An Addendum to my Personal Canon

When I recently wrote a list of the books that have had the greatest impact on my life, I naturally included several ancient authors.  Each work on the list is something I have translated myself and I was thinking about those texts in the original Latin or Ancient Greek.  But I have had many inquires about my favorite translations of these texts, so here is my addendum.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the old chestnuts that I return to time and again:

Homer, Iliad: The Robert Fagles translation is still my favorite (the intro. to this text written by Bernard Knox is worth the price of the book alone).  For those who want something more daring, Chapman’s translation of Homer is also something I have really enjoyed.  And for those who want something really daring, Christopher Logue’s interpretation of the Iliad, entitled War Music, is stunning (regular readers of my blog will know that I flipped my lid over this and wrote four different posts about it.)

Presocratic Philosophers: Since these authors are in fragments, the best book I have found that includes both interpretations as well as translations is The Presocratic Philosophers by G.S. Kirk, J.E. Raven and M. Schofield.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon: Once again, I have to go with the Robert Fagles translation of this which is a Penguin Edition.  This edition also includes translations of the Libation Bearers and the Eumenides.

Euripides, Trojan Women, Medea: The Oxford World’s Classics editions translated by James Morwood are my staple translations for all of Euripides. The Trojan Women and Medea are in separate volumes.  The edition with Medea also includes Hippolytus, Electra and Helen.  The edition with Trojan Women also includes translations of Hecuba and Andromache.

Sopocles, Oedipus, Antigone: The Penguin edition is my favorite which is translated by Robert Fagles and includes all three of the Theban plays. (Can you tell that I am partial to the translations of Fagles?)

Plato, Symposium: The Tom Griffith translation by the University of California Press is still my favored edition and also includes engravings by Peter Forster.

Aristotle, Poetics: I still go back to the first translation of this I’ve ever read by Leon Golden published in 1968 by Florida State University Press.  It also includes an excellent running commentary.

Catullus, Carmina: Although the English is a bit Archaic since it was originally published in 1913, I still love the Loeb translation edited and revised by G.P. Gould.  This edition also includes the poems of Tibullus which I also highly recommend.  Tom, whose erudite writing about classic literature can be found at Wuthering Expectations, recommended the Horace Gregory translation published in 1952 which I am thoroughly enjoying!  I have been reading the translations from Gregory this semester as I translate the Latin text with my students and it has been a most enjoyable experience.  Sometimes a different translation, even an older one, gives us fresh eyes.

Vergil, Aeneid: I’ve always loved the Robert Fitzgerald translation of the Aeneid which is the Vintage Classics edition, that is, until Robert Fagles published his. I also am excited to read the new translation of it that will be published by the University of Chicago Press in the fall of 2017.  Word on the street is that David Ferry’s new translation is fabulous.  Stayed tuned for my official opinion.

Seneca, everything he wrote, especially The Trojan Women: I love the dual language edition by Elaine Fantham which has been out-of-print for quite a while.  The introduction and the commentary are extraordinary.  There is also a new translation of all of Seneca’s plays that was just published by The University of Chicago Press.  Elaine Fantham was part of the team of editors and translators on this project before she passed away and I am very eager to devote my full attention to these new translations.  Stay tuned for my thoughts!

Cicero, De Senectute, Pro Caelio: The Penguin Editions of both of these translations are excellent. Cicero: Selected Works, translated by Michael Grant includes De SenectuteCicero: Selected Political Speeches includes the Pro Caelio. These are the editions that I use to teach Cicero in my classes.

Ovid, Metamorphoses, Heroides: For the Metamorphoses I have always loved Rolfe Humphries’s translation that was originally published by The University of Indiana Press in 1960.  The translation by Allen Mandelbaum published in 1995 is also excellent.  Finally, the A.S. Kline translation is also very good and is available online here:

The Loeb edition of the Heroides, translated in 1914 by Grant Showerman and revised by G.P. Gould, is still my favorite. This edition also includes the Amores which I very highly recommend.  Maybe I also should have included the Amores on my personal canon?

Propertius, Elegies: (Many read Catullus and Ovid and unfortunately bypass Propertius.  But his poems are just as good and important.)  Once again, I have to go with the trustworthy Loeb edition translation by G.P. Gould.

Lucan The Civil War: (A very underappreciated epic from the Latin Silver Age)  And yet again, I have to go with the Loeb edition of Lucan translated by J.D. Duff and originally published in 1928.

I realize that there are quite a few Loeb editions on the list, but the dual text and the older translations have always appealed to me.  Please leave further suggested translations for any of these authors in the comments!


Filed under Classics, Opinion Posts

13 responses to “An Addendum to my Personal Canon

  1. Thanks for this great list–I will definitely return to it for the poets! Not being a Latinist, I shouldn’t make recommendations, but I was really struck by Sarah Ruden’s Aeneid. I wrote briefly about it here, with a few samples, if it’s of interest:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post! I’m partial to Fagles as well.
    Have you read the Caroline Alexander translation of the Iliad yet? I’m hoping to get to it soon.
    I hadn’t heard of War Music but that sounds fascinating, I’ll definitely have to check it out!


  3. New Seneca translation, from U of C Press! Mmm, that’s good news.
    More good Ovid’s:
    Daryl Hine’s Ovid’s Heroines is lively, has useful context, etc., for anyone who wants a more contemporary poetic mode.
    For anyone who does not, the great early modern Metamorphoses is by George Sandys (1626). It is possibly the first “American” book, meaning written in the future-U.S., while Sandys was administering Virginia.
    Charles Martin’s Metamorphoses is a hoot, contemporary, pretty free, punching up the humor, the jokes.

    So many good books here.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Vishy

    Wonderful post, Melissa! Thanks for telling us about your favourite translations! I haven’t read a Robert Fagles translation yet. Hoping to do that soon. The translation of The Iliad I have is by Robert Fitzgerald. The Aeneid and The Odyssey versions I have are both translated by Allen Mandelbaum. I can’t remember the name of the translator of the edition of Metamorphoses that I have. It is deep inside a remote corner of my bookshelf. Need to look at it one of these days. I remember the photo you posted of the Seneca plays collection. So gorgeous they are! So covet them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lombardo’s Homer (and Virgil) are a bit liberal, but are my favorite versions to read, all with a lively rhythm. I am reading Charles Martin’s Ovid right now and am enjoying it.


  6. Did you translate the whole of each of these works?? Any one of them would be quite a feat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Epics like The Iliad and the Odyssey I have translated large parts of each. I translated and entire selection of the Presocratics from the reader I have. And most of the tragedies on the list I have translated in their entirety (Oedipus, The Agamemnon, Medea, The Trojan Women, etc.) Yet it still feels like I have only scratched the surface!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s