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The 10 ancient classics every student should read

Ancient classics are classics for a reason. To become a classic, they have to withstand the test of time, and many of the oldest were only able to survive because they were passed on from person to person through the generations.

At the same time, classics can be intimidating, especially when you’re studying them as opposed to reading them for fun. The good news is that whether you’re writing a book report at college or whether you’re picking up a classic to broaden your horizons, ancient classics can be surprisingly easy to get into.

In fact, another reason for the enduring popularity of these ancient classics is the fact that they can be so relatable, despite being thousands of years old. They tell us something about what it is to be human, and that can make them a lot of fun to read (and study). Here are just ten of the best.

The 10 ancient classics every student should read

1. The Iliad (Homer)

The Iliad is the oldest extant work of Western literature, and as such no list of ancient books would be complete without it. It’s set during the Trojan War and follows the ten-year battle between Greek warrior Achilles and Trojan King Agamemnon.

2. The Odyssey (Homer)

The Odyssey is essentially a sequel to the Iliad, and it follows the story of Odysseus as he travels home after The Trojan War. After ten years of fighting, it takes him another ten years to get home, and you can find out why by reading The Odyssey.

3. The Aeneid (Virgil)

The Aeneid focuses on the aftermath of the fall of Troy, when Aeneas and his band of Trojans set sail for Italy. Along the way, they’re blown off course by a storm and end up in Carthage, where they meet Dido, the city’s queen and founder. There, Aeneas recounts the story of the Trojan War and the eventual fall of Troy thanks to the Greeks’ wooden horse. 

4. Metamorphoses (Ovid)

This is one of the best ancient books if you’re interested in the theme of transformation.

5. The Epic of Gilgamesh (Anonymous)

This anonymous manuscript tells the story of Gilgamesh, a great builder and warrior who was part human, part god. The story has been put together based on 12 incomplete tablets from the 7th century BC and additional fragments found elsewhere around the world. 

6. The Republic (Plato)

This ancient classic is all about justice and law and order, and it’s written by one of the most iconic philosophers of all time. Plato studied under Socrates and would later teach Aristotle, who went on to tutor Alexander the Great. However, this book may be somewhat complicated for beginners. Therefore, if you need to write an essay on philosophy or any other essay: climate change essay or essays on freedom, it is better to ask to for help

7. Antigone (Sophocles)

Antigone is the only play on this list, and while it was the first of Sophocles’ plays to be written, it comes in as the chronological third in a series. A tragedy, it was written during a political backdrop of militarism and imperialism, making it a relevant read in today’s troubled times.

8. Beowulf (Anonymous)

This Old English epic poem was written around 1,000 AD and clocks in as the youngest book on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less worth reading. Set in Scandinavia, it follows the hero Beowulf as he slays a monster called Grendel and becomes king.

9. The Argonautica (Apollonius of Rhodes)

This epic tells the story of Jason of the Argonauts and his journey to recover the legendary golden fleece of Colchis. You might already be familiar with the story because of the 1963 movie with its iconic fight sequences and stop-motion animations. 
10. The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

This is one of those books for students that’s also well-suited to entrepreneurs and businessmen. It’s essential a guide for making war by an ancient Chinese general, but the lessons that it offers can easily be adapted to our modern world.


Now that you know which ancient classics every student should read, the next step is for you to pick them up at your local library or bookstore and to start reading. Don’t be afraid to use a highlighter or to write in the margins, especially if you’re able to pick up cheap or second hand copies.

It’s also important to remember that all sorts of different formats are available, from paperbacks and hardbacks to e-books and even audio books. Also, you can try to find short video reviews of each book which are really popular now according to explainer videos trends. If you’re struggling to get into a printed book, try an audio book instead. On top of that, it’s impossible to love every book, so if you’re not enjoying one of the books on this list, give another one a go instead. Good luck