This painting on the cover is called "Rome was built in a day"Wow! Ancient people are just like us!  They make mistakes; they wonder why the younger generation is so different from theirs.  They fight.  They make crude jokes.  Mothers and fathers complain about their kids.  Wives and husbands — Oh my God!  Traveling through snippet after snippet, one tenet keeps making its presence felt:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

A couple of the funnier (as in funny-ha-ha) bits are Lucian’s dialogue between Pan and Hermes, entitled "Don’t call me Daddy", and a raunchy scene from Aristophanes’s Lysistrata. Pan and Hermes sound like Lex and Lionel Luthor having one of their heartless-to-heartless talks about their love lives and "why don’t you love me, daddy?"  The original "desperate housewives" are Lysistrata and her married friends deciding to cut their husbands off from sex unless they end the war with Sparta.  And that’s the polite explanation.  They are incredibly crude — like trailer-park-trash crude.  Pan, as well.  I was shocked.  Was the original Greek really that earthy? (again — polite euphemism)

The high road of ancient Greek writing is Hesiod’s "Works and Days" and Pindar’s "Olympian Odes". There’s the Greek literature you learn in college.  High-minded, poetic, grand.  Pieces of key moments in Greek history are also included and make for exciting reading: the Peloponnesian War, the bit from Phaedo where Socrates is talking to his friends on the day of his execution, and, in a supremely ironic word-portrait — the nobility of Brutus.  Yeah, THAT Brutus!

The Greek writings included in this vade mecum lean towards poetry, plays, and mythology.  Half of the book, however, is dedicated to pieces from the Latin/Roman writers such as Seneca, the 2 Plinys, and Petronius.  When you reach the Latin writing portion of the book, the subject matter takes a distinctive turn.  More story-telling, letter-writing, natural science, and one of my favorites — a wonderful explanation of the zodiac by Manilius.  Ovid’s Dido’s letter to Aneas is also a favorite.  Considering when it was written, it has a modern feel to it.

What the Greek and Latin writings have in common is a penchant for recording history.  Cesear’s The Gallic War, Josephus’s the Jewish War, Herodotus’s The Persian Wars, and  Livy’s History of Rome.  On the lighter side, the Greeks have Aristophanes with his desperate Athenian housewives.  The Latin contingent has Petronius with his forays into the seedy party life of Rome.  They both also tell tall tales of temperamental gods and goddesses.  What’s not to love!

This book should be a lot bigger than it is.  Really, it’s ridiculous to take a tweezer’s worth of these writings and consider that satisfying.  Either use longer sections of the selections or put more selections. It’s like a dish of fussy little canapes where you have to eat about 47 of them to equal one good bite. But if you need a vade mecum, this is a really good one. 

The Harvard University Press has a web site where you can see all the books they offer in the Loeb Classical Series.  They even have a series for Renaissance classics called I Tatti Renaissance ClassicsGreeks are green covers; Latin writers are red covers; I Tatti is in azure blue and written in Latin and Italian, depending on the author. VIVA AZZURI !!  I get mine through because my local seller probably doesn’t even know these exist.  They’re not cheap, but you can’t call yourself educated unless you have experienced these writings.  There’s a lot of them, so pick a topic you like, such as mythology or poetry or military history and read those.  Enjoy the visual treat of the original language and the translation on facing pages!


Cover: Aeschylus, I, Persians. Seven against Thebes. Suppliants. Prometheus Bound Cover: Caesar, I, The Gallic War Cover: History of the Florentine People, Volume 2, Books V-VIII



MY COLLECTION SO FAR: (I’m not broke enough yet.)

I Tatti Renaissance Classics

  • Humanist Comedies
  • Short Epics compiled by Maffeo Vegio


  • The Learned Banqueters by Athenaeus
  • Aristophanes collection: Birds, Lysistrata, Women at The Thesmophoria


  • The Art of Love and Other Poems by Ovid
  • Agricola, Germania by Tacitus
  • Satires, Epistles, Ars Poetica by Horace

These are best stored with their own color because the red, especially, comes off on the other colors.  So I have a blue with red smudges on it and a green with red smudges.  I’m not so anal that I lose sleep over it, but someone out there will be and I live but to serve.  They run on average about $24.00, but some of the Latin and Greeks get marked down to about $19 sometimes. 

My collection at SHELFARI


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