Classics for Students:

Books as Knowledge

There is a seemingly endless array of classical texts out there available to students and scholars, covering a wide gamut of abilities and interests. Some are presented sparsely in translation or in the original Greek or Latin, while others are presented with copious notes and critical apparatus. Still others are presented in dual language editions. In this post I have selected only a few of the most common classics book series available to libraries, professors, and students. This is by no means an exhaustive list. What I have tried to do, instead, is to give precedence to those accessible and popular materials which are presented in uniform series and then select, at the series level, for coverage of a variety of skill sets in readers. I begin with basic and inexpensive works in translation and work up in difficulty through more exhaustive treatments, and towards, finally, primary sources presented in untranslated critical editions.

Penguin classics is one of the most accessible and straight forward paperback series of classics texts available on the market and are widely used in classrooms across the country at every level of education. These books are presented with cogent if not exhaustive introductions by reputable scholars, and notes are unobtrusive and concise. The Oxford World’s Classics series is similar in scope, style, and cost to the Penguin editions, and both are commonly used at the university level. The only real difference is that the Oxford editions seem to me subjectively to be printed on a slightly higher quality paper and have more thorough endnotes, generally speaking. Either series is useful for reading works from the classical world in translation, and both are readily available.

For a more elaborate treatment of classical material, especially histories, the Landmark series, published by Anchor books, are highly recommended. These books are invaluable in studying the material which they cover and should be of great use even to experts in their respective topics, though the series is limited to a handful of classical authors. What makes these books so valuable are their copious notes, appendices, and supplemental material which include many useful maps which provide telescoping views of areas covered in the texts continuously throughout their respective narratives. The latest volume, which is a complete works of Julius Caesar, includes numerous additional appendices presented online, in addition to those published with the book itself.

The Loeb Classical Library is a dual language series of texts (English and Greek or Latin) published by Harvard University. Founded in 1911 the book series is well known among scholars and students alike and easily found on shelves due to its distinct red (Latin) and green (Greek) covers and its small form factor. Loeb is well known for its deep catalog and sometimes archaic translations, though with new editions, new translations, and now digital versions of the texts are becoming available. As the series web page notes:

Over a century ago, James Loeb announced the founding of the Loeb Classical Library and his intention to bring the written treasures of the ancient Greek and Roman world “within the reach of all who care for the finer things in life.”

There is a history of Harvard University Press available by author Max Hall, though it was published in the late 1980s. In 2014 Loeb began offering an online version of its series to subscribers as noted in this article from Harvard Magazine.

Similar to Loeb but less well know are Les Belles Lettres editions, published in paris and presented in either dual French/Latin or French/Greek format. The Belles Lettres editions are harder to come by in the US than the Loebs, often requiring import, and can be expensive due to their multi volume treatments, but they offer a deeper catalog, more extensive introductions, and a more authoritative critical apparatus.

For classical language students the Cambridge Green and Yellow editions are a staple. These are often not complete texts in themselves but rather are extended selections in Greek extracted from longer works and presented with extensive english language commentary to aid in student translation. These editions are quite nice for learners though the texts may not be considered authroitative.

Finally, for the most authoritative editions there are the Oxford Classical Texts series of books which are presented by the Clarendon press of Oxford and come exclusively in hardbound editions with extensive critical apparatus. Notes and introductions are in Latin only, and these editions can be quite expensive. The series is also somewhat limited, and not all classical authors may be available, but these books set the gold standard for accomplished translators and scholars interested in the nuances of manuscript history and transmission.

Links and Citations:

Hall, M. (1986). Harvard University Press : a history. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Harvard University Press (n.d.). History of the Library: Loeb Classical Library: Harvard University Press. HUP.

Les Belles Lettres (n.d.). Nos collections. Les Belles Lettres.

Wilson, E. (2006, August 15). The Loeb Classical Library. Slate Magazine.

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