Dear parent, student, or teacher,

The Essentials Schedule for Old Western Culture is a selection from the full Old Western Culture reading list (see the full list in one place). There are two primary reasons you might want to do the Essentials Schedule:

  1. You want to cover the material at a faster pace. A common example would be the desire to fit four years of Old Western Culture into two or three last years of high school, or a full year into a summer schedule.
  2. You want to spend more time on fewer books, following a more relaxed “less is more” principle, leaving more time for discussion, contemplation, and enjoyment.

This schedule is not a “light” reading load. Even if you are doing this schedule to spend more time in each book, it is still a lot of reading. Even this abridged list would be considered an “honors” course in any private or public school. This list is also adaptable. This is my suggestion of the highlights from a list which is already a “great books” list of highlights. Feel free to disagree, and do a different selection.

I recommend watching all the lectures, as the lectures which cover the books or reading selections you are skipping will give an overview, allowing you to keep the big picture of Old Western Culture. This is a great way to go through Old Western Culture. In fact, Wes Callihan does something similar in his own online classes, following a slower, but more in-depth pace.

Another reason to follow this schedule is that the slower pace is more conducive to loving the material. I always emphasize to parents that it is far more important that students love the material than that they get through it! Leisure is one tool in helping students love these books, though the greatest tool for the task is loving these books yourself. So whenever possible, watch the lectures and read the books with your students. The Essentials Schedule can also be used as a “parent’s schedule,” for parents wanting to go through Old Western Culture but lacking the time to do the full reading list.

Enjoy, and feel free to reach out to us with any questions as you embark on this journey through the great books!

Daniel Foucachon

INSTRUCTIONS: Follow the normal schedule which accompanies each unit for overall structure, simply skipping the readings assignments that aren’t listed below. Use your own books, or purchase our Readers.

The Greeks

The Epics

  • The Iliad by Homer.

Drama and Lyric

  • The Agamemnon by Aeschylus
  • Oedipus the King by Sophocles
  • The Medea by Euripides

The Histories

  • The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (recommended: selections from OWC Reader)

The Philosophers

  • The Apology by Plato
  • The Phaedrus by Plato
  • The Poetics by Aristotle

The Romans

The Aeneid

  • The Aeneid by Vergil

The Historians

  • The Lives by Plutarch
    • Life of Demosthenes
    • Life of Cicero
    • Life of Alexander the Great
    • Life of Caesar
  • On Duties (book III) by Cicero

Early Christianity

  • The Didache by Unknown
  • History of the Church by Eusebius (This is a longer work. Read desired number of books in order, or full work).

Nicene Christianity

  • On the Incarnation by Athanasius
  • Confessions by Augustine


Early Medievals

  • The Rule of St. Benedict by St. Benedict
  • Book of Pastoral Rule by Gregory the Great
  • Beowulf by Anonymous

Defense of the Faith

  • Proslogium by Anselm of Canterbury
  • History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth

The Medieval Mind

  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (ideally the full work. Read Inferno if choosing one.)

The Reformation

  • The Canterbury Tales, The Knights Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Clericis Laicos and Unam Sanctam by Boniface the VIII
  • Julius Exclusus by Erasmus of Rotterdam
  • The Freedom of the Christian by Martin Luther
  • Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, by John Foxe (selections from Reformation Reader)

Early Moderns

Note: the poetry selections for Early Moderns are generally short. 

Rise of England

  • Sonnets 5, 55, 60, 75, 105, and 106, by William Shakespeare
  • The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
  • A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Holy Sonnet X, XIV, and Meditation XVII by John Donne
  • Redemption, The Collar, and Love III by George Herbert
  • To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell
  • On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, The Hymn, On His Blindness, and On the Late Massacre in Piedmont by John Milton
  • Book I of Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Poetry and Politics

  • Essay on Criticism, by Alexander Pope
  • De Descriptione Temporum (On the Description of Times) by C. S. Lewis
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • The Solitary Reaper, by William Wordsworth
  • She Walks in Beauty and The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron
  • Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Shelley
  • Annabel Lee, To Helen, The Raven, and The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe
  • The Lady of Shalott, by Alred, Lord Tennyson
  • Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, by Robert Browning
  • Dover Beach, by Matthew Arnold
  • Song, by Christina Rossetti

The Enlightenment

  • What is Enlightenment, by Immanuel Kant
  • Letter to Benedetto Castelli and Letter to Duchess Christiana of Tuscany, by Galileo Galilei
  • Part IV, Discourse on Method, by René Descartes
  • Laws of Gravity, Sir Isaac Newton
  • An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense, Chapter 5, Section VII, VIII, and Chapter 6 Section XX, by Thomas Reid

The Novels

  • The Brothers Karamazov, (Chapter IV: Rebellion and Chapter V: The Grand Inquisitor) by Dostoevsky
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  • The Bet, by Chekhov
  • Optional: The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

A little video introduction to this page: