Our Enchiridion – The Handbook series is built around the words of authors and thinkers who helped shape Western culture. The first volume includes thirty quotes – one for each day of the “Motivation Plan” – from thirty different works and authors. But how do these works stack against each other? Just how great is each one of them in the minds of the general public?
Thus we decided to list all thirty sources according to their average ratings on Goodreads in order to find out which work is the best among the best!
Stick around as we unveil #30 through #21 of our list!
(Ratings as of August 21st, 2019, in a scale of 0 to 5)
#30 and #29 – Letter to Eustochium, Jerome, and Letter to Dracontius, Athanasius of Alexandria
While both of these letters provide exceptional insight into the character of their prolific authors, they have not gathered enough reviews to satisfy our criteria. These letters are almost always part of compilation works that include other writings and other authors, and while these compilations do have enough ratings of their own, they cannot account for the score of one particular – and rather minuscule – section of their compiled writings. Hence these letters occupy the bottom of our list, though we recommend our audience to take a look and, if possible, rate these works individually.
#28 – Children of Heracles, Euripedes
- Goodreads Rating: 2.99
The Heraclidae was a tragedy written by the great Athenian playwright Euripedes about – you guessed it – the children of Heracles (a.k.a. Hercules). This play depicts Heracles’ descendents seeking refuge from Eurystheus, the King of Argos. Written in the wake of the Peloponnesian War, Heraclidae is considered to be a patriotic play, portraying Athens as superior to (and ultimately victorious over) its Spartan foes. Many believe the play was hastily written and criticize its stale plot surrounding exile and noble sacrifice.
Euripedes’ tragedy has left us with one of the most iconic quotes from classical literature – namely, “Ares hates those who hesitate” – a quote that was featured on Day 28 of our reading plan. While the quote is quite popular today, the rest of the work is not nearly as memorable, and thus the Children of Heracles are relegated to #28 on our list. Coincidence? I think not.
#27 – Tancred, Benjamin Disraeli
- Goodreads Rating: 3.16
- Amazon Rating: 3.3
Best known for his political activity as the only British Prime Minister of Jewish birth, Benjamin Disraeli was also one of the most accomplished British novelists of his time. Nevertheless, Disraeli’s politically-charged works have fallen out of favor with modern audiences, and Tancred is no exception.
The novel sees its eponymous character visit the Holy Land in hopes of better understanding Christianity’s connection with Judaism and the Jewish people. Contemporary opinions are divided as to the logic of the novel’s plot and the author’s philosophical and political arguments. As such, the book’s score is found wanting and goes no further than our 27th spot.
#26 – The Physiology of Marriage, Honoré de Balzac
- Goodreads Rating: 3.2
- Amazon Rating: 2.7
Surprised to see Honoré de Balzac, one of the greatest French novelists of all time, so far down our list? Once you read The Physiology of Marriage, you may come to understand why.
Before he started writing what would become his magnum opus in the form of La Comédie Humaine, Balzac produced this treatise on marriage – even though he had never been married himself. Balzac was very skeptic of the institution of marriage and did not wed until the last months of his life, but that did not stop him from writing on the subject earlier in his life.
So what seems to be the problem? Quite simply, Balzac’s lack of first-hand knowledge and skeptical outlook leads him to make a number of assumptions – often unfounded and outrageous by modern standards – about women and marriage, which he then presents as fact. His honesty, coupled with his attempt to elaborate this treatise in a near-scientific way, is admirable; all else is rather hard to digest.
If you truly want to know Balzac and his way of thinking, then it doesn’t get much more straightforward than with The Physiology of Marriage. Read at your own peril, though – you know what they say about meeting one’s heroes…
#25 – Idylls, Theocritus
- Goodreads Rating: 3.64
- Amazon Rating: 4.0
The Idylls are a number of poems commonly attributed to Theocritus. Little is known about the author; it is inferred that he either was from or lived in Sicily, around the third century BC. He is credited with creating the bucolic strain of ancient Greek poetry, of which the Idylls are its greatest example.
The first day of our first volume begins with a quote from “The Fishermen,” Theocritus’ twenty-first idyll. In this poem, the reader is compelled to action, to a change in his normal behavior – a common attribute of Theocritus’ poems.
Despite their age and obscurity from mainstream classical literature, the Idylls are still fairly appreciated by those who read it. Still, this compilation of Theocritus’ poems ranks no higher than the 25th place, partly due to C.S. Calverly’s old-fashioned translation.
#24 – Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
Ah, yes, Hobbes’ Leviathan. A fitting name for one of the most comprehensive and influential treatises on politics ever written. It hearkens back to the days of the English Civil War and is reckoned as one of the earliest examples of the social contract theory.
And yet, it only ranks 24th on our list. Something’s off, isn’t it?
The main problem with Leviathan is that its virtues are essentially overshadowed by its flaws. The book is an autenthic “leviathan,” extremely long and hard to read by modern standards. It also calls for absolute sovereignty of a country’s ruler – something that does not quite agree with the democratic tendencies of progressive countries today.
Still, Hobbes’ insight into the nature of man and his vision of a “commonwealth” are worth reading – that is, if you can actually understand his writing to its full extent.
#23 – The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
Speaking of influential political treatises, here’s the godfather of them all. The Prince is one of the most divisive works of all time, mostly because of the unapologetic input its author laid out in cold, social darwinistic fashion. It was this work that made Machiavelli’s name synonymous with “treachery” and “evil” – and not completely without reason, either.
In The Prince, Machiavelli lectures the reader on rulership, how to obtain it and how to maintain it. The Florentine diplomat is not concerned with sugar-coating any uncomfortable subjects; his goal is to prepare the reader to bear the burden of ultimate power and guard himself against the multitude of threats that will rise to challenge him.
With some people inclined to dismiss the work as an overtly ruthless and authoritarian outlook towards government and leadership, its appreciation continues to grow in our days as more people seek its rational advice. A worthy read in spite of being only #23 on our list.
#22 – Aeneid, Virgil
- Goodreads Rating: 3.83
- Amazon Rating: 3.9
We’re not leaving Italy just yet, it seems. Virgil’s Aeneid holds the 22nd place on our list. A bit shocking, right? After all, Virgil was the greatest poet in all of Roman history, and the Aeneid was his masterpiece. So why on earth does he rank so low?
Most agree that while Virgil’s craft as a poet is above reproach, the Aeneid’s plot and setting are nothing extraordinary. Several reviews point out to the similarities between Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and accuse the poet of fabricating an inexistent link between the Trojan people and the Romans as to reinforce the legitimacy of Roman authority.
All in all, the Aeneid continues to be one of epic poetry’s essential works, to be read in spite of its humble ratings. (At least give it a try – it’s a pretty big book, as most epic poems tend to be, but don’t let its size discourage you!)
#21 – In Praise of Folly, Erasmus
If #22 was an epic poem of equally epic proportions, our 21st place goes to a little essay aptly called “In Praise of Folly.” Written by the great humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, In Praise of Folly pokes fun at medieval society and religious notions under the guise of Folly personified. Its whimsical, satiric nature appealed to numerous readers during the Renaissance era and some associate the essay to the early beginnings of the Protestant Reformation.
Sadly, In Praise of Folly no longer connects with people the same way it did five centuries ago. Its archaic subjects and complicated allusions to Greco-Roman culture hinder what is otherwise an amusing and refreshing example of early Renaissance literature. But as one reviewer put it, “everyone should welcome exposure to Erasmus,” and no piece of writing does it better than this unconventional essay of his.