Books.

Classic Novels To Read (Part 1)

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The classic novels are a treasure trove of English literature. They never grow old and continue to inspire many novels, films, and plays to this day. Any avid reader should read these classic novels. During my first year of masters at college, I read my first classic novel. Classics have always piqued my interest, and they are now one of my re-reads. So I compiled a list of great novels I’ve read; which is in two parts.

The Iliad by Homer

The Iliad is Greek civilization’s first and greatest literary achievement; an epic poem without equal in world literature and a cornerstone of Western culture. The Iliad’s tale revolves around the pivotal events of the Trojan War’s final year; which culminate in Achilles’ murder of Hector and determine Troy’s fate. However, Homer’s topic is more than just combat or valor. He portrays a universal and tragic vision of the universe, of human life lived in the shadow of suffering and death; set against a huge and mainly unpitying heavenly backdrop, with compassion and humanity. The Iliad is the first of the major tragedies of Greek mythology.

It’s an epic retelling of a historical event, but it’s heavily influenced by Greek mythology. The Gods are main characters, and they have a lot of say over what happens. I wouldn’t call it non-fiction. The cast of characters was an intriguing mix of larger-than-life personalities and gods. This, however, was Homer’s style, and it was poetry rather than prose. That is one of the factors that makes judging difficult. I didn’t read it in its original form, which was a poem; but I did read the Penguin Classics Editions translated book version.

The Odyssey by Homer

Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, left his wife Penelope and newborn son Telemachus 20 years ago to fight alongside heroes like Achilles in the Trojan War. The fighting lasts ten years, after which the Greeks return home after conquering Troy. Odysseus is delayed for ten years by cyclopes, sirens, witches, monsters, goddesses, and the dead. Meanwhile, a hundred suitors have been vying for his wife in Ithaca.

From the high fantasy and action to the inner lives of its wonderful characters, I adored everything about The Odyssey. There are times when I catch my breath because something is so beautiful and moving, so hard-won. It’s all about entertainment with high drama. I need to stop being surprised that ancient narratives were as inventive (or more inventive) than the stories we tell today. This ingenuity is also a part of the point. The Odyssey is a story about stories, spilling them everywhere it can, in digressions and flashbacks, doubling and deceptions.

The Aeneid by Virgil

After Homer, Virgil is the most important author; with his seminal work, the Aeneid, a glorious account of the myths that led to the founding of Rome. Now, I read this after reading Homer, which is the proper order; because this book is essentially the Iliad and Odyssey retold, but inverted, and serves a more political purpose- to glorify Rome & its Emperor.
Overall, I was blown away by the work. The glorious and tragic figure of Dido, and the terrifying description of Pagan Hell, are particularly noteworthy. Those scenes were completely engrossing.

Although the Aeneid’s ending is a little more straightforward; and dare I say, a little more “underwhelming” than the Iliad’s, the second half closely resembled the Iliad’s. On that note, I would rank this book second only to Homer’s great works; though it is a little easier to interpret because it was written a thousand years later.

These are the first three classic novels I would recommend. I should also point out that I didn’t read them in their original form; which was a poem, but rather the Penguin Classics Editions translated book versions. Other classic novel recommendations can be found in Part 2 of this series.

2 Comments

  • Twishaa

    These really are the quintessential classic novels! I’m yet to even attempt reading these, though they are on my TBR list. I’ve heard even the translated book versions for these 3 are not easy to grasp, so kudos to you for getting through them 🙂

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