The top 5, in order:
1. Partying with the Greeks by Thomas Cahill (from Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter)
I think any twenty-first century American could be forgiven for reading Cahill’s version of the Greeks and their symposia with a certain amount of identification. On a more personal level, the reflections of Archilochus accord with many of the transient, recurring thoughts and melancholic moods I’ve had while leaving parties in the early hours of the morning.
2. The Odyssey Home by Homer (from The Odyssey)
During a year in which I read heavily about war and its million unseen impacts, especially those which are felt at home, Homer’s Odyssey provided, among other things, insight into some eternal truths about military conflict. While the opening stave is by no means the strongest section of the text, it is probably the best summary of the Odyssey’s basic plot line and themes. It’s also a stark, dramatic introduction to Odysseus, one of the great heroes in fiction.
3. The Discourses of Epictetus by Arrian (from The Handbook of Epictetus)
A stirring argument for two distinctly Aristotelian insights: practice moderation in all things and make the most of your days. These exhortations are especially noteworthy when one considers the guy speaking them was born a slave.
4. Do Not Act as If You Were Going to Live Ten Thousand Years by Marcus Aurelius (from The Meditations)
This is nothing you haven’t read before, though it’s still essential, because in addition to bering one of the first to say it, Marcus Aurelius was also one of the best. It’s especially worth noting his nod to Heraclitus in the image of time as a river that is forever flowing.
5. Friends with Socrates by Xenophon (from Memorabilia)
It’s amusing to read an epistemic breakdown of something as delicate and natural as friendship. Still, Socrates’s voice here is at its most eccentric and convincing, as he explains how exactly relationships with others can come to result in non-zero sum paradigms.