Fashion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Clothing the body is one of the most complicated acts of daily existence. When a nun ponders red shoes, an architect knots his bowtie, a lesbian laces her Doc Marten's, or a nude model disrobes, each is engaging in a process of identity-making that is both intensely personal and deeply social. In an increasingly material world, negotiating dress codes is a nuanced art, informed by shifting patterns of power and authority, play and performance, as well as gender, sexuality, class, ethnicity and race. Drawing on ethnographic knowledge to connect theory and practice, authors reveal links between material culture, social and…


Book cover of Myth and Society in Ancient Greece

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece

From my list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 

Sue's book list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Why did Sue love this book?

Vernant was an influential scholar when I began writing about women in ancient Greece in the 1990s. His discussions of the social, political and religious institutions of the time, and their relationship with popular mythology, were informed by French structuralist theory.  For me his analysis of the role of marriage in a society devoted to virgin goddesses was particularly stimulating.

By Jean-Pierre Vernant, Janet Lloyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Myth and Society in Ancient Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this groundbreaking study, Jean-Pierre Vernant delineates a compelling new vision of ancient Greece. Myth and Society in Ancient Greece takes us far from the calm and familiar images of Polykleitos and the Parthenon to reveal a fundamentally other culture ― one of slavery, of masks and death, of scapegoats, of ritual hunting, and of ecstasies.

Vernant’s provocative discussions of various institutions and practices (including war, marriage, and sacrifice) detail the complex intersection of the religious, social, and political structures of ancient Greece. The book concludes with Vernant’s authoritative genealogy of the study of myth from Antiquity to structuralism and…


Book cover of Interstate Relations in Classical Greece: Morality and Power

Robin Waterfield Author Of Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece

From my list on ancient Greek history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a British scholar – a former university lecturer, many moons ago – now living in rural southern Greece. In fact, I have Greek as well as UK citizenship, which really pleases me because I’ve loved Greece and things Greek since boyhood. I started to learn ancient Greek at the age of ten! I’ve written over fifty books, mostly on ancient Greek history and philosophy, including many volumes of translations from ancient Greek. But I’ve also written children’s fiction in the form of gamebooks, a biography, a book on hypnosis, a retelling of the Greek myths (with my wife Kathryn) ... I’ll stop there!

Robin's book list on ancient Greek history

Robin Waterfield Why did Robin love this book?

Anyone with any degree of acquaintance with ancient history knows that the Greeks were often at war with one another. This book explores the rules that governed their interactions. Was there any kind of international law? If so, was any of it actually written down, or did it exist at the level of “unwritten law” – a live issue even today? How was it enforced, and by whom? There was no United Nations in those days. Did it succeed in reducing belligerence among the Greeks? Or was the only principle that might is right, so that stronger cities had the right to subdue their weaker neighbours? These are all critically important questions for understanding the Greeks and the course of their history. Overall, the book argues that the Greeks were more moral and restrained in their dealings with one another than one might have guessed.

By Polly Low,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Interstate Relations in Classical Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this book Dr Low explores the assumptions and principles which determined the conduct and representation of interstate politics in Greece during the fifth and fourth centuries BC. She employs a wide range of ancient evidence, both epigraphic and literary, as well as some contemporary theoretical approaches from the field of International Relations. Taking a thematic rather than a chronological approach, she addresses topics such as the nature of interstate society in the Greek world; the sources, scope and enforcement of 'international law'; the nature of interstate ethics and morality; interventionism and imperialism; and the question of change and stability.…


Book cover of Greek Tragedy

Sue Blundell Author Of Women in Ancient Greece

From my list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I retired from lecturing in Classical Studies I’ve been writing more pieces on women in the ancient world, and also some plays. One of them, 189 Pieces, is about the Portland Vase, a beautiful example of Roman glass whose label in the British Museum tells us that it was owned by the Duke of Portland. This is true—he’d inherited it—but it was bought at great expense by his grandmother, the wonderful Duchess of Portland. Giving women their place in history has been my aim in much of my work. Nowadays I’m obsessed with female footwear, and Cinderella, Goody Two-Shoes, and Carrie Bradshaw take up a lot of my time. 

Sue's book list on women in classical Greece and how to think about them

Sue Blundell Why did Sue love this book?

Thrilling portraits of violent women in Greek tragedy—for example, Clytemnestra, Electra, and Medeaseem like an anomaly in a society that expected women to get married, bear children, be quiet, and stay at home. In this accessible introduction to the subject Rabinowitz examines tragedy in its original theatrical and social contexts. Her analyses of selected plays are grounded in psychoanalytic and feminist theory, and include vivid accounts of some modern performances. Whatever is happening in the world, there is always a Greek tragedy that speaks to it. 

By Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Greek Tragedy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Greek Tragedy sets ancient tragedy into its original theatrical, political and ritual context and applies modern critical approaches to understanding why tragedy continues to interest modern audiences. * An engaging introduction to Greek tragedy, its history, and its reception in the contemporary world with suggested readings for further study * Examines tragedy's relationship to democracy, religion, and myth * Explores contemporary approaches to scholarship, including structuralist, psychoanalytic, and feminist theory * Provides a thorough examination of contemporary performance practices * Includes detailed readings of selected plays


Book cover of A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms

Sam Leith Author Of Words Like Loaded Pistols: The Power of Rhetoric from the Iron Age to the Information Age

From my list on rhetoric and the art of persuasion.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a journalist and critic who fell in love with the ancient art of rhetoric through Shakespeare, Chaucer… and Barack Obama. It was when I watched Obama’s consciously and artfully classical oratory as he campaigned for the 2008 election that my undergraduate interest in tricolons, epistrophe, aposiopesis and all that jazz surged back to the front of my mind. I went on to write a 2011 book arguing that not only is this neglected area of study fascinating, but it is the most important tool imaginable to understand politics, language, and human nature itself. Where there is language, there is rhetoric.  

Sam's book list on rhetoric and the art of persuasion

Sam Leith Why did Sam love this book?

Don’t be put off by the dry-sounding title. This book is the authoritative A-Z reference on the “flowers of rhetoric”: all the “figures” and “tropes”, or twists and turns of language that make it beautiful, memorable – and persuasive.

But it’s more than just a geek-heaven cabinet of curiosities: it’s full of history and philosophy, of wisdom and humour. I know of no other scholarly reference book that brings more joy and amusement.  

By Richard A. Lanham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a unique combination of alphabetical and descriptive lists, "A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms" provides in one convenient, accessible volume all the rhetorical terms - mostly Greek and Latin - that students of Western literature and rhetoric are likely to come across in their reading or will find useful in their writing. The Second Edition of this widely used work offers new features that will make it even more useful: a completely revised alphabetical listing that defines nearly 1,000 terms used by scholars of formal rhetoric from classical Greece to the present day; a revised system of cross-references between terms;…


Book cover of The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War

Richard Jenkyns Author Of Classical Literature: An Epic Journey from Homer to Virgil and Beyond

From my list on classical literature.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent my career teaching Classics, mostly at Oxford University, where I was a fellow of Lady Margaret Hall and Professor of the Classical Tradition. I have worked on the influence of the ancient world on British literature and culture, especially in the Victorian age, and when being a conventional classicist have written mostly about Latin literature and Roman culture. I have also written short books on Jane Austen and Westminster Abbey.

Richard's book list on classical literature

Richard Jenkyns Why did Richard love this book?

Thucydides, along with Herodotus a generation earlier, created history as we know it. Herodotus added to narrative the analysis of cause: ‘why’ as well as ‘what’. Thucydides added different levels of causation: the immediate reasons for the war and the long-term causes. He studied how the dynamics of fear and power drive states into warfare. He took the gods out of history (it is hard to remember how radical that was). He studied the corruption of moral language and behaviour under the pressure of conflict. In Pericles’ Funeral Speech he set out the theory of Athenian democracy (Pericles would have denied that our own society was democratic—a challenging thought). Thucydides’ eye is not exactly cold, but it is unblinking: no historian seems so free of illusion.

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Landmark Thucydides as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Thucydides called his account of two decades of war between Athens and Sparta "a possession for all time," and indeed it is the first and still the most famous work in the Western historical tradition.

Considered essential reading for generals, statesmen, and liberally educated citizens for more than 2,000 years, The Peloponnesian War is a mine of military, moral, political, and philosophical wisdom.

However, this classic book has long presented obstacles to the uninitiated reader. Written centuries before the rise of modern historiography, Thucydides' narrative is not continuous or linear. His authoritative chronicle of what he considered the greatest war…


Book cover of The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories

David Stuttard Author Of Phoenix: A Father, a Son, and the Rise of Athens

From my list on understanding classical Greece.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since my father introduced me to the Greeks, I’ve been passionate about the ancient world and bringing it alive. I read Classics at university and taught for eleven years, during which time I founded the award-winning theatre company, Actors of Dionysus, dedicated to performing Greek drama in translation. A highlight was staging my adaptation of Trojan Women not just in Ephesus Theatre but besides the walls of Troy. From 2010, I’ve divided my time between writing books and articles on wide-ranging classical subjects, editing Bloomsbury Academic Press’ ‘Looking at…’ series on Greek drama (which include my translations), book-reviewing, lecturing, and directing theatrical performances (most recently with Dame Sian Phillips).

David's book list on understanding classical Greece

David Stuttard Why did David love this book?

For anyone wanting to find out not just what happened in the Graeco-Persian Wars (490–479 BC) but how their participants viewed the world, Herodotus’ Histories are a treasure trove. Writing a generation after the event, Herodotus travelled widely, interviewing as many people as he could from veterans to Egyptian priests. But readers must be wary: Herodotus wasn’t writing history as we understand it. Instead, he blended fact, anecdote, and moralizing to demonstrate why in his view the Greek way of life (especially Athenian democracy) was superior to Persian totalitarianism, and why Persian hubris merited divine punishment. While the Landmark edition’s translation of Herodotus’ seductive prose may not be the best (Tom Holland’s, for example, is better), the number and clarity of its maps make it invaluable.

By Robert B. Strassler (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Landmark Herodotus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 5th century BC an adventurous Ionian Greek, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, journeyed extensively through the lands of the eastern Mediterranean, from Egypt to Asia Minor, collecting tales of the upheavals that had afflicted the region in the earlier part of the century. The fruits of his wanderings were The Histories, in which he used his narrative gifts not only to chronicle the rise of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and its war with the Greek city-states, but also to recount his experiences with the varied peoples and cultures he had encountered during his journey.
Herodotus earned the nickname 'the father…


Book cover of Art and Experience in Classical Greece

Emily Katz Anhalt Author Of Embattled: How Ancient Greek Myths Empower Us to Resist Tyranny

From my list on why Ancient Greece and Rome matter today.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first visited ancient Greece as an undergraduate. Homer and Plato seemed to speak directly to me, addressing my deepest questions. How do you live a good life? What should you admire? What should you avoid? Frustrated by English translations (each offers a different interpretation), I learned to read ancient Greek and then Latin. In college and then graduate school, I came to know Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Cicero, Ovid, and many others in their own words. The ancient Greeks and Romans faced the same existential struggles and anxieties as we do. By precept, example, and counter-example, they remind me of humanity’s best tools: discernment, deliberation, empathy, generosity.

Emily's book list on why Ancient Greece and Rome matter today

Emily Katz Anhalt Why did Emily love this book?

Jerry Pollitt was another professor and inspiring mentor to me in graduate school.

In graceful, accessible prose, Pollitt traces the development of Classical Greek art (c. 480-322 BCE) as it intersects with Greek history, philosophy, and literature. Identifying potent interactions between art, culture, and political thought, this book offers a useful paradigm for understanding how these reciprocal influences shape our attitudes and aspirations still.

The book includes beautiful illustrations.

By Jerome Jordan Pollitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art and Experience in Classical Greece as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An account of the development of Greek art in the Classical period (about 480-320 BC) which places particular emphasis on the meaning and content of Greek sculpture, architecture and painting. Professor Pollitt reminds us that the visual arts in Greece, as elsewhere, were primarily vehicles of expression. He does not ignore formal development but always relates this to social and cultural history, which it reflected and from which it grew. While his subject is art, he refers frequently to the literature and philosophy of the period which were shaped by the same influences.