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Best Books on Greece and Greek Mythology

Updated on October 7, 2014

What's in my Bookshelf on Ancient Greece?

Something happened in the islands of Greece a few thousand years ago. Maybe a stray meteorite was to blame, spilling onto the plains of Attica in an invisible cloud of interstellar dust carrying the secrets of lost solar systems. Improbable? It's a nice thought anyway.

How could you explain the sudden proliferation of intellectual leaps which characterise the nature, and the glory, of Ancient Greece?

For such a small place it certainly made an impact.

Our whole western philosophical tradition is based on the way that the Ancient Greeks thought. Our practical life, from dawn till dusk, is still managed from an Ancient Greek view.

A Meeting with Greek Mythology

In the Childrens' Homer

When I was nine, I had a small disagreement with a large horse. We parted ways. I ended up with a broken leg and collarbone, confined to bed in painful boredom in what seemed a long hot dusty time eternal. But the solution for a bored and fractious child was books.

I'm talking here about the 1950s. Not only did we have no television, the radio was off limits after 6.00 pm. Like other children at that time, my imagination was fired by the written word. I think sometimes of just how lucky we really were.

It was books that brought Phantasos, the brother of Morpheus, to me, and entranced me with the mythological explanations for things. I still love fantasy. And I still want to know why things are the way that they are, what's the explanation? The Greek explanation of course - - the Greeks have an explanation for everything.


The Childrens' Homer

I discovered the magic of mythology in The Children's Homer: The Adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy by Padraic Colum,a gorgeously lyrical wordsmith. He made me feel more at home with the Gods of Olympus than with the Catholic Trinity. I still pick this up and read it, it's an old friend.

Colum's words are designed, like Homer's original, to be read out loud.

If there is a child in your life, reward that child. Give the gift of this classic adventure in such simple beautiful English.

Ancient Greek Ship
Ancient Greek Ship

Ernle Bradford and Ulysses Found

On the Trail of Ulysses

Bradford is a sailor .. and a reader of Homer.

While sailing though waters around Greece during World War 11, he realised that he was following the trail of Ulysses. After he was demobbed he went back and, armed with the Odyssey, he took a small boat and mapped out the journey.

I must have read this 30 times.

Ulysses Found (Sutton History Classics)

Somehow I feel I know Ulysses, I see him as stocky with curls in a reddish beard. He's not tall but he walks as of he's tall and, like sailors everywhere, with a slight roll,.

Most definitely Ulysses was a Rat!

Sailing the Wine Dark Sea

Cahill traces the origin of Greek culture in the migrations of armed Indo-European horsemen into Attica and the Peloponnesian peninsula, and follows their progress into the creation of the Greek city-states, the refinement of their machinery of war, and the flowering of intellectual and artistic culture.

Cahill credits the Greeks with creating Western militarism, shaping Christianity, and giving us the intellectual foundations on which we base everything from dictionaries to filing systems. He not only highlights the fascinating ancient Greek culture, but shows its startling reincarnations in contemporary contexts.

Thomas Cahill

Why the Greeks Matter

How did we become the people we are? What is it in our particular history that's peculiar to the West, that gives us our characteristic ways of thinking and feeling? What makes us different from other peoples?

In Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (Hinges of History), Thomas Cahill shows us how a passion for becoming aristoi (the best), plus a significant amount of luck, produced the culture whose legacy is with us today.

Come and explore the aspects of our language, laws, even our fundamental sensibilities, that are infused with the spirit which defined ancient Greece. A magnificent perspective on the evolution of the Western world.

Lords of the Sea - The Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democacy

The Athenian Golden Age floated on the great Athenian fleet, making Athens the most powerful polis in Greece in the 5th century BCE. A maritime empire, with the most advanced naval vessels in the eastern Mediterranean.

Author Hale tells us of the intimate connection between Athens' navy and her particular brand of radical democracy and argues that the downfall of that democracy owed much to inefficient leaders.

The world's first democracy ended in disaster because the elected leaders had little to offer except crowd popularity.

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick 'Paddy' Michael Leigh Fermor, most wonderful of writers and most distinguished of men, is just enchanting! I learned of him first in an old film. The 1957 Ill met by Moonlight. It was one of the few films that the nuns allowed schoolgirls to watch.

The place is Occupied Crete. The time is late April of 1944. A trio of English officers kidnap German General Kreipe, the commander of the island. They take him across very rough country to a secluded cove on the far side of the island, where they are picked up and taken to Cairo. Dirk Bogarde plays Paddy and Marius Goring is General Kreipe.

The soundtrack sent me searching for Cretan music.

The title of the film is a quotation from Shakespeare -A Midsummer Night's Dream - and Paddy Fermor is a writer of Shakespearean range. His two books on Greece are enough to make anyone pack their bags and set sail for the lands of Homer.

Travels in Greece

Paddy Fermor is widely regarded as "Britain's greatest living travel writer", but to call his books 'travel books' is do them a serious injustice. His descriptive skills are second to none and his knowledge and use of the English language is marvelous.

He ends "Roumeli" with a prose poem based on Greek place names. Here is a small part of it:

Chalcis is the flurry of the tide, Naxos the boxwood click of a rosary muffled by a nun's skirt; Ossa is a giant's tread, Pelion the beat of centaurs' hoofs through glades of chestnut, Tempe a susurrus of plane trees, and Rhodes a flutter of moths.

Santorini zigzags to the sky at dawn like a lark singing but dies at sunset with the Dies Irae. Komotini is a muezzin's call, Patmos the faraway trumpets of the Apocalypse.

The Dodacenese is a sea-song by twelve sponge-fishers, Antikythera a mermaid forsaken; Skopelos, a lobster's and Poros, a mock-turtle's song, Aegina a tambourine.

The Sporades are the sea's whispers through olive trees.

(And Paddy Leigh Fermor is a treasure and enough to make you swoon.)

Chapman's Homer - A classic itself

Chapman's translation is one of our cultural icons as English speakers, and all rendered in iambic heptameter!

Keats was so moved by the power of Chapman's Homer that he wrote his sonnet -- "Oft have I traveled in the realms of gold And many goodly states and kingdoms seen...." after spending all night reading Homer with a friend. It reveals more of Keat's passion for poetry than anything else but I love my Chapman anyway.

C.P. Cavafy

Better if it lasts for years,

so you're old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you've gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Cavafy's poem, Ithaka, is much loved by travelers everywhere. The arrival for him is as nothing compared to the journey.

I can't read Greek, so I rely on translations but Cavafy's style shows brilliantly in English as very simple, unemphatic, a world of Hellenic exile. I revel in his elegant retellings of ancient history and classical myth, while his poems of erotic longing and loss can break your heart.

My old friend, Komninos Konstantinos Zervos, himself a poet, will at times be coaxed to read aloud from Con Cavafy's work and the recitation can be relied upon to bring me to tears.

Black Ships Before Troy - Rosemary Sutcliff

Rosemary Sutcliff is the best, simply the best, re-teller of classic tales for younger readers. Children thoroughly enjoy them and so do countless adults. I certainly do.

She doesn't write down instead she brings a living and breathless account of events which are peopled with familiar characters, familiar to us from our general knowledge of history and myth and familiar as the people we see every day. I wonder sometimes why they are classified as 'books for children', (But children can be pretty bloodthirsty I suppose).

When I saw the 2004 movie, Troy, (very loosely connected to the actual story) the scene with the thousands of black ships instantly hit me as pure Sutcliff.

© 2008 Susanna Duffy

Sign your name on the front cover.

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    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 4 years ago

      Have been to Greece and would love to go again. Love the look of those travel guides too

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      love this :) thank you

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 6 years ago

      My mom taught Greek mythology, and The Children's Homer was a favorite from our library, too. I love your observation that the langage mimics the original's meant-for-oration tone! I'd never really thought about why that book was so well loved by my siblings and I, and I think you've captured it exactly. Looking forward to sampling Paddy Fermor, who is completely new to me.

    • exotickitten731 profile image

      Renee Jaco Whitfield 6 years ago from Bogalusa, Louisiana , United States of America

      I Would Recommend the story Queen Of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie

    • Image Girl profile image

      Image Girl 6 years ago

      some of my favorite myths are of Greek origin. As well a favorite book was Bullfinches Mythology. I've owned a few copies of it and 2 "vanished". Thank you for this great lens.

    • TrentAdamsCA profile image

      TrentAdamsCA 6 years ago

      Such a rich exploration -- you hooked me with that dynamic opening. Thanks for introducing me to Paddy Fermor. Cavafy is one of my favorite poets. You're right about how lucky we are. When I read about how many hours a day kids spend on "screen time" with devices and TV, I wonder what the future will be like. Edith Hamilton provided some of my early exposure to myths.

    • Mistl profile image

      Mistl 6 years ago

      I love mythology and the greek one is definitely one of the more interesting ones. Really good collection of resources you have here! :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 6 years ago

      My youngest daughter is now studying ancient Greece. I'll have check out this lens as it has so much valuable information.

    • laki2lav profile image

      laki2lav 6 years ago

      Very interesting reading material here...nice job!

    • profile image

      Lindrus 6 years ago

      I am a fan of Greece as well!

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      I am so touched by your love for our country and traditions!

      I've also mentioned your Demeter lens (wonderful!) in my Greek Mythology one -- now, seriously, come and see some beautiful paintings inspired from Greek Myths.

      Love your lens!

    • profile image

      GabrielaFargasch 7 years ago

      I love Greek mythology!

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens.

      Excellent means of introducing the classic stories to children and young Adults.

      Blessed by the Books Angel

    • ElBat profile image

      Eleni Bat 7 years ago from Greece

      Greetings from Greece!

    • antoivo lm profile image

      antoivo lm 7 years ago

      I love myths more than real actual history so this is what i like to read thumbs up for this my friend.

    • isabella lm profile image

      isabella lm 7 years ago

      once again a great lens. It is now featured in the Greece Headquarters

    • Bella Stella profile image

      Bella Stella 7 years ago

      Julie, you will definitely âget in shapeâ and you will enjoy it because you wonât have to stay at the gym walking or running with no destination!!! You can also climb on Philopappos hill in Athens from where you will enjoy a nice view to the city. It is an ancient monument in the heart of Athens town that worth a visit.

      Greekgeek, congratulation on your lens! I love reading ancient myths. Nice design and interesting information!!!

    • Bella Stella profile image

      Bella Stella 7 years ago

      "The Greek explanation of course - - the Greeks have an explanation for everything."

      Socrates, one of the most important ancient greek philosophers used to say " The only think I know is that I know nothing". :) However, ancients greeks condemned him to death due to his ideas as he was considered to corrupt the young people. He was imprisoned in the monument of Philopappos hill and was made to drink conium in order to die. I like your writing style; it is smooth and natural making me read all the lens in a very short time!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      Awesome list of books!

    • isabella lm profile image

      isabella lm 9 years ago

      Welcome to Greece group!

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