Classics in Media: What’s Worth Reading and Watching Before Studying Classics at University?  

By Amber

Studying Classics is not just studying the myths you might have been interested in growing up as a child, it is the study of: literature, language, philosophy, politics, culture, societies, art, archaeology and more. However, that is not to say it isn’t fun or beneficial to watch or read some of the most well-known classical media films and books of modern society. Here’s what I would recommend!

  1. Disney’s Hercules

Is the movie entirely historically accurate? No. Is it still fun to watch? Yes. It is a PG version of the myth of Hercules, with the added bonuses of a great soundtrack, laugh-worthy moments and Danny DeVito as Phil, Hercules satyr’s mentor. Definitely worth a watch!. You even get a music-montage of some of Hercules’ 12 labours!


  1. Plebs

Continuing on the light-hearted and humorous side of Classics in media is Plebs. A TV show broadcasted by ITV, it gives an insight into three friends living in ancient Rome. Well, two friends and their lazy (yet hilarious) slave, Grumio. More focused on typical modern day British humour than conveying the history of Rome, it may not provide you with information to include in an essay, but it is again, definitely worth the watch.

  1. Gladiator

The Oscar-winning 2000 film was obviously going to feature on this list. It definitely is not light-hearted like the two previous suggestion- this movie is not for those who shy away from gore. Though not based on a true story or myth, the film includes some characters who are believed to have been real people, such as Marcus Aurelius, the movie tells the story of a successful general, Maximus (Russel Crowe,) who is demoted by Commodus, (Joaquin Phoenix,) and becomes a gladiator.

  1. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (And the rest of the series).

Moving onto books now, as I have no intention of recommending the movie Troy, despite the inclusion of Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, simply due to every Classics teacher I’ve ever had ranting about their hatred for the movie. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson is where my interest in Classics actually began. Following the story of 12-year-old Percy Jackson, demigod, son of Poseidon, the series encounters many myths that are actually relevant to Classics. He meets monsters such as the Minotaur, Scylla, Charybdis, Medusa and Arachne, and travels to mythical locations such as Mount Olympus, the Underworld, the land of the Lotus eaters and the infamous labyrinth built by Daedalus. These books are definitely worth the read before starting a degree in Classics. There is also another Rick Riordan series, including some of the same characters, which focuses on Roman myths rather than Greek myths.

  1. Mythos

I suggest reading Stephen Fry’s Mythos, as well as his other books Troy and Heroes. The most factual of all of these suggestions, Stephen Fry covers myths from the creation of the world and the Titans to King Midas and everything in between. Delivered in a humorous manner, this book provide a basic background knowledge of famous myths, which will come up in multiple modules during your degree. Troy covers the whole story of the Trojan war, with insight into its famous characters such as Achilles, Agamemnon and Odysseus, while Heroes focuses on the great legends from myth, such as Heracles and Theseus.

  1. Pandora’s Jar

I couldn’t not include this in the list of recommendations, as this book, by Natalie Haynes, classicist, author and comedian (she also has some great podcasts,) is wildly funny while simultaneously informative. Covering the stories of Pandora, Helen, Clytemnestra, Medea and more, Natalie Haynes provides an outlet for the famous women of great myths, who are so frequently marginalised. It gives a useful summary, and different interpretations over the years and in the media, of some of Classics’ most famous and important women.

While none of these are necessary accomplishments before embarking on your degree, I hope these suggestions are enjoyable if you do choose to watch/read them.

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