This set of collected Greek and Roman classics was founded in 1911 by James Loeb (1867-1933), a New York philanthropist banker with an abiding love of the field. It was certainly not the first anthology series to issue a standard set of "great books" for ordinary readers, but its bilingualism, careful editing, and the cute size of the books have made it perennially attractive.

Loeb's intentions are quoted in his early volumes:

"To make the beauty and learning, the philosophy and wit of the great writers of ancient Greece and Rome once more accessible by means of translations that are in themselves real pieces of literature, a thing to be read for the pure joy of it, and not dull transcripts of ideas that suggest in every line the existence of a finer original form from which the average reader is shut out, and to place side by side with these translations the best critical texts of the original works, is the task I have set myself."

"In an age when the Humanities are being neglected more perhaps than at any time since the Middle Ages, and when men's minds are turning more than ever before to the practical and the material, it does not suffice to make pleas, however eloquent and convincing, for the safeguarding and further enjoyment of our greatest heritage from the past. Means must be found to place these treasures within the reach of all who care for the finer things of life."

Loeb originally developed his series with the publisher Macmillan and then Putnam. Since his death in 1933 the library has been published by the Harvard Unversity Press.

The Press's web site devoted to Loeb quotes Virginia Woolf, writing in the 1917 Times Literary Supplement:

"The Loeb Library, with its Greek or Latin on one side of the page and its English on the other, came as a gift of freedom...The existence of the amateur was recognised by the publication of this Library, and to a great extent made respectable... The difficulty of Greek is not sufficiently dwelt upon, chiefly perhaps because the sirens who lure us to these perilous waters are generally scholars who have forgotten...what those difficulties are. But for the ordinary amateur they are very real and very great; and we shall do well to recognise the fact and to make up our minds that we shall never be independent of our Loeb."