So, my mind was wandering the other day, or more accurately, fleeing the truly obnoxious and depressing “morning show” blaring in the waiting area of the eye doctor’s office, and I started thinking about a book that I didn’t buy. I was in line at a very, very unusual bookstore, and they had a shelf of Loeb Classics editions, all ten percent off. One of them was Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. This was a book I’d been wanting for a while, mostly because of the connection between it and King Alfred of Wessex, Alfred the Great. However, even at ten percent off it was a little spendy, so I didn’t get it.
Those thoughts led me to recall a story in Roy Bedichek’s Adventures of a Texas Naturalist where he was at a cocktail party and referred to “Thalassa, thalassa!” one associate caught the reference instantly, but a young woman did not. She had never heard of the Anabasis, could not discuss Xenophon’s prose style, was not familiar with the Greek classics in translation or in Greek. Bedichek wondered what had become of the schools. This was in the 1950s.
So, I started going through my mental list. Which of the Classical classics have I read, either in the original or in translation?
Illiad and Odyssey of Homer, both in translation (Landmark Edition)
Peloponnesian War Thucydides, in two translations.
Histories Herodotus (Landmark edition)
Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, all in translation
Greek mythology – Hamilton, Dublairs, Bullfinch
The Republic – Plato (in translation)
Physics, Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle (translation, although I managed a few pages of the Ethics in Greek.)
Anabasis and On Horsemanship – Xenophon (in translation)
De Gallico Belli Julius Caesar – Latin
Aeneid and Georgics Virgil (both in Latin)
Ars Amatoria and Metamorphosis (first one in Latin, second in English)
Lives of the Caesars Suetonius (English)
Epigrams Martial (Latin and English)
Annals Tacitus (part in Latin, all in English)
The Golden Book Epictetus (English)
Meditations Marcus Aurelius (in Latin and English)
Odes Horace (in Latin)
Keep in mind, I had three years of Latin in high school, a semester in in college, plus a lot of reading on my own. And I’m missing a lot of works, especially the Greek dramas and philosophical writings. All of which brings us back to Boethius. He was either the last Classical author, or the first non-church writer of Late Antiquity, depending on how you look at his work. And Alfred the Great translated his writings into Anglo Saxon, with Alfred’s own observations, glosses, and commentaries. Alfred copied the Carolingian Renaissance of the mainland, re-starting education and scholarship in the Saxon kingdoms of England. While fighting off the Vikings, and founding a navy, and suffering from a chronic disease.