Recommended Translations and Editions of Great Books

Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm (1850)

The translations and editions you read can make a significant difference to your understanding and appreciation. So, here are my recommendations. When possible, I try to obtain hardcover and annotated editions of the great books. If you’ve got an alternative translation, make a case for it in the comments.

  • HOMER, Iliad. Translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin) or Robert Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • HOMER, Odyssey. Translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin) or Robert Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • AESCHYLUS, Oresteia. Translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin).
  • SOPHOCLES, Theban Plays. Translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin).
  • EURIPIDES, The Bacchae. Translated by C. K. Williams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) or Stephen Esposito (Focus Classical Library).
  • THUCYDIDES, Peloponnesian War. Edited by Robert B. Strassler (Free Press).
  • HERODOTUS, Histories. Edited by Robert B. Strassler (Free Press).
  • PLATO, Complete Works. Edited by John M. Cooper (Hackett). The Republic. Translated by Allan Bloom (Basic Books).
  • ARISTOTLE, Complete Works. Edited by Jonathan Barnes (Princeton). Nicomachean Ethics, translated by Robert C. Bartlett & Susan D. Collins (Chicago).
  • BIBLE. English Standard Version and (New) King James Version.
  • LUCRETIUS, On the Nature of Things. Translated by Anthony Esolen (Johns Hopkins) or David Slavitt (University of California).
  • VIRGIL, Aeneid. Translated by Sarah Ruden (Yale), Robert Fagles (Penguin) or Robert Fitzgerald (Vintage).
  • OVID, Metamorphoses. Translated by Charles Martin (Norton).
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Translated by Simon Armitage (Norton).
  • Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney (Norton).
  • AUGUSTINE, Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick (Oxford) or Garry Wills (Penguin).
  • AQUINAS, Summa Theologica. Concise translation by Timothy McDermott (Christian Classics). A Summa of the Summa, edited by Peter Kreeft (Ignatius).
  • DANTE, The Divine Comedy. Translated by Robert Hollander & Jean Hollander (Doubleday).
  • GEOFFREY CHAUCER, The Canterbury Tales. Translated by Burton Raffel (Modern Library) or Nevill Coghill (Penguin).
  • MACHIAVELLI, The Prince. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield (University of Chicago).
  • LUTHER, Basic Theological Writings. Edited by Timothy F. Lull (Fortress).
  • CALVIN, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill (Westminster John Knox Press). Abridged edited by Donald K. McKim (Westminster John Knox Press).
  • MONTAIGNE, Essays. Translated by Donald Frame (Stanford University).
  • SHAKESPEARE, Complete Works. Edited by Ann Thompson, David Scott Kastan, & Richard Proudfoot (Arden).
  • CERVANTES, Don Quixote. Translated by Edith Grossman (Harper Perennial).
  • MILTON, Paradise Lost. Introduced by Philip Pullman (Oxford).
  • PASCAL, Pensées. Translated by A. J. Krailsheimer (Penguin).
  • GOETHE, Faust. Translated by Stuart Atkins (Princeton) or David Constantine (Penguin).
  • DARWIN, Origin of Species. Annotated edition by James T. Costa (Harvard).
  • AUSTIN, novels. Illustrated edition (6 volumes) edited by R. W. Chapman (Oxford). The Jane Austen Collection (Penguin hardcover classics). Pride and Prejudice, annotated edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks (Harvard). Persuasion, annotated edition by Robert Morrison (Harvard). Emma, annotated edition by Bharat Tandon (Harvard). Sense & Sensibility, annotated edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks (Harvard).
  • DICKENS, novels. Major works – Great Expectations, Hard Times, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin hardcover classics).
  • HAMILTON, JAY AND MADISON, The Federalist. Edited by Ian Shapiro (Yale) or Terence Ball (Cambridge).
  • U.S. CONSTITUTION & DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Edited by Jack N. Rakove (Harvard)
  • TWAIN, Huckleberry Finn. Annotated edition by Michael Patrick Hearn (Norton).
  • TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield (University of Chicago).
  • KIERKEGAARD, Complete Works. Edited and translated by Howard V. Hong & Edna H. Hong (Princeton).
  • DOSTOEVSKY, The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Everyman’s Library). Crime and Punishment, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Everyman’s Library).
  • TOLSTOY, War and Peace. Translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage). Anna Karenina, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin).
  • FLAUBERT, Madame Bovary. Translated by Lydia Davis (Viking).

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4 thoughts on “Recommended Translations and Editions of Great Books

  1. My Anglo-Saxonist friends would probably recommend supplementing Heaney’s translation of _Beowulf_ with the E. Talbot Donaldson edition for a more word-to-word translation.

    I would also make the case that an educated reader who really wants to could tackle _The Canterbury Tales_ in the original without too much hassle.

    • Hi Matthew. I’m not familiar with E. Talbot Donaldson’s translation of Beowulf. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. You may have noted that I prefer looser, less wooden translations, such as Robert Fagles’ work on the Homeric epics over Richmond Lattimore.

  2. I’ve passed by this blog in the past, but I just stumbled here again after a google search for the best translation of Metamorphoses. I am interested in your opinion on the Dorothy Sayers (penguin) translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve purchased copies of the Sayers translation for three reasons: the intact rhyme scheme, the commentary/analysis/worldview, her friendship with Charles Williams. I enjoy the writings of Charles Williams and I’m currently reading his essay on Dante, “The Figure of Beatrice.”Does the Hollander merit a purchase to accompany my read? My local book store carries the first book.

  3. DoublEscapement: Thanks for dropping by. I’ve heard good things about Dorothy Sayers’ translation of the Divine Comedy, but never read it. Here is the publisher’s description about the Hollander translation: “Robert Hollander, a renowned scholar and master teacher of Dante, and Jean Hollander, an accomplished poet, have written a beautifully accurate and clear verse translation of . . . the Divine Comedy. Featuring the original Italian text opposite the translation, this edition also offers an extensive and accessible introduction and generous commentaries that draw on centuries of scholarship as well as Robert Hollander’s own decades of teaching and research. The Hollander translation is the new standard in English of this essential work of world literature.”

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