The Greatest Stories Ever Told – The Penguin Epics Box Set

I was watching Stephen Fry’s Planet Word on television last night (a great show if you haven’t seen it yet – especially the numerous interviews with Brian Blessed who just makes me smile and laugh by his very presence, let alone hilariously vulgar tongue), and the episode was about storytelling – on why it is important, why it is such an integral part of human existence going back to before the written word to the very beginnings of language itself, and why it will continue to be so important in the future.

After watching this, I found myself gazing at some of the books on my bookshelves, thinking about the age of some of the stories there, and I very quickly found my attention drawn to one of my favourite items on my shelves, The Penguin Epics Box Set. This amazing collection houses twenty short books containing some of the greatest stories of all time, from the five thousand year old epic poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, through to Homer’s story of Odysseus returning home, from the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, to the medieval tale Beowulf, and from Dante’s Descent Into Hell to The Voyages of Sindbad taken from The One Thousand And One Nights from the seventeenth century. Millennia of amazing stories that have stood the test of time are found in these books, and they are just as mesmerising today as they were within their own times.

All twenty books in order, from The Epic of Gilgamesh up to The Voyages of Sindbad. Both the English nerd and the history nerd within me become excited every time I look at this...

I will be honest and admit I haven’t read every single one of these yet, though I have read many of them (even if many of them I read a long time ago and I probably need to re-read anyway). I particularly loved The Epic of Gilgamesh, which I found very easy to visualise, and which is, in its own way, very much an epic. I have always loved any stories from ancient history, so the likes of Homer, Herodotus, Virgil and Ovid have long been in my reading lists since my earliest university days. Likewise I studied Beowulf, and read it in its entirety quite a few years ago. Many of the books here are only fragments of the full stories (The Divine Comedy by Dante is several times the length of the short section contained here, for example), so if you enjoy them there is always more to explore.

If you love stories and storytelling as much as I do (and if you’re looking at my blog, chances are you do), I would definitely recommend this box set, which is as enlightening as it is entertaining, and which really shows how much storytelling both has and hasn’t changed over all these years, providing a nice little reminder that stories themselves will never fade – they are a key part of human existence, of life itself.

Happy reading, storytellers and readers!

18 thoughts on “The Greatest Stories Ever Told – The Penguin Epics Box Set

    • You do have to wonder, don’t you? Though I suspect that for the time being, there are enough book lovers to keep things like this in print and in circulation. I don’t know how long that will last, though. But e-books and e-readers aren’t going to stop me from buying books, I know that much! 🙂

  1. I too have this and have read every single book – although it took a few years as I was juggling other books as well. I ordered through the uni co-op at Ourimbah – it was an object of fascination in the class I attended after purchasing it from the lecturer and fellow students. I did enjoy Gilgamesh. I have a Kindle but that doesn’t stop me buying paper and ink books. I mainly use my Kindle for stuff I can’t find in print or favourites I want to take with me everywhere. *Just realised how nerdy she is and loves it*

    • Ahh Ourimbah co-op…I remember that funny little shop. And that funny little uni campus 😛 It feels like a lifetime ago now though! :S
      That’s impressive you’ve read all of these though – I really must get on with it and finish them all off myself! I agree with you about the Kindle, I think if and when I get one, it will be mostly for taking books with me when I travel, that kind of thing.
      And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being nerdy – ‘nerdy’ is just a synonym for ‘awesome’, ‘interesting’, and ‘personality’! 😛

  2. Great show, I loved it too! What a wonderful collection. I keep waiting for the time that I am old and bedridden so that I would only be able to read all day, everyday (apart from dribbling) in order to catch up with my must read list. Thanks, you’ve just made that list a little longer. Cheers Sue

    • I know exactly what you mean – I am looking forward to that day a little bit as well! But as that day is probably a long way away for me, I guess I will just have to sacrifice a little sleep to get through my reading list! 😛

  3. It’s so amazing how some stories can withstand the test of time – cliche, I know but still relevant. I love a lot of the classics, but I haven’t had the chance to read the all. The Penguin set sounds great!

    • I know what you mean – I mean, a story surviving 5000 years, and both oral and written traditions of storytelling, surely that has to be a good story?
      It is good this little set, and surprisingly not too expensive either. 🙂

  4. That thing is beautiful. But allow me to adjust my monocle and say, “Yes, yes– but which translations are these? And friends, where is The Song of Roland?”

    • Ahhh, good questions!
      I think there are a number of stories omitted which many would argue should have been included, so I guess The Song of Roland falls into that category. I think they tried to include just enough of different time periods and cultures to interest people in reading more broadly from that period/place. That’s my guess, anyway.
      As for the translations, they are all translated by different people, so were there any of the stories in particular you were curious about? They are all relatively new translations from what I can see – I know off the top of my head that the second book about Odysseus returning home is from Robert Fagles’ translation of The Odyssey, which I also own in full along with his translation of The Iliad.

    • It’s a good one! If you struggle to find it in stores, I know it is still available online from a few places – I only found it once in a store, and luckily I snatched it straight away (I couldn’t resist it). 🙂

  5. I know this is a belated reply, but that is one awesome box set! I’ve read almost half of them–and goodness knows, I don’t need a 4th version of Gilgamesh to add to my college collection–but this is too hard to resist! Got to research the translators, first though!

    • It is an amazing box set isn’t it? Like I think I mentioned in the post (or maybe it was in a comment somewhere) I couldn’t resist buying this. I doubled up on some texts too – I already have the translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey by Fagles, and I already have Beowulf and a couple of others lurking on my shelves somewhere, too.
      Definitely research the translators if you’ve got several versions already of some books – generally from what I can gather they are using the latest translations, or at the very least highly respected translations. But I am happy with what I have read so far! 🙂
      Also, that is so cool you studied Gilgamesh at college! This box set was my first meeting with that story…

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s