Ancient/old books still in print today

What are the oldest (and most entertaining) books in the world that are available in English translation? After recently completing Ovid’s Metamorphoses (as translated by Horace Gregory), which was “published” in 8 AD, I am very interested in reading more of the world’s oldest books. Not necessarily medical texts or beer recipes, though. I’m thinking literature: stories, poems, histories, that sort of thing. Also, I’d like to stick to one or two works per author at the moment, so please help me find the “best of”. I enjoyed Metamorphoses, but I’d like to branch out before I devote myself to reading all Ovid’s works. I’d also like to find more accessible translations, even if accuracy of the translation suffers a bit. I’m an amateur, not a scholar.

What books have survived through the ages? I’m interested in anything older than, say, 1500 AD. I suppose that could be a great quantity of books! So what books should I be looking for? Have you read any? What did you think? Is this going to be a short lived hobby? Or one I’ll regret?

How about the world’s first novel?

I have copies of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic Wars (AD 45) and Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars (AD 121) on my shelf. Both are terrific reading.

ETA: The Iliad and The Odyssey are both older, and the latter in particular is an interesting read.

The saga literature is tremendously entertaining - I’ve read the Orkneyinga Saga, and I’ve got a few more on my shelf waiting around for me. The awesome thing about the Orkney one is that evidently you can go to Orkney and see, for instance, the church where that one guy laid in wait to chop that other guy’s head off, etc. It’s all there. Very cool.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is pretty damned old, and interesting too. The bits where missing/destroyed tablets interrupt are annoying, but I bet a good annotated version would help you out.

Doesn’t get a whole lot older than The Epic of Gilgamesh. The oldest intact copy dates to the 7th century BCE, but the story almost certainly predates that by several centuries.

Edit to add: Damn you, Unauthorized Cinnamon!

Oh, there are a lot of books older than 1500 A.D. that you can still find at a big-box bookstore – or, failing that, a university bookstore. (I won’t mention libraries, as they have a lot of stuff that is not in print.) The Bible and the Koran, of course. All the classics of Greek literature, including the Iliad and Odyssey, Plato’s dialogues and letters, Artistotle’s books (you’d better have a lot of patience), the Histories of Herodotus, Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, Xenophon’s Anabasis (on which the film The Warriors was loosely based). And Roman literature – Cicero, Caesar, Livy, Vergil, Ovid, Sallust, Marcus Aurelius, Boethius. And plenty of Indian and Chinese literature. And some surviving fragments from various older Middle Eastern civilizations.

This Wikipedia page on Ancient Literature goes up to the 5th Century A.D. – of course, not everything listed here will be in print.

The Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms was written in the 14th Century (about events in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries) and is still in print.

Project Gutenberg can also be a good place to look and to get a sense of if you want a physical copy of something or not.

Beowulf was written somewhere between the 8th and 11th century.

For some reason, business people today still read The Art of War by Sun-Tzu pretty avidly. It was written around the 6th century BC.

And see this list of notable works of Medieval literature.

And, of course, there’s the Necronomicon – but good luck finding an authentic translation*, and be really careful if you do! :wink:

*Hint: The binding is not cowhide. :eek:

I know the Epic of Gilgamesh is entertaining and in print, because I have a stack of different translations of it (including one audiobook version). But you have to make allowances for it.
The Iliad and the Odyssey I can read as a novel, for entertainment, but it’s not to everyone’s tastes.

If you want my choice for a literary work that “reads” like a modern work, get the writings of Lucian. His satires and commentaries are surprisingly modern, for an ancient Roman. I’ve re-read his stuff more times than I can count.

His “Alexander the Miracle Monger” – a non-fiction exposee – could be printed in The Skeptical Inquirer today.

Thanks for the suggestions! I would really appreciate it if people could comment on the quality of various translations if possible. For example, the first book mentioned in this thread is available in three different translations. Which one should I choose?

I don’t know if you picked this date at random, but there’s a word – incunabula – that refers specifically to the earliest (1455-1500) works printed with movable type. However, it’s been generalized to refer to any pre-sixteenth century literature. According to this page, “[t]here are approximately 400,000 known editions of incunabula representing over 1000 printers”. So even if you restricted yourself to individual books that have literally been around for over half a millennium, you’d have plenty of material to last the rest of your days!

That is very interesting - but you realize the 400,000 volumes are the number of actual old books, which include mutiple and partial copies of the same works, right? Your quote refers to the actual books or pages themselves printed in the time frame, not the works of literature. Wiki estimates 29,000 “editions” at about 18 copies of each or about 1600 works. Still a large number, but nowhere near 400,000.

If you enjoyed Ovid’s Metamorphoses, you might enjoy a prose work also often referred to as Metamorphoses, but more commonly known as The Golden Ass. A light-hearted and somewhat bawdy work, you know it has to be good if St. Augustine railed against it. Robert Graves’ translation is still in print today.

The Greek Alexander Romance is some pretty fun reading. It’s a 3rd century action-adventure-fantasy-historical fiction novel. Well I use 3rd century lightly, it’s a chronologically whacky piece of work.

This might be a bit of a stretch, but Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book is pretty interesting, and it was written in the 10th century. Of course, it wasn’t translated into English until the 1960s, but the book itself is much older.

There are only two translations, and I’ve no idea which one I read for class. I’m inclined to think it was the more recent one.