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Favorite Living History Books on Ancient Greece

Too often Ancient Greece is just tossed into a quick overview of Ancient Times, but there are so many interesting and valuable stories from that time period—and so many great books—that can help us get a clearer picture of what life was like during Old Testament times.

That’s why I like to take a full year to combine a study of Joshua through Malachi with Ancient Greece. If you would like to linger in that time period with some wonderful books, take a look at our lesson plan guide called Joshua through Malachi and Ancient Greece. It will give you the book list that I’m going to share today, along with a weekly schedule and daily reading plans.

The Story of the Greeks by H. A. Guerber

This is the main spine book that I like to use for this time period, but I always recommend the Nothing New Press edition. Christine Miller’s careful editing does a fabulous job of distinguishing between ancient history, legend, and myth, and approaches that ancient time period from a biblical worldview. The short chapters make this book a great family read-aloud that forms the spine of your study.

Then branching off of that spine, you can add grade-level books that supplement and expand on the time period.

Our Little Athenian Cousin of Long Ago and Our Little Spartan Cousin of Long Ago by Julia Darrow Cowles (grades 1-6)

These two historical fiction books that I love for grades 1–6 are both written by the same author. These stories bring those ancient cultures alive and do a great job of portraying the differences between living in Athens and living in Sparta in Ancient Greece.

Archimedes and the Door of Science and Herodotus and the Road to History by Jeanne Bendick (grades 4-6)

This is another great author that I like to recommend for grades 4–6. Her books are not historical fiction but interesting and living biographies. Her biographies help you get to know the historical figure as a person, not just as a name to associate with a fact. You remember the facts, but they are presented in a much more living way.

The Parthenon by Elizabeth Mann (grades 7-9)

If you have read some of my other Favorite Books posts, you may recall other titles by this author that I have recommended for the whole family. But for some reason, this particular book seems heavier, longer, and more fitted for older students. It’s a great introduction to a beautiful building and the culture of Athens at its height, including its democracy, its religion, and its wars.

A Young Macedonian in the Army of Alexander the Great by Alfred Church (grades 7-9)

This historical fiction does a fabulous job of making that time period come alive. It depicts life and battle tactics in the time of Ancient Greece, as well as how the various countries and their citizens interacted with each other. You can find the book free online. One note: Chapter 23 contains a scene in which the two chief characters of the story visit a Babylonian magician. The fortune-telling scene is brief and is accompanied by the characters’ doubts as to its authenticity. I think this chapter is a valuable look at what was a stronghold in that culture, and it’s approached with healthy skepticism and balance; just thought you might like to know about it ahead of time.

Plutarch’s Greek Lives: the biography of Alexander (grades 10-12)

Plutarch’s biographies were a favorite with Charlotte Mason, and your student will gain a deeper understanding of Alexander the Great’s character by reading what Plutarch wrote about his life. This is a classic for older students.

The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato (grades 10-12)

In these four dialogues, Plato sets forth conversations about Socrates’ philosophies and ideas. They’re not easy reading, by any means, but your student will be challenged to think about the concepts of piety and religion, about Socrates’ teachings, about his respect for the law in refusing to flee from his death sentence, and about his views on death and the immortality of the soul.

A Victor of Salamis by William Stearns Davis (grades 10-12)

This is an older historical fiction that you can find free online. It is written in the older style, which is one reason I recommend it for grades 10–12. Due to a case of mistaken identity, the main character is forced to flee from Athens and ends up in the Persian court. Over time he becomes a favorite of King Xerxes and grows to feel quite comfortable in his new home. But when the Persians go to battle against the Greeks, he must choose which side he is on. 

The epic poems by Homer

Now, some of you are probably wondering, “What about The Iliad and The Odyssey?”—those epic Greek poems by Homer that are considered classics for this time period. Well, I like to recommend the original version of The Odyssey (translated into English, of course) for high school students, grades 10–12. They could also read The Iliad as a bonus title, but that one seems a bit more bloody and battlefield-focused. It’s up to you if you want to do both; you know your student best.

There are other alternatives that I like to recommend for the younger grades. Rosemary Sutcliff has written two retellings that are quite good. Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus would be good options for grades 7–9. I recommend both and include them in the reading schedules in the Joshua through Malachi and Ancient Greece plans.

Then, if you want to introduce “the adventures of Odysseus and the Tale of Troy” to even younger students as a bonus, you might take a look at The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum. It would be appropriate for students as young as nine or ten.

You can find several other bonus titles listed on our website. We are posting bonus titles there and will be adding to the lists as we discover and review other books that we think will help you give your children an enjoyable and living study of history.

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