Western Canonical Texts - List of 54

Unlike "South Asian", "CWANA" and "East Asian", we do not name this list "European and American" Canonical Text, because quite a few works were written outside of Europe. Mostly these are Christian texts - Bible, Eusebius' Church History, John of Damascus' Fountain of Wisdom (Israel / Palestine); St. Augustine (Algeria); Origen's On First Principles (Egypt); Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagite's Corpus (Syria). Then there is Roman Greek Diogenes Laetius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers which was probably written in modern-day Turkey. More broadly, some authors wrote in Europe but really came from outside - Herodotus (from Asia Minor), Plotinus (from Egypt), and Gregory Palamas (born in modern day Turkey).


The list below has 54 texts. Why 54? Well, when added to the other 3 lists, it makes up a nice round number of 150 (36 each for South and East Asian, 24 for CWANA). More importantly, I think the proportion is right: this is comfortably larger than the East Asian list (which if we include "embedded" text would add to 45+ texts) - yes, East Asian tradition has historically the largest population, and the highest literacy ratio, but as we are compiling the list now, it is also a stretch to argue against the fact that the Western tradition has a larger influence than the East Asian one -- through Colonialism and Christianity, the influence of Western tradition has spreaded to Africa, Americas, SE Asia. Numerically, worldwide Christian population alone is larger than total population of East Asia. This sense of proportion is different from when I drew up the main list of 36 texts on this site.

Table Form

Traditions Genre Total
History Philosophy Literature
Classical - Greek   3. Herodotus' Histories; 5. Thucydides' Peloponnesian Wars; 14. Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Emminent Philosophers  6. Plato's Complete Works; 7. Aristotle's Metaphysics; 15. Plotinus' Enneads  1. Homer's Iliad; 2. Sappho's Lyric Poems; 4. Sophocles' Theban Plays  9
Classical - Latin   

  11. Livy's History of Rome

   8. Cicero's On Duties; 9. Virgil's Aeneid; 10. Ovid's Metamorphoses  4
Christian - General  12. Bible

  16. Eusebius' Church History; 19. Bede's English Church History

13. Origen's On First Principles; 17. Augustine's On Trinity; 18. Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagite's Works; 20. John of Damascus' Fountain of Wisdom    7
 Christian - Orthodox  


  24. Greogry Palamas' Triads; 50. Solovyov's Lectures on Divine Humanity   2
 Christian - Catholic    30. Jose de Acosta's Natural and Moral History of the Indies 22. Aquinas' Summa Theologica    2
 Christian - Protestant     28. Calvin's Institutes; 43. Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith    2
 Romance - Italian     27. Machiavelli's The Prince  23. Dante's Commedia; 25. Petrarch's Canzoniere  3
Romance - French / Latin    38. Voltaire's Essays on Manners  34. Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy  21. Chretien de Troyes' Arthurian Romances; 31. Montaigne's Essays; 48. Hugo's Les Miserables  5
 Romance - Spanish / Portuguese       29. Luis de Camoens' Lusiads; 33. Cervante's Don Quixote 2
 Germanic / Slavic - English   40. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire  36. Locke's Two Treatises on Government; 37. Hume's Essay Concerning Human Understanding; 46. J.S.Mill's On Liberty; 54. William James' Pragmatism 26. Chaucer's Cantebury Tales; 32. Shakespeare's First Folio; 35. Milton's Paradise Lost; 41. Wordsworth's / Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads; 42. Austen's Pride and Prejudice; 53. Whitman's Leaves of Grass   11
Germanic / Slavic - German    47. Burckhardt's Civilization of Renaissance in Italy  39. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason; 51. Marx's Das Kapital; 52. Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra 44 Goethe's Faust 5
 Germanic / Slavic - Slavic       45. Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz; 49. Tolstoy's War and Peace 2
Total 1 10 21 22 54

List Form

No. Title

Author or Compiler

Date used for Ordering (Work Completion) 

 Modern Country of Work Completion (or Author's Birth, if Different)

1 Iliad Homer 750B.C. Greece
2 Lyrical Poems  Sapphos 570B.C. Greece
3  Histories Herodotus 425B.C. Greece (Turkey)
4 Theban Plays Sophocles 405B.C. Greece
5 Peloponnesian Wars Thucydides 395B.C. Greece
6  Complete Works Plato 347B.C. Greece
7 Metaphysics Aristotle 322B.C. Greece
8  On Duties Cicero 44B.C. Italy
9  Aeneid Virgil 19B.C. Italy
10  Metamorphoses Ovid 8A.D. Italy
11 History of Rome Livy 14A.D. Italy
12 Bible Multiple 150A.D. Israel / Palestine
13 On First Principles Origen 215A.D. Egypt
14  Lives of Eminent Philosophers Diogenes Laertius 235A.D. Turkey
15  Enneads Plotinus 270A.D. Italy (Egypt)
16  Church History Eusebius 313A.D. Israel / Palestine
17 On the Trinity Augustine 426A.D. Algeria
18  Works Pseudo-Dionysius Aeropagite 500A.D. Syria
19 English Church History Bede 731A.D. U.K.
20  Fountain of Wisdom John of Damascus 753A.D. Israel / Palestine (Syria)
21 Arthurian Romances Chretien de Troyes 1190A.D. France
22  Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas 1274A.D. Italy
23 Commedia  Dante 1321A.D. Italy
24  Triads Gregory Palamas 1341A.D. Greece (Turkey)
25  Canzoniere Petrarch 1374A.D. Italy
26  Cantebury Tales Chaucer 1400A.D. U.K.
27  The Prince Machiavelli 1513A.D. Italy
28 Institutes (Latin / French editions) Calvin 1560A.D. Switzerland (France)
29  Lusiads Luis de Camoens 1572A.D. Portugal
30 Natural and Moral History of the Indies Jose de Acosta 1590A.D. Spain
31  Essays Montaigne 1592A.D. France
32  First Folio Shakespeare 1613A.D. (last date of works included) U.K.
33  Don Quixote Cervantes 1615A.D. Spain
34 Meditations on First Philosophy (in Latin) Descartes 1641A.D. Netherlands (France)
35 Paradise Lost Milton 1674A.D. U.K.
36 Two Treatises on Government Locke 1689A.D. U.K.
37 Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume 1748A.D. U.K.
38  Essay on Manners Voltaire 1756A.D. France
39  Critique of Pure Reason Kant 1787A.D. (2nd Edition) Russia
40  Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Gibbon 1788A.D. U.K.
41 Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth / Coleridge 1802A.D. (3rd Edition) U.K.
42  Pride and Prejudice Austen 1813A.D. U.K.
43 The Christian Faith Schleiermacher 1831A.D. Germany (Poland)
44 Faust Goethe 1832A.D. Germany
45  Pan Tadeusz (in Polish) Mickiewicz 1832A.D. Italy (Belarus)
46  On Liberty J.S. Mill 1859A.D. U.K. (not sure of location of completion)
47 Civilization of Renaissance in Italy Burckhardt 1860A.D. Switzerland
48 Les Miserables Hugo 1862A.D. France
49 War and Peace Tolstoy 1869A.D. Russia
50  Lectures on Divine Humanity Solovyov 1881A.D. Russia
51 Das Kapital Marx 1883A.D. U.K. (Germany)
52 Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche 1885A.D. France (Germany)
53  Leaves of Grass Whitman 1892A.D. U.S.A.
54 Pragmatism William James 1907A.D. U.S.A.


1. Sub-traditions: after much hestiation, I decide to go with a top-level groupings of "Classical", "Christian", "Romance", "Germanic / Slavic". Instead of "Greco-Roman", I now uses "Classical" as most Christian texts are "Greco-Roman". Many of the later authors from Petrarch onwards are Christians, yet their texts no longer focuses in on their Christian identity - in a way the texts are more "Christianite" (c.f. Marshall Hodgson's coining of the word "Islamicate") than "Christian". To sub-divide the large number of texts in such category, I decide to group texts under language groups - a somewhat arbitrary decision, but traditions sometimes do form themselves around certain language groupings.


2. Generally, for the classification by genre, for "philosophy" I have included theology, mysticism, works on practical and political philosophy - as I have done in all other lists.


3.  I have included several author's Works or Complete Works - more than I have done in the other lists. Say for Plato, the texts really has come down to us in Tetralogies which represent the complete works. Pseudo-Dionysius is the same way, the four main texts were passed to us as one group. While I am not as certain, Chrietian de Troyes' Romances are the same way. And lastly the same for Shakespeare in that most important plays are already published as a group in the First Folio, within a decade after Shakespeare's death. All these books can now be found bounded between two covers (true, sometimes even bigger than the Bible, but still one volume). Because of my considerations above, right now, hesitantly,  I am not including Odyssey or Aristotle's complete extant works. (And as a rule, I don't select works from the same author twice).


4. I also had a rule of not including texts that are not passed down to us in mostly complete form. But I find that I have to break this rule with History authors in Latin - clearly a category a list should include - but where the authors of highest reputations (Livy and Tacitus) we only had works in substantial (but far from "mostly complete") forms. Tacitus's reputation was based in later Europe mostly on his "republicanism" it seems, and his Annals starts where Livy ends. With these considerations, I have only included Livy, but not Tacitus.


5. Across the three main Christian Churches, I have only picked two "exclusive" author each (Aquinas/Jose de Acosta, Calvin/Schleiermacher and Palamas/Solovyov) - arguably discounting the numerical ratios of Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Orthodox (roughly with current worldwide adherents of 1.2B vs. 500-600M vs. ~300M, or a ratio of 4:2:1).


6. Camoes and Mickiewicz were included for the numerically significant but tradition-wise understated languages / nations (Portuguese and Polish). Mickiewicz wrote in Polish, but also revered in Belarussian and Ukraine, so I have read.


7. My lists' end date was originally 1900, but with William James' Pragmatism, the end date is pushed towards 1910. If we picked Charles Peirce it would have been cleaner, but it also happened that Peirce didn't really leave us with easily accessible texts (i.e. books) other than a collection of essays which are still being edited and published. Similar considerations also argued for the inclusion of Burckhardt's History rather than Ranke, who does not really leave a canonical text generally interested public still read nowadays.


8. For 19th century philosophy, I didn't include Hegel - from the sheer fact that while in 19th century he was a central figure by now I think he is much less of our academia's focus vs. Kant or Marx or Nietzsche.