I highly recommend Richard Rutherford's Classical Literature: A Concise History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). Here are some excerpts:
Classical studies are sometimes dismissed as anachronistic or irrelevant--a strange complaint, when the pages of these writers engage constantly with themes of life and death, pain and joy, disaster and survival, war, aggression and imperialism, ambitions achieved and ideals corrupted, self-discipline and self-sacrifice, political success and rejection of the world, freedom of speech and oppression of thought.
. . . .
To reject the past is to abandon all prospect of understanding what has shaped our own present and therefore what we are. To ignore the literature of the past is to deny ourselves--to lose some of what gives meaning and value to our lives. The literature of the classical world is not the whole of the past, but it does form an important part of it.
Rutherford, p. 296.
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