Entertainment/Literature - Classics
Aeschylus (c525 – c456 BC). Known as “the father of Greek tragedy”.
Born Eleusis of noble family. Fought at Battles of Marathon and Salamis. Prosecuted for divulging Eleusinian mysteries. Visited Syracuse at invitation of Hieron I. Died Gela, Sicily possibly after eagle dropped a tortoise on his head.
Prometheus Bound – tells the myth of the Titan punished by Zeus for giving humanity the gift of fire.
Oresteia is a trilogy of Greek tragedies –
Agamemnon – details the homecoming of Agamemnon, King of Mycenae, from the Trojan War.
Choephoroe (The Libation Bearers) – deals with the reunion of Agamemnon's children, Electra and Orestes, and their revenge. Orestes kills Clytemnestra to avenge the death of his father Agamemnon.
Eumenides – in which Orestes, Apollo, and the Furies go before Athena and a jury consisting of the Athenians.
Seven Against Thebes – concerns the battle between the Seven led by Polynices, traditional Theban enemies (Argive army), and the army of Thebes headed by Eteocles and his supporters. Polynices and Eteocles are sons of Oedipus. The same story is told in Euripides' Phoenician Women.
The Persians – first produced in 472 BC, it is the oldest surviving play in the history of theatre.
Aesop – a (probably) legendary writer of fables including The Hare and the Tortoise and The Fox and the Grapes.
Ammianus Marcellinus (330 – 395) Last great Roman historian.
Greek born in Antioch. Served in Roman army on Eastern frontier. Eventually settled in Rome.
Histories – covers the period 96 - 378 and is a continuation of Annals by Tacitus from the death of Domitian to the Battle of Adrianople. Books 14 to 31 cover the life of Emperor Julian ‘the Apostate’ in detail.
Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BC) Greek writer.
Born in Alexandria but lived most of his life on Rhodes.
Argonautica – story of Jason, the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece.
Apuleius (c124 – c170) Latin writer Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis.
Born Madaura, North Africa. Accused of seducing rich widow by magic. Wrote Apologia in his own defence. Lived in Carthage.
Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass – is the only surviving Latin novel. It is the story of Lucius and includes other stories within the narrative ("Cupid & Psyche"). Lucius is initiated into the mysteries of Isis & Osiris.
Aristophanes (445 – c388 BC). Greek writer of comedies.
The Knights – is a satire on political and social life in 5th century BC Athens. The Athenian general Cleon is intended to be the villain.
The Clouds – is a lampooning of intellectual fashions in classical Athens. Socrates is presented as a petty thief, a fraud and a sophist.
The Wasps – is a satire on the Athenian justice system.
Peace – is notable for its joyous anticipation of peace and for its celebration of a return to an idyllic life in the countryside.
The Birds – evolves around Pisthetaerus, an Athenian who convinces the birds to create a great city in the sky, and thus regain their status as the original gods. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a city on the sky.
Lysistrata – women embark on a sex strike to try and end the Peloponnesian war.
The Frogs – tells the story of the god Dionysus, who, despairing of the state of Athens' tragedians, travels to Hades to bring the playwright Euripides back from the dead. Euripides loses a contest to Aeschylus.
Assemblywomen – invents a scenario where the women of Athens assume control of the government and instate reforms that ban private wealth and enforce sexual equity for the old and unattractive.
Aristotle (384 – 322 BC). Greek philosopher. Tutor to Alexander the Great.
Poetics – is a classical work of literary theory, dealing mostly with tragedy.
Nicomachean Ethics – consists of ten books and is understood to be based on notes from his lectures at the Lyceum which were either edited by or dedicated to Aristotle's son, Nicomachus. Also referred to as The Ethics.
Arrian (c86 – c160) Greek historian.
Born Nicomedia. Served in Roman army. Archon of Athens.
Anabasis of Alexander – covers the campaigns of Alexander the Great. The title echoes Xenophon’s much earlier work.
Indike/Indica – covers the voyage of one of Alexander’s commanders Nearchus in the Persian Gulf and records Indian customs.
Catullus (84 – 54 BC) Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus.
Born Verona, acquaintance of Julius Caesar. Life only known through his poems. Fell in love with married woman whom he calls Lesbia but was probably Clodia.
Poems to Lesbia – 25 poems chronicling his affair. Catullus's poems have been preserved in an anthology of 116 carmina, which can be divided into three formal parts: sixty short poems in varying metres, called polymetra, eight longer poems, and forty-eight epigrams.
Cicero (106 – 43 BC) Roman orator, lawyer and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Born Arpinum. Consul 63 BC, at which time he crushed the Catiline Conspiracy. Enemy of Julius Caesar. Executed in 43 BC as part of the proscriptions of Mark Anthony and Octavian.
Philippics – are a series of 14 speeches condemning Mark Antony.
De Oratore – is a dialogue set in 91 BC, when Crassus dies. Describes the ideal orator and imagines him as a moral guide of the state.
De re publica – examines the type of government that had been established in Rome since the kings. The development of the constitution is explained.
De Legibus – is a dialogue about the laws of the Roman Republic.
Diogenes Laertius (c. 3rd century) Greek biographer – Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers.
Euripides (485 – 406 BC) Greek tragedian.
Little reliable known of his life. Reportedly wrote his plays in a cave on Salamis. Associated with the Sophists. Died at the court of Macedonian King Archelaus - allegedly torn to pieces by dogs. Wrote 92 plays, 19 survive and 80 titles known. Aristotle called him "The most tragic of poets".
Plays include – Electra, Andromache, Hecuba, Helen, Heracles, Trojan Women, Phoenician Women, Iphigeneia in Aulis, Iphigeneia in Tauris.
Medea – is the story of a woman who wishes for the death of her children for revenge against her husband, Jason.
Orestes – Orestes and his sister Electra murder their mother (Clytemnestra), and then turn against their aunt (Helen of Troy).
Bacchae – in which King Pentheus of Thebes is punished by the god Dionysus.
Alcestis – King Admetus is doomed to die shortly, but he will be allowed a second life if he can find someone willing to die in his place. His wife, Alcestis, voluntarily dies in place of her husband.
Hippolytus – Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sexual desire, destroys Hippolytus, a lover of outdoor sports who is repelled by sexual passion and who is instead devoted to the virgin huntress Artemis.
Herodotus (c484 – c425 BC) Greek historian. Known as “the father of history”.
Son of Lyxes born in Halicarnassus. Exiled to Samos and then travelled widely in Egypt and Greek world. Settled in Athens before perhaps dying in Thurii in Southern Italy.
The History – covered the struggle between Greece and Asia from the time of Croesus (6th century BC) to Xerxes retreat from Greece (478 BC). Divided into 9 books each named for one of the Muses.
Hesiod (c 700 BC) Greek poet.
Born Ascra in Boetia. Shepherd who "heard the muses calling" on Mt Helicon. Won tripod in poetic contest. Disputed inheritance with brother Persis. Died in Locris. Fictional poetry contest with Homer.
Theogeny – a poem describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods.
Work and Days – describes peasant life.
Catalogue of Women – attributed to Hesiod but not certain. Records women who became mothers of heroes or heads of noble families.
Homer (c 8th century BC) Greek epic poet. Possibly born in Smyrna or Chios.
Iliad – concerns events during the last (i.e. 10th) year in the siege of the city of Ilion, or Troy, by the Greeks. Hector kills Patroclus, and is then killed by Achilles. Iris is the divine messenger. Written in Ionian Greek. Derived from oral traditions - highly formulaic (repetition of epithets, lines and scenes). First word: ‘Rage’.
Odyssey – concerns the events that befall the Greek hero Odysseus/Ulysses in his long wanderings after the fall of Troy during which he encounters the nymph Calypso, the Sirens, the six-headed monster Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis, the Lotus-eaters, Polyphemus the Cyclops and the witch Circe. He eventually returns to his native island of Ithaca to re-unite with his wife Penelope after killing her suitors. Faithful dog – Argos. Son – Telemachus. Opening line: ‘Sing to me of the man, Muse’.
Translation of Odyssey by E.V. Rieu was the first ‘Penguin Classic’ (published 1946).
‘Separatists’ believe that the Illiad and Odyssey were not written by the same person, the Odyssey being a much later work. Whereas ‘Unitarians’ believe both poems were the work of one man.
Horace (65 – 8 BC) Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus.
Born Venusia. Studied in Rome and Athens. Fought at Battle of Philippi for Brutus. Stripped of his estates, he took up poetry. Biography written by Suetonius. Odes became a school text book in Rome during his lifetime.
Odes – collection in four books of Latin lyric poems. ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ is a line from the Odes (translation: It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country’).
Satires – collection of satirical poems that explore the secrets of human happiness and literary perfection.
Epistles – published in two books. Includes Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry).
Epodes – collection of iambic poems.
Josephus (c38 – 100) Jewish priest and historian Flavius Josephus (original name Joseph Ben Matthias).
Born in Jerusalem, died in Rome. A member of the Pharisees, he visited Rome during the time of Nero and after his capture during the Jewish revolt changed sides and joined the Romans under the future Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus at which time he adopted the name Flavius in a nod to their Flavian dynasty.
History of the Jewish War – an account of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 67 which Josephus took part in as a military commander on the Jewish side.
Antiquitates Judaicae (The Antiquities of the Jews) – contains at least one reference to Jesus as “the so-called Christ” plus a second reference which is believed may be a later interpolation.
Juvenal (early 2nd century AD) Roman satirical poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis.
Born Aquinum in Latium but not much known of him. Possibly banished for offending a favourite of Domitian.
Satires (published 110 - 127 AD) – sixteen known poems divided among five books. Translated into English by John Dryden.
Juvenal is the source of the maxims –
that the common people are only interested in “bread and circuses”
that one should pray for a “sound mind in a sound body”
that a perfect wife is a “rare bird”
that "honesty is praised and left out in the cold"
and the question of who can be trusted with power “who will watch the watchers?” or "who will guard the guardians themselves?"
Livy (59 BC - 17 AD) Roman historian Titus Livius.
Born in Padua. Moved to Rome in adulthood.
Ab Urbe Condita (History of Rome from its Foundation) – 142 books published in instalments.
The geese in the temple of Juno on the Capitoline Hill were said by Livy to have saved Rome from the Gauls under Brennus around 390 BC when they were disturbed in a night attack.
Lucan (39 – 65) Latin poet Marcus Annaeus Lucanus.
Born Cordoba in Spain. Grandson of Seneca. Lampooned Nero and joined the Conspiracy of Piso. Forced to commit suicide.
Pharsalia – concerns the Caesar/Pompey civil war.
Lucretius (c99 – c55 BC). Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is the epic philosophical poem on Epicureanism De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things which tries to explain the philosophy of Epicurus.
Martial (c40 – c103) Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martialis.
Born 1st March (hence name) in Bilbilis in Spain. Wrote poetry for a living.
Liber Spectaculorum (Book of Spectacles) – written to celebrate the opening of the Colosseum
Epigrams – 1500 short poems each expressing concisely and pointedly some single idea.
Menander (c342 – c290 BC) Greek writer of Attic (Athenian) New Comedy.
Drowned in Piraeus harbour. His work was lost in the Middle Ages and is known in modernity in highly fragmentary form, much of which was discovered in the 20th century. Only one play, Dyskolos, has survived almost entirely.
Much quoted "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (quoted by St Paul to the Corinthians). "Those whom the Gods love die young".
Ovid (43 BC – c17 AD) Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso.
Born Sulmo in Appenines. Tells his life story in the poem Tristia. Travelled to Athens, Asia Minor and Sicily. Banished by Augustus to Tomis on the Black Sea in 8 AD - Ovid gave the reasons as "a poem and a blunder" - the poem was Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) and the blunder was being in the wrong place at the wrong time (he was possibly involved in the sex scandal involving Augustus' grand-daughter Julia). Died after 10 years in exile.
Works include – Tristia, Amores, Heroides, Fasti, Isis, and Epistolae ex Ponto.
Metamorphoses – chronicles the history of the world from its creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. It is considered one of the most influential books in the Western canon and an extremely important source for classical mythology. Comprises 11,995 lines. English translation by Arthur Golding in 1567.
Parmenides of Elea (late sixth or early fifth century BC) Greek philosopher - On Nature – poem includes a section called ‘The Way of Truth’.
Petronius (c27 – 66) Latin satirical writer Gaius Petronius Arbiter (originally Titus Petronius Niger).
Governor of Bithynia and Roman Consul. Known as the "Arbiter of taste" for Nero. Implicated in Conspiracy of Piso and forced to commit suicide by Nero. Biography written by Tacitus.
Satyricon – tells the story of two young men Encolpius and Ascyltus travelling in Southern Italy. Principal episode is Trimalchio's dinner party.
Pindar (518 – c438 BC) Greek lyric poet. One of the nine lyric poets of Ancient Greece.
Born and lived in Thebes. Little known of his life but famous in his own lifetime. When Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes he ordered Pindar's house to be spared.
Victory Odes (Epinician Odes) grouped as Olympian, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian (O.P.N.I.).
Plato (c427 – c347 BC) Greek philosopher.
Apologia – is a Socratic dialogue and recorded Socrates' last words: “The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live” and gives a version of the speech by Socrates as he defended himself in 399 BC against the charges of ‘corrupting the young’.
The Republic – is a dialogue concerning the order and character of the city-state. In the dialogue, Socrates talks with various Athenians and foreigners about the meaning of justice and whether the just man is happier than the unjust man.
The Symposium – depicts a contest of speeches given by a group of notable men including Socrates, Alcibiades and Aristophanes at a banquet.
The Laws – last and longest dialogue. Concerns the ethics of government and law.
Other Dialogues include Euthyphro, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus and Timaeus.
Plautus (254 – 184 BC) Roman writer of comedies Titus Maccius Plautus.
Born Sarsina in Umbria. All plays adapted from Greek New Comedy. Introduced more music so plays resembled musical comedies.
Twenty known works including: Amphitruo, Aulularia, Bacchides, Captivi, Menaechmi, Mostellaria, Miles Gloriosus, Pseudolus, Rudens and Trinummus.
The plot of Menaechmi was used by Shakespeare for The Comedy of Errors.
Pliny the Elder (23 – 79) Roman writer of natural history Gaius Plinius Secundus.
Born Como in Northern Italy. Served in the army of Rhine 46 - 57. Counsellor of Vespasian and Titus. Killed during eruption of Vesuvius.
Naturalis Historia – the subject area is not limited to what is today understood by natural history; Pliny himself defines his scope as "the natural world, or life". It is encyclopaedic in scope.
Pliny the Younger (61 – 112). Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus. Nephew of Pliny the Elder and later adopted by him. Witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius.
Epistulae (Letters) – largest surviving body of Pliny's work.
Plutarch (46 – 120) Greek biographer, historian & moral philosopher.
Born in Chaeronea. Visited Athens, Egypt and Rome. Lived at Delphi.
Parallel Lives – is a series of 50 biographies of famous men, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman of similar destiny. Major Shakespearian source – Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra, Timon of Athens, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Moralia (Morals) – is a collection contains 78 essays and transcribed speeches. Includes On the Education of Children and On Music.
Polybius (200 – 118 BC) Greek historian of Rome's rise to power.
Born Megalopolis in Arcadia. Taken to Rome as prisoner of war in 168 BC. Tutored Publius Scipio and accompanied him to final siege of Carthage. Diplomat between Rome and Greece. First historian to use both written and oral sources as evidence.
Histories – the first five of the 40 books are extant. Features all three Punic wars and covers the period from 220 to 146 BC in detail.
Procopius (500 – c562) Byzantine Greek historian.
Born Caeserea. Secretary to General Belisarius under Emperor Justinian. Prefect of Constantinople in 562.
History of the Wars – recounts the Persian Wars of emperors Justinus and Justinian, the Vandalic War, and the Gothic War.
Anecdota (A Secret History) – is a virulent attack on the policies of Justinian and on the morals of the Empress Theodora.
Sallust (86 – 35 BC) Roman historian Gaius Sallustius Crispus.
Born Amiternum. Tribune of the plebs in 52 BC. Acted against Cicero and Milo (whose enemy he was because he had been horse-whipped by Milo after having an affair with his wife). Corrupt governor of Numidia.
Jugurthine War – is a monograph recording the war against Jugurtha in Numidia from c. 112 - 105 BC.
Catiline Conspiracy – is an account of the attempt by Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline) to overthrow the Roman Republic in the year 63 BC
Histories (78 - 67 BC) – only fragments survive.
Sappho (7th century BC) Greek lyric poetess.
Born Eresus in Lesbos. Exiled to Sicily, eventually lived in Mytilene. Perhaps committed suicide (by jumping off a cliff) after being rejected in love.
The Library of Alexandria collected her poetry into nine books divided according to the metre used. One of the nine lyric poets.
Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 65 AD) Roman writer and philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.
Born Cordoba in Spain. Senator. Banished to Corsica (41 AD) by Claudius for adultery with Julia. Recalled in 49 by Agrippina (Julia's sister & Nero’s mother) to tutor Nero. Implicated in conspiracy of Piso and forced to commit suicide.
Works include – Dialogues (a collection of treatises on ethics), Naturales Quaestiones (facts about nature), nine tragedies adapted from the Greek (including Phaedra, Medea, and Oedipus).
Simonides (556 – 468 BC) Greek lyric and elegiac poet.
Born Ceos. First poet to write poetry for payment. Invented a technique to improve memory. Was one of the nine lyric poets esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria. Best known for dirges and epigrams.
Sophocles (495 – 406 BC) Greek tragedian.
Born Colonus near Athens. In 468 BC Sophocles took first prize in the Dionysia theatre competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus, at first attempt. Twice elected a general. Lived and died in Athens. Wrote 123 plays. Won 24 dramatic competitions & came second in the rest (never third).
Oedipus Tyrannus (Rex) – Greek tragedy written around 425 BC. The subject of the play is Oedipus, son of King Laius of Thebes and Queen Jocasta. The play is one of Sophocles' three Theban plays (Oedipus Cycle) to be produced; the others are Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone.
Other plays include – Ajax, Electra, Philoctetes and Women of Trachis.
Shelley had a volume of Sophocles in his pocket when he drowned in 1822.
Suetonius (70 – 140) Roman biographer Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.
Secretary at the Imperial palace. Dismissed in 121 by Emperor Hadrian after a scandal involving the Emperor's wife.
Lives of the Caesars – set of twelve biographies of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire (Julius Caesar to Domitian).
On Famous Men – includes Lives of the Grammarians, Lives of the Rhetoricians, Lives of the Poets (including Virgil), and Lives of the Historians (including Pliny the Elder).
Tacitus (56 – 117) Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus.
Born in Gaul. Roman Senator. Governor of Asia 112 AD.
Annals – covers the reign of the four Roman Emperors succeeding to Caesar Augustus (14 – 68). The parts of the work that survived from antiquity cover (most of) the reigns of Tiberius and Nero.
Histories – covers the Year of Four Emperors (69 AD) following the downfall of Nero in the previous year, the rise of Vespasian, and the rule of the Flavian Dynasty (69 – 96) up to the death of Domitian.
Agricola – documents the campaigns in Britain of Agricola (the father-in-law of Tacitus).
Germania – describes the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire.
Terence (d 159 BC) Roman writer of comedies Publius Terentius Afer.
Born Carthage. Slave in Rome. Died at sea.
Plays include – Andria, Hecyra, Eunuchus, Phormio, and Adelphoe
Plays all adapted from Menander. Much admired and performed in England. Influenced early English comedy. Quote: "fortune favours the brave".
Thucydides (c460 – c400 BC) Greek historian.
General during Peloponnesian War. Failed mission led to his exile from Athens for 20 years. Possibly assassinated.
History of the Peloponnesian War – recounts the war between Sparta and Athens.
Virgil (70 – 19 BC) Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro.
Born Andes near Mantua. Lived in Naples. Died in Brindisi after voyage to the East.
Aeneid – an epic poem of twelve books that became the Roman Empire's national epic. A fictional depiction of Virgil was also Dante's guide through Hell and Purgatory in Dante's epic poem, The Divine Comedy.
“I sing of arms and the man” – opening line of the Aeneid, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans. Breaking his journey in Carthage, he becomes involved with the queen, Dido and tells her about the fall of Troy. Dido burns herself alive when he leaves her. The Aeneid is also the source of the story of the Trojan Horse.
Decus et Tutamen – ‘An ornament and a safeguard’, from the Aeneid. ‘I see wars, horrid wars, and the Tiber foaming with much blood’ from Book six – spoken by the Sybil, a prophetess at Cumae. The Golden Bough is one of the episodic tales.
Eclogues (or Bucolics) – are a group of ten poems roughly modeled on the bucolic poetry of the Hellenistic poet Theocritus.
Georgics – describes the methods of running a farm.
Xenophon (c430 – c350 BC) Greek historian.
Athenian. Joined Persian claimant Cyrus the Younger and took part in the ‘March of the Ten Thousand’ after battle of Cunaxa. Moved to Sparta and served in Spartan army. Eventually returned to and died in Athens.
Anabasis (The March up Country) – narrates the expedition of a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger to help him seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II, in 401 BC.
Other works – Cyropedea, Oeconomicus, Horsemanship and Agesilaus.
The nine lyric poets of Ancient Greece chosen by Hellenistic Alexandrian scholars:
Alcaeus of Mytilene
Alcman of Sparta
Anacreon of Teos
Bacchylides of Ceos
Ibycus of Rhegium
Pindar of Thebes
Sappho of Lesbos
Simonides of Ceos
Stesichorus of Metauros