project: Divine Hero

 Constructing this list was fun because I had done this book before developing my theory of 50 books. Did I read that many? Actually, I think I read more than that number, but many were not historically accurate or even sensible on the whole, though giving some good tidbits. I still had to read them to find that out.

If you want to go here, one big warning: there was no such thing as "ancient Greece." Any book that talks about what "the ancient Greeks" did is willfully either ignorant or distortive. Every city-state had its own laws, customs, and attitudes. To begin with, there's the big divide between Ionians and Dorians: Ionians largely treat females as intelligent domestic livestock, while in Dorian areas they can own property, don't get married until well after puberty, &c.

Take the subject of pederasty and homosexuality. It is often claimed "the ancient Greeks" had homosexuality as a norm, and the authorities don't mention it's usually older man and boy, not two equals close in age. But -- the Spartans despised both forms (Xenophon and Aristotle both say this). The better class of Theban man would often live with a boy as with a wife, and the boy's parents were pleased and flattered by the connection while it lasted. The Athenian philosophers considered it fashionable, but the average Athenian voted in favour of laws to help protect their sons from being seduced by men but viewed non-pederastic homosexuality with a shrug. This is possibly because most Greeks used infanticide to limit families to two sons and one daughter, creating a population skew, while in Sparta the law required all healthy Spartiate babies born to be raised.


Pausanias, Guide to Greece; c.150 CE, 1971; Penguin Classics, NY; trans. Peter Levi. Guide to Greece, Vol. 2: Southern Greece, because that's Lakedaemonia and Olympia.

This all but gave me street maps to the cities (and I could build some sections from the descriptions). History and legend overlap a lot, as do legend and myth, but that reminded me my characters would think more like this. Levi's footnotes were another whole layer of information. Of course, I still had to mentally remove four centuries of Hellenistic and Imperial buildings, but that was only bad at Olympia. This was the original travel guide for tourists, and describes the artwork in temples just as a modern one would describe Florentine cathedrals.

A lesser but free translation is Pausanias. Pausanias' Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.

 1). A general history of the time, not over 200 pages.
Everything in my Encyclopedia Americana on the subject. As my main character is historical, and won the four-horse chariot in this Olympian Games in 396 BCE, I didn't get a choice of when. This did tell me what was happening and pointed me to basic sources like Thucydides and Xenophon. Nowadays, crawl Wikipedia.

2.) An "everyday life" book of the period.
Rhys Carpenter, Edith Hamilton, William C. Hayes, E. A. Speiser, Richard Stillwell; Everyday Life in Ancient Times: Highlights of the Beginnings of Western Civilization in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome; National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. Hamilton's article is rabidly Athenophilic, and Graecophilic, making her look ignorant of anything outside Attika. For example, she claims the Classical Greeks were the first ancient culture to value athletic games, though the preceding Egyptian section of this book shows an ancient painting of Egyptian wrestling holds, and boxing is a sport we know from Minoan wall paintings. She got me off entirely on the wrong foot on picturing Spartan society. See, I know you're going to get misinformed along the road.

3.) General transportation
One good book on this across the ages will do for many projects, like Transport through the Ages. Nowadays I might use Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World, 1974, 1994 Johns Hopkins U Press, Baltimore, MD, though he's very ignorant on horses.

4.) General costume
Boucher, François 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Harry N. Abrams, NY. Now I would add the Costumers Manifesto for free online reference. Also,

5.) Specific transportation
Because chariots were central, J. Spruytte, Early Harness Systems: Experimental Studies, 1977, 1983; J. A. Allen, London. This thoroughly exploded the "ancient traction system" so many authors claim, even well after Spruytte came out (because most of them, like Casson, can't be bothered to read Spruytte). There really is no substitute. See authentically reconstructed chariots drawn by horses the right size!

6.) Etiquette, and I don't mean morals for maidens.
I wish! I had to put it together from bits and pieces of Herodotus (e.g., unlike other Greeks, Lakedaemonians stand for their elders) and Xenophon.

7.) Spectator entertainments, whether theatre or sports, a general overview.
A compilation, Wendy J. Raschke, ed, The Archaeology of the Olympics: The Olympics and Other Festivals in Antiquity (Wisconsin Studies in Classics), 1988, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, because I was going there, and I needed to reconstruct the period Olympia, when the one reconstructed there now is the Late Roman Olympia, centuries later. They don't even know how many days the Olympics took, from one to three. Authors have to make a decision on this sort of thing and work it.

8.) Self-entertainments, like card games, lawn games, and children's games.
Hamilton was good for this, because she was rather basing on art.

9.) Food and dining, including what sort of public dining was available.
Visser, Margaret, The Rituals of Dinner; 1991, Grove Press, Inc., New York, gave me some bits, as this is organized by topic, not culture. She confirmed my guess that while Ionians reclined like Persians, Spartans ate sitting up like the Akhaeans of Homer. Of course I used the usual William Harlan Hale, and the editors of Horizon Magazine: The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking Through the Ages; 1968, American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc.

10.) Recipes for period food.
Reconstructing from bits and pieces. I was able to guesstimate some dishes from descriptions and other ancient cuisines, only making it plainer. That was some good food, especially the lamb stew (I based it on stifado) and barley cakes, besides a satura-style cake using chopped dates instead of raisins for dessert. Now there is an ancient Greek cookbook out: Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece (J. Paul Getty Museum) by Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti. But I'll bet "ancient Greece" is ancient Athens and Thebes.

11.) Marriage and family.
Xenophon, Aristotle, and Herodotus, with a bit of Hippocrates. For Lakedaemonia, Pomeroy was too gullible. Diotima at the University of Kentucky saved me on this.

12.) Specific dress styles, for your decade.
Hope, Thomas; Costumes of the Greeks & Romans; 1812; 300 pg, 700 illus. Volume 1. Volume 2. Line drawings from period art of the rich and the poor, military and civilian, and quite a bit of household goods. One can also get Maria Millington Evans, Chapters on Greek Dress (1893; Macmillan & co., London & NY). Because let's face it, they were working off a lot of ceramic art, same as us. It's not as if we found any troves of ancient dresses or any art that proves this wrong.

13.) Religion for the time and place.
Ancient Greek religion, as opposed to ancient Greek myth, is not well known. In The Greek Myths (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), Graves gives as many versions of a story as he can find, not just the one from a Greek playwright, who may be highly revisionist at a late date. However, the original guide book writer, Pausanias, (Guide to Greece, Vol. 2: Southern Greece; 150 CE, 1971; Penguin Classics, NY; trans. Peter Levi), talks about touring the temples from the viewpoint of a very religious man.

14.) A fat history book of the area and century as an introduction.
Will and Ariel Durant's The Story of Civilization second volume. There is little of the politics: it is focused almost entirely on the Greek philosophers. That means it had almost nothing to say about Lakedaemonia. The Life of Greece (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 2), Simon and Schuster, now from MJF Books, rev. 1948; 898 pg.

15.) A history of the most influential country at the time (country A).

16.) A history of its rival (country B).

In the Hellenic area, that would be Sparta vs. Athens. So I read Herodotus (The History, volume 1, volume 2) and Thucydides (The History of the Peloponnesian War). The latter's introduction was wonderful. Without him we would not know that Athenian men used to wear gold dragonflies in their hair before they took up Spartan fashions, like athletics in the buff, which they didn't until very little before this period. You can also use Smith, William, Sir, 1813 1893, A Smaller History of Greece; from the Earliest Times to the Roman Conquest. Way old, but it will get you nicely grounded, for free.

17.) A biography of the leader of country A

18.) A biography of the leader of country B

Plutarch's biography of Agesilaos is in some places irrational, and he seems to have glued on to Agesilaos stories suitable for his older brother, not him. After 400 years, with poor record-keeping, it can get like that. I prefer the memoire by Agesilaos's contemporary and friend, Xenophon. I also read his Cyropedia, to get a little handle on Persians.

Because I'm in Country A, I can make some substitutes for the next three.

19.) A history of the country you are setting in, general.
For this book, I lived off Pausanias, Guide to Greece, Vol. 2: Southern Greece; 150 CE, 1971; Penguin Classics, NY; trans. Peter Levi. For one, the translator's notes were invaluable background. I had to go through it with a fine-tooth comb, but what turned up on Olympia, Sparta, and Messenia were crucial to my understanding of what was happening. There's a lot of information here that contradicts the Classicists.

20.) A history of the country you are setting in, that era.
Renate Rolle, The World of the Scythians, 1989, University of California Press, Berkeley, for the visuals on my barbarian, because what she is largely giving is Sarmatian.

21.) A biography of the leader of the country of your setting.
Instead, let's insert period horsmanship and horse care from Xenophon, On Horsemanship.

22.) An everyday life for the commoner/lower classes of your time and place.
The Lakedaemonian Republic
, also known as The Constitution of the Spartans, by Xenophon.

23.) An everyday life for the upper classes of your time and place.
Xenophon, Lak.Rep..

24.) An everyday life for the middle class of your time and place.
Xenophon, Lak.Rep..

25.) An everyday life for women of your time and place
I read Pomeroy, but she presents as factual what were obvious tall tales of the Roman period. The Spartans became the equivalent of Texans as magnets for stories of bizarre behavior of the society. They were also the only women believable in jokes of wit and independence. Pomeroy comes across anti-feminist in her subtext, as when she refers to Spartan mothers as "brassy" for upholding the heroic ideals. Oh, yeah, Athenophilic to an extreme degree, so she works to build a very unpleasant -- but obviously unreal -- Sparta. There was also N. Demand's Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical Greece (Ancient Society and History). Once again, Greece is really just Athens, but its coverage of the centers of female life are invaluable. The best was primary sources are collected by Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant in Women's Life in Greece and Rome: A Source Book in Translation, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1992. All the exerpts they could find in ancient literature to do with women: marriage contracts, economic documents, mentions in trial oratory, histories and legends, translated from the Greek and Latin.

26.) An auto/biography of someone like your protagonist, or a book as much as possible focused on people like that.
Jessica Amanda Salmonson, The Encyclopedia of Amazons, 1991 Paragon House, NY. This is actually the first book I read for this novel. The article on Kyniska (Latin spelling, Cynisca) took over my brain, and contains half or better of everything known about her.

27.) A book on houses and furnishings of the period, if possible.
A basically simple time, but you don't know that until you research it. The NGS Everyday Life, with the R'sD Everyday Life covered it enough, with what is in Hope, as well. I could have used Illustrated History of Furniture from the Earliest to the Present Time by Frederick Litchfield (1903; London: Truslove & Hanson Limited; New York:; illustrated by John Lane 1892-1903).

28.) A book about courting, romance, and sex of the time.
Poetry of Alkman, marriage laws recorded in Aristotle and Xenophon. L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Spartans (Ancient Peoples & Places), Thames and Hudson, 1980. Primarily on the arts, the last section on the poets is good. The website I lived on was Diotima: Women & Gender in the Ancient World.

29.) A book for naming historical characters properly.
Holly Ingraham, People's Names: A Cross-Cultural Reference Guide to the Proper Use of Over 40000personal and Familial Names in Over 100 Cultures , 1997, McFarland, Hellenic chapter. I used Iranian names for the off-stage barbarians, and got my hero's name from two names in the chapters that sounded an awful lot alike -- which gave an important plot point.

30.) Medicine of the time and place.
Guido Majno, MD, The Healing Hand: Man and Wound in the Ancient World , 1975, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. Spot on for woulnd treatment, though I wound up having to edit out that chapter to trim length. Some of the best research winds up on the cutting room floor.

31.) Climate, weather, and seasons.
The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization
by Brian Fagan (Basic Books, 2004) is something I wished I had. However, I made the wild assumption that it must have been more or less comfortable to run around in Greek clothes, or they would have worn something different. So, since I didn't have any modern people comparing the temperature of our summers to theirs, and I was working spring to late summer or early fall, I just had the native view that summer is hot and the other seasons were more or less cool. Casson gave me my information on sailing seasons.


Peter Levi, The Greek World; The Cultural Atlas of the World, 1986, 1990, Stonehenge Press, Alexandria, VA. Also maps in Routledge and Raschke.


32.) Medicine: I also read Hippokrates in translation and saw just how wrong-headed medicine mostly was, even if they had gotten away from incantations and crocodile dung and knew how to set a bone or reduce a dislocation. OB/GYN was insane: pregnancy term was figured at 10 months, and the writers known as Hippokrates never saw a virgin hit puberty, so their idea of what would happen then is bizarre, but enforces the cultural imperative that you must marry off your daughter before that -- in this case, to save her life and sanity. This was important to show me that what are touted as the "rational and scientific Greeks" were only so by comparison with savages. This informed my treatment of characters, who needed high levels of superstition and religious dread to be realistic, besides being very certain of their "rational" misinformation.

33.) Barbarians: Tadeusz Sulimirski, Sarmatians (Ancient Peoples and Places), 1970, Praeger, NY.

34.) Warfare: We're talking Spartiates here, at a time that they invaded the Persian Empire, so this is very necessary, though all of it is off-stage. Hans Delbrück, trans. Walter J. Renfroe, Jr., Warfare in Antiquity: History of the Art of War, Volume I, 1900, trans. 1975, U of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

35.) Warfare: John Warry; Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors & Warfare in the Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome, 1980, Salamander Books, London.

36.) More Maps: Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History: Revised Edition, 1967, Penguin Books, London. These are very large scale, but it let me relate Greece to the Sea of Grass.

37.) Religion: Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), V. 1 & 2, Penguin Books, London. Don't let the pop-art cover throw you. What were they smoking that day at Penguin?!

38.) History: Hellanika, aka History of My Times by Xenophon. A memoire, taking up where Thucydides leaves off, finished late in life, though large sections were written much earlier. Disagrees in details with the Oxyrhyncus Historian (darling of the Classicists, but writing 600 years later), and reports what was to him important and memorable. Unlike Thucydides, he was not keeping a diary at the time of events, so there are lacunae resulting from his writing this often fifty years after the fact. Spartocentric, so it infuriates the Athenophilic Classicists by skipping what they consider important. No internal dating system worth noting: keep a chronology of major battles, etc., in hand.

39.) Hunting: Xenophon, On Hunting or The Sportsman, from rabbits and deer to boar. Period, not NRA.

40.) Water Travel: Gardiner, Robert, ed., The Earliest Ships: The Evolution of Boats into Ships, 1996, Conway Maritime Press, Naval Institute, Maryland.

41.) Water Warfare: Because it was possibly necessary, until I worked out the plot. Two navarkhoi appear as it is, Lysander and Teleutias. William Ledyard Rodgers, vice admiral, USN, ret. Greek and Roman Naval Warfare. A Study of Strategy, Tactics, and Ship Design from Salamis (480 BC) to Actium (31 BC) 1934, 1964 Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. For free you could get The Fleets of the World. The Galley Period (1876: New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher) by Foxhall A. Parker, for as much as I used it.

42.) Water Travel & Warfare: Lionel Casson, The Ancient Mariners: Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times 1991 Princeton U Press, Princeton NY. Didn't need it, but I might have.

43.) Barbarians & Artemesia of Helicarnassus: Tim Newark; Women Warlords: An Illustrated Military History of Female Warriors; 1989; Blandford, Cassell Artillery House, London.

44.) Wildlife: Francois Bourliere, Life Nature Library: The Land and Wildlife of Eurasia, part of Life Nature Library series 1964, 2nd ed. 1974 Time-Life Books, Inc., New York. Boars and European lions.

45.) Caves: Because I have a scene in one. Donald Dale Jackson, Underground Worlds 1982 Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA

46.) Magic: F. Ll. Griffith & Herbert Thompson, ed.,The Leyden Papyrus: An Egyptian Magical Book, 1904, 1974, Dover, NY; orig. The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London & Leiden, H. Grevel & Co., London. Used for some magic, since Greek magic is really hard to find. Like most occult recipe books, horrifically boring to read.

47.) Weapons: AdrienneMayor, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, 2003, Overlook Press; Traces the earliest chemical warfare from the legends of poisoned arrows of Herakles forward. Notable for describing how people die of the poisons in gruesome detail -- just what I might need! This was fascinating.

48.) Spinning & Weaving: Paula Simmons, Spinning and Weaving with Wool, 1977, Pacific Search Press, Seattle. This is what women did, and to totally exclude it would have been silly.

49.) Spinning: Elsie Davenport, Your Handspinning , 1953, 1964, Select Books, Mountain View, MO. Use of the handspindle.

50.) Music: De Organographia: Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks "Philip Neuman, Gayle Stuwe Neuman combine astute musicology, performance practice and instrument crafting in the realization of this amazing collection of music from 1950 BC to 300 AD. From the world's oldest notated music, vocal renderings are accompanied with performed lyres, kithara, pandoura, double reed pipes, flutes and other ancient instruments." We mark it down one in this period because the time span is so great. Programming out the Mesopotamian cuts, you get two early Greek harp pieces and a bunch of early CE cuts. They also do Music of the Ancient Greeks: Six genuinely BC cuts in amongst the early CE ones, many from the Oxyrhynchus papyri.

Yes, 50 without stretching.

For Spartans in media, you must consider 300 complete nonsense (Short-haired Spartans?! Body-displaying Medes?! Three art shots and it was on my Never See list). However, Season One of Deadliest Warrior featured a Spartan twice. I was pleased to see I wasn't contradicted by anything in it. This was the only season they had a play-off, and the Spartan won over a samurai (it's the shield advantage).

If you need something else for your particular story around this time, maybe Historical Novelists Center can help with their Classical Greek pages.

copyright Holly Ingraham



50 Books for:

The Peloponnese, 396 BC 

 Early Viking, c. 850

The First Crusade, Outre-Mer 1098 

 The Hundred Years War, France1352

Richelieuan France, 1630

Pirate Caribbean, 1670 

 Napoleonic London Highlife 1803

Regency London Highlife 1817

Mexico, 1846-8

 London Low-Life 1870

 Gilded Age New York 1898

Check the Near History sample guides. There's more to read, but mostly lighter stuff, as well as lots more in video. A few appropriate movies from a year are much easier to get through than a detail biography of a president and will tell you more about ordinary life.

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