A guide to getting into classical literature

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At first glance, classical or ancient literature does not appear to be the simplest of readings. While you certainly wouldn’t choose an ancient Greek play for your casual reading on the beach, the literature of the past doesn’t have to be considered a reading activity reserved for academics. Here are some great first reads for those trying to dive into classic literature:

For those interested in drama….

  1. Medea by Euripides

This tragedy of 431 BC. centers around the actions of the former Princess Medea, including the murder of her ex-husband’s new wife, the murder of her brother, and the hanging of her children on the side of her chariot. It’s considered a piece of ancient feminist literature as Medea finds herself at the top – something of a warning to the men of Greece to watch their backs.

  1. Hamlet by Shakespeare

This tragedy of 1601 perfectly illustrates the effects of human invasion and selfishness. Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his recently deceased father who informs him that he was killed by his own brother. Hamlet must now avenge his father’s death while avoiding his uncle’s plot to have him murdered as well. The story is peppered with a surprising amount of humor that makes the Shakespearean language much easier to understand.

For those interested in the mysterious and the gothic….

  1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This 1938 gothic novel depicts an unnamed woman who marries a wealthy widower, soon discovering that he and his household are haunted by the spirit of his late wife, Rebecca. This novel is simply beautiful and full of symbolism. The narrator’s blonde hair and blue eyes give us the stereotypical innocent look, unlike Rebecca’s tall, dark look. My favorite literary symbol, the Rhododendrons, makes an appearance in this novel. Being depicted as 50 feet tall and towering over everything, these plants represent Rebecca’s towering personality as well as the color red symbolizing power and blood.

2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

This 1909 novel is perhaps one of the best-orchestrated House of Horrors-type stories. It tells the story of a musical genius who haunts the Paris Opera. Hypnotized by the voice of the young singer Christine, the Phantom attracts her and falls deeply in love with her. The novel’s lack of a narrator adds to the gothic vibe, without making it confusing to read.

For those interested in classical feminism….

  1. Emma by Jane Austen

Emma, written in 1815, is a famous novel by Austen centered on the relationships of a group of teenagers new to the world of love. The characters are charming and relatable enough that the novel feels less detached from the way the world and love are today. The main character is adorable and certainly not looking for a husband.

All in all, classic and ancient literature doesn’t have to be as scary as it sounds. Many books are digestible and entertaining enough for all reading levels to enjoy.

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