Latin and Greek Texts: What Are We Reading in Schools and Universities?


Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20School and university curricula love Homer. This is a fact.You don’t need to be a student of Classics to know who Homer was and what he wrote. Even Hollywood is familiar with his Iliad and Odyssey. What I’m interested in finding out, however, is who else and what else we are reading during our Latin and Ancient Greek lessons, and furthermore, if every country studies the same texts.
To this end, I picked a sample of six countries, each boasting a relatively high number of students taking these subjects at various levels of proficiency. These are the USA, the UK, Germany, Croatia, Italy and Austria. For each I visited their Ministry of Education websites, secondary school examination board websites and many university Classics departmental pages. I emailed and waited. college-303428_640-300x224At last, I was able to compile a list of the top most read authors for each of these countries. Though fully aware that the information I gathered is only part of the puzzle, I also chose to make one list of the top three authors of Latin, and top three of Greek across all countries considered.

Here is what I found: in first and second place for Greek, was, of course, the beloved Homer – his epic poems narrating the events of the Trojan War and the return of Odysseus to Ithaca being favourites among readers; in third place we have the Histories by Herodotus – considered by many the founding work of history. For Latin the first place is awarded to Vergil’s Aeneid recounting the adventures of Aeneas following the war of Troy; second place goes to Catullus’ Poems about his hated and beloved Lesbia; in third place we have Ovid and his Metamorphoses. You may not be surprised by these findings, but you might be surprised to learn that, according to my research, the most studied Greek author in the USA is, in fact, not Homer, but Aristophanes and his comedies Frogs and Clouds. However, just as I thought that the Americans were having all the fun, I discovered that the number one Latin text read in colleges is the far more serious Confessions by Augustine. The UK and Germany, on the other hand, stick to tradition with Homer, Vergil and Ovid. Croatia and Austria enjoy Apollonius’ Argonautica for Greek, which tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts. My most unusual find is the Italian first choice of Greek text. The study reveals that, above all, Demosthenes is the Italian number one with On the Crown and the First Philippic. As regards Latin, Italy’s choice is Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, a chronicle of ancient Rome.

If you wish to take a closer look at these results, download the file below and tell me what you think by leaving a comment!

Click the link to Download the full report: Reading_List_Classics14

Article by Emily Franzini (@ Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities, University of Leipzig)