Quid legam?
March 31, 2014 6:25 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend some Classical Latin prose works that are fun to read.

I have a pretty good grasp of Latin grammar, but I haven't read much Latin literature. What should I read? Requirements: prose not verse; an interesting, enjoyable read, preferably a narrative; Classical in period and not too divergent from Classical norms in style; available in the Loeb Classical Library.

I've read small bits of Caesar and Cicero, a little Tacitus and Suetonius, and some of the letters of Pliny the Younger, but none of them really gripped me. A lot of Latin prose seems pretty dry, formal and humorless compared with Greek, which I'm more familiar with. (Some prose authors I like in Greek: Herodotus, Plato's less abstract dialogues, Plutarch, Lucian, Longus.)

I know of the novels of Apuleius and Petronius, and they're on my reading list, but I get the sense that these are both somewhat peculiar in their style, and I'd rather start with something that isn't too unconventionally written. It doesn't have to be a canonical Major Writer -- I'd rather read an author I've never heard of who's fun to read than a boring Great.

(I know most of the good stuff in Latin is in verse, but I want to keep it to prose for the purposes of this question.)
posted by zeri to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Cicero's Pro Caelio first, and then some of his other speeches such as Pro Roscio Amerino. The Pro Roscio is so gripping in a sort of Perry Mason sense that Steven Saylor based the first of his amazing Roman detective novels on it. A lot of Cicero's trial speeches are largely narrative and the published version are presented very much with an eye towards readers' enjoyment.
posted by BibiRose at 7:22 PM on March 31, 2014

Pliny the Elder's diatribe against doctors at the beginning of book 29 of the Historia Naturalis is short but a lot of fun.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:26 PM on March 31, 2014

It's been a long time, and my Latin was never very good, but I remember enjoying translating the Dream of Scipio.
posted by lharmon at 7:35 PM on March 31, 2014

Caesar's commentaries are a pretty good read -- they were written with maximum drama for a popular audience.
posted by empath at 7:36 PM on March 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apuleius is maybe a little idiosyncratic by the standards of Golden- or Silver-Age Latin prose style, but he otherwise sounds exactly like what you're describing. I can't really think of any Latin writer who's as fun as Herodotus or Lucian are, but Apuleius comes close.
posted by Oxydude at 7:55 PM on March 31, 2014

Oh god, hands down Ovid, The Metamorphoses. Technically verse but very narrative. The Art of Love is fun too. Translating Metamorphoses was definitely the highlight of my collegiate Latin career.

For something a bit different but fun, I also really enjoyed reading Harry Potter in Latin.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:15 PM on March 31, 2014

Also seconding Cicero - the Pro Caelio is very standard Latin II type stuff. The nice thing about Cicero is that it's very straight forward, adheres very strictly to Classical Latin norms with very little weird grammar things, very predictable, 'textbook' sentence structure. A bit dry if you ask me, but good for learning.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:20 PM on March 31, 2014

First few books of Livy, too. Quite poetic and a very important cultural document.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 AM on April 1, 2014

Just one more: philosophical treatises by Cicero and Seneca. Any of Seneca's letters and some of Cicero's. People seem to love or hate philosophical works by Cicero and Seneca but they are quite easy to read and give plenty to talk about. Depending on what you are using this for, you might find them interesting to compare with Greek models.
posted by BibiRose at 9:08 AM on April 1, 2014

Left fielding a bit, but are you totally against the non-classics? Medieval and Renaissance Latin can get pretty whacky pretty quickly, but there are exceptions (I'm thinking Erasmus, Thomas More, guys like that). Harvard's I Tatti Renaissance Library is putting out new stuff on a regular basis, some of it quite entertaining. Teofilo Folengo is more macaronic than classic Latin, but a lot of fun regardless. Cyriac of Ancona did travel writing in the 15th century. There are others.

Then of course there are translations of the moderns, not so much for content as for the amusement that they are done at all.
posted by BWA at 5:19 PM on April 1, 2014

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