35th Bookworms Carnival: Really Old Classics

Welcome to the 35th Edition of the Bookworms Carnival.

Today we celebrate really old classics. I hope this carnival is fun, whether you already have developed a love for really old classics or are among those who haven’t read them lately (or ever!). Maybe this will give you some ideas for your next classic read.

I organized most of the carnival by subject, with a brief overview to the posts I’ve linked to. Make sure you visit the blogs and leave your thoughts on their reviews there. Carnivals are a great opportunity to help you choose what to read next. They are also a great opportunity to find bloggers with your reading tastes, or maybe those bloggers who read things out of your comfort zone that you’d like to try reading some day.

If you haven’t read any really old classics, maybe this will be a springboard for you to do so.


Let’s begin with an overview of someone’s favorite old classics. Julia at Echoes of Narcissis is a classics major, and she wrote us an “Encyclopedia” of great classics that are relevant and fun today. She says, “They’re all wonderful — not only because they’re the root of many other works which we take for granted in the modern world, but also because they’re just plain interesting.”

Ancient History

Emily at Evening All Afternoon wrote about Sagas of Icelanders. She says she “devoured the entire thing in a voracious style usually reserved for Nancy Drew mysteries.” She liked that although the tales were adventuresome, there was a tone of domesticity.

Gilgamesh Tablet (via Wikipedia)

Nymeth at things mean a lot wrote about The Epic of Gilgamesh. She says, “This is a story of friendship, of loss, or fear, of awareness of mortality, of grief – and what could be more human than that?”

Jessica at The Curious Reader likewise wrote about Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell. She says, “I was swept up into the story.”


Homer (via Wikipedia)

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide shares her review of The Iliad. She says, “‘Wrath!!! Sing, O Goddess, the Anger of Achilles…’ That’s got to be the coolest way I have ever heard of starting a book.”

S Krishna’s Books reviews The Iliad trans. by Robert Fagles, saying, “I have read The Iliad numerous times in three different translations. It has become one of those few ‘favorite books’ – books that I love, that I can’t get enough of.” Her praise of the Fagles translation is, I think, enough to convince us to all to give it a try!

Chain Reading also read the Robert Fagles’ translation of The Iliad. Despite the fact that it’s an epic poem, she found that it was “very straightforward and easy to understand.”

Heather J. at Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books listened to Robert Fitzgerald’s translation via audio for The Iliad. It sounds like a nice way to approach the classic. She says “I very much enjoyed HEARING this epic tale, and I don’t know that I would have enjoyed reading it in the same way.”

Incurable Logophilia shares two posts about specific characters in The Iliad. The first is about Helen of Troy, who is “one of the most compelling literary characters of all time.” The second post is about Achilles, who is “a fascinating character because he’s half god and half human.”

I share a comparison of The Iliad and the Odyssey that explains why I liked The Iliad best. I clarified that “what I loved about The Iliad … was the emotions. Almost until the bloody end (literally), The Odyssey lacked such passion.”

It’s Greek to Me

Sappho (via Wikipedia)

Jason Gignac from 5-Squared reviewed If Not, Winter by Sappho (trans. Anne Carlson). He says that this book of surviving poetry from Sappho is “almost entirely fragments.” He continues: “it’s like listening to the broken soul of a mad person, these bursts of meaninglessness, meaningful only because we wish they were, empty, but pregnant with impossible loss.” Wow. It sounds tragically beautiful!

Lezlie at Books ’N Border Collies reviewed the ancient novel The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius. She says, “Many stories were ribald and silly, but many were familiar myths that were cool to read in the context of this larger piece of work.”

Stefanie at So Many Books shares a favorite, Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus. She is fascinated by how “the subject of the play is also one that is easier to relate to across the millennia.”

Stefanie at So Many Books also shares her view of a long-overdue reread of Oedipus the King by Sophocles. She says, “I enjoyed the play much more than my teachers ever allowed me to in the past.”

Roman Holiday

Jason Gignac at 5-Squared read Virgil’s Eclogues, a collection of poetry that he says that these “country poems” are “a nice introduction to [Virgil]” and that “these little poems gave me a little dose of happy this week.”

Asian and Middle Eastern Traditions

Sei Shonagon (via Wikipedia)

Jenny at Shelf Love wrote about The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. She enjoyed “lingering” over this book, and when it was over, she had to say “I’m sorry to lose Sei Shonagon’s witty, acerbic company.”

Tanabata of In the Spring it is the Dawn also wrote about The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, saying, “if Sei Shonagon were alive today, she’d have a blog, and a fun one to read it would be too.” I really like that concept! Tanabata named her blog from the first lines of The Pillow Book, providing the excerpt here.

Books Love Jessica Marie wrote a review of The Tale of the Genji (excerpts) by Murasaki Shikibu. She recommends it “to anyone who is interested in Japanese history, since it is written by someone who lived during the Heian period.” She does say one plus of her abridged edition is the gorgeous wood cuts throughout it. She has a picture of one of them and I agree: it looks wonderful!

I read two collections of tales of The Arabian Nights, both translated by Husain Haddawy: here and here. I said, “But beyond the magical elements and the crudity, the tales themselves claim a higher place as they emphasize the import of story-telling in general.”

Olde English

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide shares two stories from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: The Pardoner’s Tale and The Franklin’s Tale. Of the first, she says it will be familiar to Harry Potter fans because “this story was the inspiration for the Tale of the Three Brothers by Beadle the Bard.”

The Faerie Queene (via Wikipedia)

Lezlie at Books ’N Border Collies made it through the epic poem of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer. “Make no mistake, reading The Faerie Queene in its entirety is no small undertaking, but it sure feels good when you’re finished!”

Jessica at The Curious Reader read Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Although she didn’t like reading  the Old/Middle English, she still finished it! I certainly think that deserves a mention. She says she glad she read it, but “if there is a good modern version out there, one that doesn’t alter the story in any way, but just makes it easier to read, that may be the way to go.”

I read Thomas More’s Utopia. I say, “If the land of Utopia in More’s novel is truly ‘a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions,’ I don’t want anything to do with perfection.”

Medieval Times

Corinne at The Book Nest reviewed The Prince by Niccolo Machievelli, saying that “Machiavelli’s ideas are fascinating and yet kinda terrifying.” It sounds amazingly relevant.

The Divine Comedy (via Wikipedia)

Margaret at BooksPlease is working her way through Dante’s Divine Comedy. Her introduction to the masterwork makes me want to go start it too! She says, “It’s an epic, allegorical poem – and also an historical chronicle of Dante’s time packed with information on topics such as politics, theology, geography, the arts, and love.” Her post also has some beautiful artwork that was inspired by Dante.

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews shared her review of Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. She says, “I am amazed quite honestly at the genius of his storytelling.”

Now it’s your turn. Here are questions for you.

  • Which favorite really old classics were not represented in this carnival?
  • Which really old classic(s) are you eager to read next?
  • What modern retellings of classics have you loved?

If you answer these questions on a post on your blog (like a meme), I’ll add a link here.

Upcoming Editions

That concludes the Really Old Classics edition of the Bookworms Carnival.

If you didn’t have anything to submit to this carnival, don’t worry, because there are many more exciting carnivals coming up. Each carnival has a different topic, so go through your TBR to find something to read. Or review your past posts for something applicable! Visit the Bookworms Carnival site for more details.

Edition 36 hosted by: Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time!
Deadline for submission: August 28, 2009
Theme: Historical Fiction
To submit a post, email: teddyr66 at yahoo dot com

Edition 37 hosted by: Narineh at The Novel World
Deadline for submission: September 11, 2009
Theme: Banned Books
To submit a post, email: rantsandreads at gmail dot com

Edition 38 hosted by: Natasha at Maw Books
Deadline for submission: September 25, 2009
Theme: TBA
To submit a post, email: natasha at mawbooks dot com

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. You did a fantastic job, Rebecca! I can’t actually think of anything I wanted to see included that is missing, but the classic I want to read next is The Iliad. I read The Odyssey, but not that one. As for retellings, I recently read and absolutely loved Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin, which retells part of The Aeneid.

  2. Oh, I’m SO GLAD someone reviewed If Not, Winter! I didn’t think to submit my review of it for the carnival, but it’s one of my favorite books of poetry of all time. And the review was lovely, too.

    Just really well-done all around, Rebecca. Thanks so much for putting it together. And I’m with you on Utopia – no thanks, Mr. More! I studied it in my senior seminar in college, and delving into More’s biography only makes Utopia seem creepier than it already did. Fascinating, but creepy.

  3. Well done Rebecca! It’s fun reading what so many other people thought of these really old books and it’s nice to know there are still plenty of people reading them!

  4. Hello! I’m writing to let you know that you have been nominated for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week Award for Best Literary Fiction Blog. Please email me ASAP at elischulenburg@gmail.com for more information on your nomination. (FYI – the deadline is Friday, August 21.) Congratulations!

  5. Corinne, S Krishna, Amanda, and Jackie, I’m glad you all like the carnival! Enjoy reading all the posts!

    Nymeth, Lavinia sounds interesting. I have never yet read the Aeneid, so I’m curious about that. Maybe after I finish it (hopefully soon!)

    Emily, I know, carnivals are always a “oh why didn’t I submit that” kind of thing for me too.” And yeah, no more More for me, please. Not right now.

    Stefanie, that’s why I wanted to do this subject: to show that there are lots of folks out there reading these books!

    Elizabeth, wow, thanks! I sent you an email.

  6. So, have you read any that were just real rotters? I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and it was… bizarre, and not particularly edifying, I know.

  7. verbivore and BooksPlease, thanks and enjoy reading the posts!

    Jason, I thought about asking that question, but then I thought to stay positive. 🙂 I haven’t read any that I hated very much. I don’t remember reading Gawain but I was kind of in a daze when I studied some of the old classics at age 19. I may have read it.

  8. This is a GREAT list! There are a few on there that I’d like to read in the future. And I was glad to be reminded of THE PRINCE – it is an amazingly relevant little book, and I enjoyed reading way back when.

  9. You’ve put together a wonderful carnival! It’s really interesting to see all these ‘really old classics’ from around the world. Thanks for including my link. I keep meaning to read The Tale of Genji so hopefully I’ll get to that sometime before too long.

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