Is It Time For Me To Head Back To The Ancient Classics?

It is funny how long you will deny something to yourself and indeed the reasons for doing so. From an early age I was brought up not just on fairy tales but on the stories of, and adventures around, the Greek gods and goddesses. You see my mother is something (understatement of the year) of a classicist and so as often as I would ask to be regaled with the story of Rapunzel again and again, I would also ask to be read and reread the tale of Persephone. I was also obsessed with Jim Henson’s The Storyteller spin off about the Greek Myths, I also just had a flashback to a phase I had of loving the animated Shakespeare series, especially Zoe Wannamakers Lady Macbeth. I digress. This all changed when I went to school, where Mum taught, and got 99% in my classics exam. Rather than this being a good thing, some bullying little sods at school made my life hell and said I was either a complete geek or my mum had told me all the answers. My response of course was to shut down and shut out classics. Wow, this is like therapy.

Almost 23 years later when I found myself picking potential holidays Cyprus (have I mentioned I have been on holiday at all) kept coming up and once I explored it, it wasn’t just the all inclusive four star hotel bargain that kept pulling me back, if I am being honest it was also the fact there were ancient tombs, moments, rocks, myths and legends about the island too – like being the birthplace of Aphrodite – that kept drawing me back. And when I got there it was the archaeological park that was one of the first places I wanted to visit, and oddly when I did I felt strangely at home.


This might of course be because of all the times I went to these places with my mother as a kid (driving through the Greek mountains recently I was reminded of those trips where I played all Cathy Dennis’ albums on repeat) even the seven hour trip around Pompeii, which may have also hardened my heart to classics a little bit possibly. What I wasn’t expecting was for mosaics to bring such a sense of nostalgia back to me…


But they did…


And then I was really cross with myself when I couldn’t remember the stories surrounding some of the mosaics that we saw, even when I recognised the names. The more we saw the stronger the sense of nostalgic and slight pining for these tales of ancient times became.


As did the sense of the ancient world suddenly being so vivid and overwhelming the more of the old ancient sites that we visited. Really there is nothing like standing in or in front of an old Odeon to bring back the spirits and beliefs of the people who would have been sat in there watching some performances.


So the more we wandered round, and the more that we saw throughout the week, the more I started to get the old classicist itch, which I honestly thought was more dormant than Mount Vesuvius. So now I feel I need to scratch it, or if we want to go right down Pun Alley, the more I want to start an archaeological dig on my soul and start to excavate this side of me again.


I have dabbled with the classics in the past few years. I read Poetics by Aristotle (who my mum once named a cat after) and thought it was a brilliant piece of writing about, well, writing. I loved Mary Beard’s collection of essays It’s A Don’s Life, and loved her TV show Rome but I love Mary Beard regardless, who doesn’t? I also really enjoyed Natalie Haynes’ The Amber Fury which weaves Greek tragedies through it, and enjoyed the nods to Greek tragedy in Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. And then there is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles which I love, love, love, love, love. If you haven’t read it you must.

The question is what next? I have just gone and ordered Natalie’s The Ancient Guide To Modern Life as I think that will be up my street and am debating both Robert Graves Greek Myths (as I want to be reminded of them all, if it isn’t dry and dusty) and Ali Smith’s The Story of Antigone. In fact speaking of Ali Smith, I should get my hands on more of the Canongate Myths series really shouldn’t I? Oh and Vintage did kindly send me a copy of Euripides The Bacchae so that could be next. Blimey so much choice. What do you think? Any ancient classic texts you would recommend to me, or indeed any other retellings?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

14 responses to “Is It Time For Me To Head Back To The Ancient Classics?

  1. You need to get right back to basics – Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and ‘Illiad’, Herodotus’ ‘Histories’, Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’, ‘Oxford Classical Dictionary.’ And while you’re on Euripides, get a hold of ‘Medea’ and ‘Hippolytus’ (collected in: ). Do I know what I’m talking about? Well, I studied Classics (and Ancient History) for two years at St. Andrews, so perhaps! 🙂

    Good luck. Great to see a passion for antiquity arising in you (although after a holiday like that….)

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    How about Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad?

  3. Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad and Jeanette Winterson’s Weight are amazing. Also I remember being utterly shocked by Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

  4. Aren’t you fortunate to have had such a well read mother. My mother only read crime and I never learned anything about old classics except the dry and dusty high school assignments. Now my 84 year old play reading teacher is teaching us these old plays with enthusiasm and acting and I love them but I have so far to go. I might too begin with these recommendations people have given to you.

  5. The Iliad has always been my favorite classic read. My favorite play is Euripides Trojan Women. And Seneca also has a great Roman version of the story. If you really like my I would try Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

  6. My recent discovery is the freshness and brilliance of Troilus and Cressida. You may also enjoy Christa Wolf’s Cassandre and Medea, both terrific. Anne Carson’s interpretations of myth is also wonderful. Robert Graves isn’t remotely dusty, a wonderful book to dip into.

  7. Memoirs of Hadrian, a novel by the Belgian writer Marguerite Yourcenar, is a classic and is a fictional autobiography full of good things – his love for Antinous and his philosophic musings.

  8. I’ve just started I Claudius and am loving it. Great voice for Claudius and totally gripping. Not quite myths and legends as it is based on history but I think you’d enjoy it!

  9. I would imagine seeing sights like that in Cyprus would want to read more classics

  10. quinn

    how wonderful to have a private place to go to from childhood such as classics exposure w/ your mum….and always have that bit there…to be resurrected when needed…a tie that binds…glorious…thanks for reminding us of those places that are gifts. quinn

  11. have you read Ilium by Dan Simmons? it’s a retelling of Trojan War but on Mars!

  12. Lovely post. Not a recommendation of a book but mosaics – Piazza Armerina in Sicily. You must go they’re the best I’ve ever seen. Incidentally am currently writing a scene in which my protagonist sees Vesuvius erupt in 1944. No, I didn’t know it had erupted that recently either!

  13. Linda

    Speaking of Mary Beard: SPQR. Absolutely the best book on History of Rome.

  14. Pingback: The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith | Savidge Reads

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