Some ancient narratives

This is a list of narrative fiction (and some non-fiction, though the lines can get blurry) written in the long period spanning from the beginning of literature to late antiquity.

Before you say “been there, done that”, I need to stress that my ambition was to make it significantly different from various popular “great books” or “canon” lists that are easy to find on the web. I swear it’s not yet another messy jumble of “some old stuff of one kind or another that is supposed to be good for some reason”.

Firstly, this list focuses solely on narrative literature – in other words, on written stories. While both prose and verse forms were admitted, and a broad range of genres is represented, there are no collections of poems, dramas, or abstract philosophical and political treatises. Each work listed here, or at least a significant portion of it, is about interesting things happening to a person or persons over time.

Secondly, the list is decidedly not canonical. While it does include many of the absolute immortal classics of the kind you’ve learned about in school, it also displays many texts that are now largely forgotten or studied only by a narrow group of specialists, such as the Greek proto-novels, folkbook romances, or the late epic Dionysiaca. While biblical literature (both canonical and apocryphal) is certainly far from unknown, it often gets unfairly ignored as a monolith of religious writing that is not supposed to be read for its literary qualities; to amend this, I listed each important biblical narrative work as a separate item.

I did my best to provide links to English translations that are generally well-regarded. Of course, it is important to remember that for some of these works numerous other editions exist, but it would be difficult to present them within the format of this website.

If you’re interested in medieval and early modern fiction as well, my follow-up to this list follows very similar principles.

The list