Studying Ancient Civilizations
January 30, 2004 8:12 AM   Subscribe

What are some really good books and resources to begin studying Ancient Civilizations? [more inside]

I'm wanting to learn about ancient civilizations (specifically egpyt) and I'm curious what are some really good books on the subject. I'm not looking at those type of books that the sell in the bargin bin at Borders but rather good scholarly works on the subject.
posted by Stynxno to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Herotodus, The History. (I keep hoping that someone will publish a version of Herodotus with the same production values as the Landmark Thucydides, but no such luck yet.)
posted by mookieproof at 8:46 AM on January 30, 2004

(um, the second spelling)
posted by mookieproof at 8:47 AM on January 30, 2004

Try the The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides [431 B.C.E] the first recorded history still remaining. This chronicles the war between Athens and Sparta - a great foundation on the different cultures of warring, but also this history lays the ground work for why and how the Western Cultures began.

Then try The Aeneid by Virgil - Aeneas, a Trojan, and a small band of followers must set out to find a new homeland after the fall of Troy. Try the Fitzgerald translation - not as literal, but a good read.

After you get done with that, The Republic [Plato], and then you could goto A History of Britain : At the Edge of the World, 3500 B.C.-1603 A.D, and then you could read about Arab scholarship pertaining to Geometry [no book title - it was stolen].

If you want a good overview of history [and its effect on cities] my favorite is Flesh and Stone by Richard Sennett. Starting with Ancient Greece, through Rome, Venice, France, and the US, it really is a comprehensive look at politics, religion and commerce throughout history. If you want a whole bibliography of what I have read, you can email me.
posted by plemeljr at 8:56 AM on January 30, 2004

it's a bit old and arbitrary, but nehru's glimpses of world history is kind of fun.
posted by andrew cooke at 12:14 PM on January 30, 2004

Are you looking for histories? Or anything that will help you get a broad education about thinking and living in ancient times.

The Aeneid is a myth about the foundations of the Roman empire. It's different than the Illead and the Odyssey in that we know who wrote it --Virgil--and annotated versions can give you interesting insight into the political and social reasons behind much of the action. It's set at the same time as the Odyssey, but was written several hundred or possibly thousand years later to create a fictional tie between the Roman empire and Greek Myth. It might give you insight into how people lived, but it won't teach you anything about history.

Ditto for The Republic, a much older book. The Republic is Plato's retelling of his conversations with Socrates about a utopic world. It's visionary, but not historical.

If you're looking for a historical survey, I strongly recommend the 12 volume "The Story of Civilization," by Will and Ariel Durant. The books were written in the 1930s and 1940s, and are a bit dated. But they are incredible scholarship, broad looks at the past, and can often be found for a few dollars per volume at used book stores. I believe "Our Oriental Heritage," vol. 1, may have stuff about Egypt, although I actually don't have that particular book.

Happy learning.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:34 PM on January 30, 2004

Um, people, I like Herodotus, Thucydides, and Vergil as much as the next guy, but Stynxno asked for "good scholarly works on the subject," not the St. John's reading list. (And Will and Ariel Durant are more than "a bit dated"; even in their day, they were not exactly cutting-edge scholarship.)

My first introduction to the subject was Roots Of The Western Tradition: A Short History of The Ancient World by C. Warren Hollister, but I'm appalled to see it's now $39.40—for the paperback! Anyway, I'd suggest browsing sites like the Ancient World Web and the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook and checking out course lists for history courses at good colleges. It's a big project, but should be lots of fun. The study of ancient history has become infinitely more sophisticated in recent years as it's gradually begun assimilating techniques and approaches that have been taken for granted in other fields of history for decades (for example, correlating contemporary writers like Herodotus and Thucydides with archeological findings and treating them as prejudiced, fallible sources like any other writers rather than omniscient Great Men). It's an exciting time to get involved in the ancient world.
posted by languagehat at 6:43 PM on January 30, 2004

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