A Love of Lists

Now that we’ve established that I’m a rabid systematizer, I’d like to talk lists. I live by lists. This is partly because my M.E. makes me as forgetful as your grannie who puts her dentures in the linen press, and partly because lists magically transform impossible amorphous dreams into concrete achievable goals.

My impossible amorphous dream is to read all the great works of literature. My concrete achievable goal, though still pretty huge, is a more or less finite list. But which list? I have a thick file folder full of various “great books” lists, but no one of them has exactly what I’m looking for. I’ve been avoiding the fact that I am going to have to make up my own list, but thanks to Jessica’s list I’m inspired to take a shot at it. I think it will be something that evolves as I learn more about the literatures of each period of history, so I will just start off “small”:

General Preparation

  • The Well-Educated Mind, Bauer √
  • How to Read a Book, Adler & Van Doren √
  • The Trivium, Sr. Miriam Joseph (working on it)
  • New History of the World (Roberts) and Encyclopedia of World History (Stearns) for background on each era (nearly done prehistory!)


  • Oxford Classical Dictionary
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • ye olde internette

Mesopotamia (it’s hard not to write that “Mess O’ Potamia”)

  • Myths from Mesopotamia, Dalley
  • Ancient Epic Poetry, Beye (chapter on Gilgamesh)

Hebrew Bible

  • Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible (because if I can’t read the original Hebrew I want an accurate translation; I’ll read the KJV when I get to 1611)
  • Oxford Bible Commentary
  • Any suggestions, Talmida?

Preparation for Ancient Greece

  • Classical Mythology, Morford & Lenardon
  • possibly some sort of intro text on Ancient Greece


  • Iliad & Odyssey, Lattimore
  • Ancient Epic Poetry, Beye (chapters up to Homer)


Greek Lyrics

  • Lattimore (thanks for the tip, Jessica!)

Greek Drama

  • all of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides (from my glorious boxed set ::grin::)
  • Aristophanes: all or part? (I’ve heard the comedies don’t really translate, but the bit of Lysistrata I’ve read translates hilariously well)


  • Herodotus: The Histories (trans. ?)
  • Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War (trans. ?)




The list gets pretty sketchy pretty quickly. I’d like to read a little supplementary material for each author, just enough to know what is going on but not enough to write a dissertation. Right now I’m focussing on the Western canon, i.e., works that have directly influenced my culture. I’ll check out the rest of the world separately, since we/they were culturally separate until recently. I also plan to include the greats of science and mathematics. And music. And art. Yup, I’m nuts. And at the rate I’m going I will probably still be doing this when I hit my golden years. But I can’t resist. There is so much wonderful human creativity to discover!


10 comments on “A Love of Lists

  1. Glorious boxed set?? My jaw dropped so far, my mouth may never close! It's almost as if you said that you have acquired the GBOWC!
    This might be wrong to say, but I'm grateful to be able to choose an author for each book and have the “smaller” book in hand to read. It seems less cumbersome than reading a volume from GBOWC.
    You'll have to let me borrow The Trivium or buy it from you when you're done with it. That is, if you're truly done with it. LOL.
    You had an Annonated Mona Lisa listed on the left, where she'd go?
    It's officially Friday, off to bed with this sleepyhead.

  2. Talmida says:

    Ooooo, fun fun fun! A very impressive list.
    I think if you want to read the Hebrew Bible, getting Richard Friedman's “Commentary on the Torah with a New English Translation” is a great buy.
    1. There's something about reading a book from from back to front.
    2. It is a VERY literal translation with interesting helpful notes.
    3. And the Torah is the Torah. Go to the NRSV for the rest of the Hebrew Bible, but read the Pentateuch as a unit — or at least as 5 units.
    Also, Lysistrata is VERY funny in translation (although I still maintain that it is inappropriate for a catholic high school production!!).

  3. hi. you might want to view some of my lists too. πŸ™‚

  4. Okay, I've added Rene Girard to my “wishlist”- he's got goofy hair but seems to be high esteemed. LOL.
    Plus I added the book Talmida suggested, Commentary on the Torah. I've been looking for a good Hebrew source without having to learn Hebrew. I use the NSRV as my daily Bible so I have that covered as well.
    Is it the actual books that are addicting or the quest of knowledge? Hmm.
    Have a glorious day!

  5. Wil Cone says:

    Cool list. I see epic poetry, religion, myth, drama, (ancient) science/philosophy, (ancient) history, etc. I'm curious – in a theoretical sort of way – are modern/early-modern science, philosophy, and history considered fair game or are they outside your focus? Are there any genres you're excluding per se?
    Also, I rather like your brand-new feed excerpt/intro. Those coming directly to the website will miss out on them.

  6. Sylvia says:

    Jessica: I still haven't quite gotten over the glorious boxed set myself. The thing is, I got it for a ridiculously low price. I mean *really* ridiculous. I, uh, forgot to tell the seller that it normally goes for about $300. Oops!
    Sure, I'd be happy to lend you The Trivium… if you leave me one of your children as collateral! πŸ˜‰ Of course then I'd have to homeschool him/her and that would cut into my reading schedule! Seriously, it might be fun to do an exchange (if I ever finish it).
    I think both books and knowledge are addictive!
    (I'm not sure about the Mona Lisa… maybe it was another blog?)

  7. Sylvia says:

    Talmida: Thanks! They do Lysistrata in High School?!? Are they *trying* to make them more obsessed with sex or what?
    Maryanne: That's some crazy moleskine you're got!

  8. Sylvia says:

    Wil: Oh, I'm definitely going to work my way up to the present. The only things I'm definitely planning to exclude (from the established lists) are works that are of American interest only (though it might be interesting to look at your Constitution). Otherwise I'm interested in any works that have had a major influence on Western (especially Anglo) culture, whatever the medium.
    Thanks, I'm glad you like the new feed. It's an extra step but kind of fun to come up with a little summary.

  9. Stefanie says:

    Nice list Sylvia. Are you going to learn ancient Greek so you can read them in the original? πŸ˜‰

  10. Sylvia says:

    Well… Actually I'd rather learn Koine Greek so I can read the New Testament.

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