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Emily Wilson's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Emily Wilson recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Emily Wilson's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Penelopiad

Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus...

Recommended by Emily Wilson, and 1 others.

Emily WilsonI really love the Penelopiad. It’s wonderful at bringing out some of what I already hinted was important in my work of a translator: teasing out the multiple perspectives, multiple voices, in this poem. I also love how it juxtaposes different styles and different voices. It has both ballad-like verse and prose intermixed, which is not what the Odyssey does, but I think it speaks to something... (Source)

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Paradise Lost

In Paradise, God’s favored new creations—Adam and Eve—live in bliss, untainted by sin. In another realm, Satan and his banished rebel angels collude to destroy God’s tranquil new design. Into this idyll called Earth, and the confidence of Adam and Eve, Satan will instigate the fall of man.

At the heart of this complex, audacious epic poem is a drama driven by the most recognizable human flaws. More than a story from Genesis, it is the extraordinary expression of Milton’s search for personal truth and the meaning of existence, written to “justify the ways of God to men.”
Recommended by Stephen Greenblatt, Emily Wilson, and 2 others.

Stephen GreenblattMilton’s astonishing intervention in the Adam and Eve story includes thinking how it was possible—not for ignorant children, but knowing, thoughtful, complex human beings in a relationship with one another—to do what they did. (Source)

Emily WilsonParadise Lost is a homecoming story of marital breakup and martial reunion, just as the Odyssey is. They’re also both epics about redefining a community in the wake of a devastating war, and about whether there will ever be an end to war. (Source)

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Collected Ancient Greek Novels

Prose fiction, although not always associated with classical antiquity, did in fact flourish in the early Roman Empire, not only in realistic Latin novels but also and indeed principally in the Greek ideal romance of love and adventure to which they are related. Popular in the Renaissance, these stories have been less familiar in later centuries. Translations of the Greek stories were not readily available in English before B.P. Reardon’s excellent volume.

Nine complete stories are included here as well as ten others, encompassing the whole range of classical themes: ideal...
Recommended by Emily Wilson, and 1 others.

Emily WilsonThis is a really fun text. It’s in two books, and the narrator, who’s completely unreliable, ends by promising to give us lots more of the story, which he doesn’t. It’s a true story in the sense that it’s a complete lie. The narrator starts off by suggesting he’ll be just like other historians, or just like Odysseus in the Odyssey … I included it on the list not just because the whole thing is a... (Source)

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The Greek Plays

Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides

A landmark anthology of the masterpieces of Greek drama, featuring all-new, highly accessible translations of some of the world's most beloved plays, including Agamemnon, Prometheus Bound, Bacchae, Electra, Medea, Antigone, and Oedipus the King

The great plays of Ancient Greece are among the most enduring and important legacies of the Western world. Not only is the influence of Greek drama palpable in everything from Shakespeare to modern television, the insights contained in Greek tragedy have shaped our perceptions of the nature of human life. Poets,...
Recommended by Emily Wilson, and 1 others.

Emily WilsonHelen by Euripides is in many ways the most Odysseyean of the tragedies we have, not least because it features Helen as the central character. It’s a complete re-write, which turns Helen into a new version of the Homeric Penelope: she’s the miserable chaste wife, whose beauty brings her harassment from annoyingly, scarily persistent local guy(s), and whose marriage is defined by grief. (Source)

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The Aeneid

The Aeneid is an epic poem written by Virgil in the 1st century BC. It's hero is Aeneas, a Trojan who travels from Troy to Italy to eventually found Rome. Some argue that The Aeneid is Virgil's answer to Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, combining two genres of the day - travel and war - into one poem. Take that, Homer!

No civilization is without a bit of revisionist history: so it was that Virgil picked up the story of Aeneas, which was already floating around at the time, and forged an epic founding myth for Rome. And The Aeneid fit the bill, as it...

Mark ZuckerbergOh, it’s not a favorite book or anything like that, I just added it because I liked it. I don’t think there’s any real significance to the fact that it’s listed there and other books aren’t. But there are definitely books—like the Aeneid—that I enjoyed reading a lot more. (Source)

Ryan HolidayI made an effort to read some classical poets and playwrights this year. The Aneiad was far and away the most quotable, readable and memorable of all of them. There’s no other way to put: the story is AMAZING. Better than the Odyssey, better than Juvenal’s Satires. Inspiring, beautiful, exciting, and eminently readable, I loved this. I took more notes on it that I have on anything I’ve read in a... (Source)

Ted TurnerWhen I got to college, I was a classics major, and that was mainly the study of Greek - and to a lesser extent Roman - history and culture, and that fascinated me: the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid by Virgil. (Source)

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