Poet Walt Whitman in his home in New Jersey in 1891. Born 200 years ago this week, Whitman is celebrated in America for his daring poetry collection Leaves of Grass.
Samuel Murray/Wikimedia Commons
Walt Whitman is perhaps America's most admired poet. His work, now praised for its themes of equality and democracy, was once shunned for its experimental verse and discussion of sexuality.
Written as the Cold War became entrenched, 1984 was meant as a warning on the nature of state power. Understanding this power is even more important today.
George Orwell's dystopian classic can tell us a lot about contemporary politics and power, from Donald Trump to Facebook.
The death of popular prince Germanicus painted by Nicolas Poussin in 1627.
Tacitus' Annals is a powerful and darkly humorous examination of imperial Rome. Though his work was little read in the Roman world, it has influenced great thinkers such as Hobbes and Montesquieu.
Linen Market, Dominica, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, circa 1780.
Jean Rhys's prequel to Jane Eyre explores the monstrous figure of Rochester's mad wife Bertha, prompting readers to think about the racialised legacies of colonialism.
Li Kui (李逵), one of the characters in The Water Margin, battles tigers after they killed his mother. Utagawa Kuniyoshi, between between 1845 and 1850.
In The Water Margin, first put to paper in the 14th century, local injustice is the rule, and defence against cruel local authority is a matter of vengeance, stratagem, and violence
Thomas Couture, The Romans and their Decadence, 1847.
Juvenal wrote 16 satires, divided into five books, each with their own target from decadent aristocrats to Egyptian cannibals.
One important reason for the Spartans’ obsession with fighting was the constant possibility they would need these skills in war and also at home, in Sparta itself.
From about age seven, Spartan children learned to fight and practise obeying orders. They also staged pretend battles. Boys and girls were trained separately.
Kahlil Gibran, The Divine World (1923), Illustration for The Prophet, Charcoal.
After Shakespeare and Laozi, Kahlil Gibran is the highest selling poet ever, largely thanks to The Prophet, a set of 26 prose poems.
Anselm Feuerbach’s depiction of Medea, circa 1870: the play is particularly cogent today in the context of the #MeToo movement’s assault on patriarchal power.
Euripides’ dismissal by some as a misogynist sits uncomfortably alongside his complex and sympathetic female characters.
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1555. Rosemary Dobson addressed the painting in her poem Painter of Antwerp.
Across her long career, Dobson was celebrated as a poet who could take the reader beyond the immediate image to another insight.
A graffiti portrait of Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.
A lack of respect for history, a population conditioned to consume goods at breakneck pace, and pacification of individuals via an entertainment culture: parts of Huxley's novel strikingly resemble our own world.
Gregory Peck and Harper Lee on the set of To Kill a Mockingbird.
To Kill a Mockingbird is no sermon. Its lessons are presented in effortless style, tackling the complexity of race issues with startling clarity and a strong sense of reality.
Kaya Scodelario as Catherine Earnshaw in the 2011 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights.
Film 4 and UK Film Council/IMDB
This week is the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte's birth. If reading Wuthering Heights - her only published novel - feels like a suspension in a state of waking nightmare, what a richly-hued vision of the fantastical it is.
An illustration by Tosa Mitsuoki of The Tale of Genji, late 17th century.
Murasaki Shikibu, the author of The Tale of Genji, served in the Japanese imperial court. She transformed her experiences into an intricate narrative fusing fiction, history, and poetry.
William Faulkner’s novel depicts a poor rural family from Mississippi struggling to find their place in the modernising society of the 1930s.
US Library of Congress
William Faulkner began writing As I Lay Dying the day after the 1929 Wall Street crash. It documents, through the voices of 15 characters, the emergence of a poor white family into the modern world.
The “Don Quixote” windmills in Consuegra, Spain. They were made famous by the novel in the 16th century.
Completed by Cervantes when he was in prison, Don Quixote is the tale of a man so passionate about reading he leaves home to live the life of his fictional heroes.
A stick insect in Borneo: variation and natural selection has resulted in insects with the astonishing ability to mimic features in their natural environment.
In this age of the pseudo-factual, its more important than ever to acquaint ourselves with the foundations of the scientific tradition, such as Darwin's Origin of Species.
Heart of Darkness follows a journey up the Congo River, but equally critiques the imperial powers back in Europe.
USAID Democratic Republic of Congo/Flickr
In our ongoing Guide to the Classics series, we look at Heart of Darkness: the product of dark historical energies that continue to shape our contemporary world.
An ad for cotton thread drawing on the scene in Gulliver’s Travels in which Gulliver is tied down by Liliputians.
In its abridged form, Gulliver's Travels has become a children's classic. But in full, it is a misanthropic satire, scathing of politicians.
Jia Baoyu, the protagonist of Dream of the Red Chamber, as drawn by Gai Qi, 1879.
Dream of the Red Chamber, by Cao Xueqin, follows the travails of a pubescent boy. Somehow, through the spats, crushes and rivalries of a handful of teenagers, the great questions of the human condition are broached.