Greek literature
Ancient Greek literature (until 4th century AD)
Byzantine literature (4th – 15th century)
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Greek literature refers to writings composed in areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects,(Citation needed) throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking people have existed.

Ancient Greek literature (before AD 350)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in Ancient Greek from the oldest surviving written works in the Greek language until approximately the fifth century AD and the rise of the Byzantine Empire. The Greek language arose from the proto-Indo-European language, though roughly one-third of its words cannot be derived from various reconstructions of the tongue. A number of alphabets and syllabaries had been used to render Greek, but surviving Greek literature was written in a Phoenician-derived alphabet that arose primarily in Greek Ionia and was fully adopted by Athens by the fifth century BC.

Preclassical[edit | edit source]

At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Though dates of composition vary, these works were fixed around 800 BC or after. The other great poet of the preclassical period was Hesiod. His two surviving works are Works and Days and Theogony. Some ancients thought Homer and Hesiod roughly contemporaneous, even rivals in contests, but modern scholarship raises doubts on these issues.

Classical[edit | edit source]

File:Euripides1.jpg

A bust of Euripides.

In the classical period many of the genres of western literature became more prominent. Lyrical poetry, odes, pastorals, elegies, epigrams; dramatic presentations of comedy and tragedy; histories, rhetorical treatises, philosophical dialectics, and philosophical treatises all arose in this period. As the genres evolved, various expectations arose, such that a particular poetic genre came to require the Doric or Lesbos dialect.

The two major lyrical poets were Sappho and Pindar. The Classical era also saw the dawn of drama. Of the hundreds of tragedies written and performed during the classical age, only a limited number of plays by three authors have survived: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.

Like tragedy, the comedy arose from a ritual in honor of Dionysus, but in this case the plays were full of frank obscenity, abuse, and insult. The surviving plays by Aristophanes are a treasure trove of comic presentation. Menander is considered the best of the writers of the New Comedy.

Two of the most influential historians who had yet lived flourished during Greece's classical age: Herodotus and Thucydides. A third historian, Xenophon, began his "Hellenica" where Thucydides ended his work about 411 BC and carried his history to 362 BC.

The greatest prose achievement of the 4th century was in philosophy. Among the tide of Greek philosophy, three names tower above the rest: Socrates —even though he didn't write anything himself, Plato, and Aristotle.

Hellenistic[edit | edit source]

By 338 BC many of the key Greek cities had been conquered by Philip II of Macedon. Philip II's son Alexander extended his father's conquests greatly. The Greek colony of Alexandria in northern Egypt became, from the 3rd century BC, the outstanding center of Greek culture.

Later Greek poetry flourished primarily in the 3rd century BC. The chief poets were Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius of Rhodes. Theocritus, who lived from about 310 to 250 BC, was the creator of pastoral poetry, a type that the Roman Virgil mastered in his Eclogues.

One of the most valuable contributions of the Hellenistic period was the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. The work was done at Alexandria and completed by the end of the 2nd century BC. The name Septuagint is from Latin septuaginta "seventy," from the tradition that there were 72 scholars who did the work.

Roman Age[edit | edit source]

The significant historians in the period after Alexander were Timaeus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Appian of Alexandria, Arrian, and Plutarch. The period of time they cover extended from late in the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD.

Eratosthenes of Alexandria, who died about 194 BC, wrote on astronomy and geography, but his work is known mainly from later summaries. The physician Galen, in the history of ancient science, is the most significant person in medicine after Hippocrates, who laid the foundation of medicine in the 5th century BC.

The New Testament, written by various authors in varying qualities of Koine Greek hails from this period (1st to early 2nd century AD), the most important works being the Gospels and the Epistles of Saint Paul.

Patristic literature was written in the Hellenistic Greek of this period. Syria and Alexandria, especially, flourished.

Byzantine (AD 290-1453)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Byzantine literature
File:Digenis Akritas Athens.jpg

Epic of Digenis Akritas, manuscript in the National Library of Greece.

Byzantine literature refers to literature of the Byzantine Empire written in Atticizing, Medieval and early Modern Greek.

If Byzantine literature is the expression of the intellectual life of the Byzantine Greeks during the Christian Middle Ages, then it is a multiform organism, combining Greek and Christian civilization on the common foundation of the Roman political system, set in the intellectual and ethnographic atmosphere of the Near East. Byzantine literature partakes of four different cultural elements: the Greek, the Christian, the Roman, and the Oriental, the character of which commingling with the rest. To Hellenistic intellectual culture and Roman governmental organization are added the emotional life of Christianity and the world of Oriental imagination, the last enveloping all the other three.[1]

Aside from personal correspondence, literature of this period was primarily written in the Atticizing style. Some early literature of this period was written in Latin; some of the works from the Latin Empire were written in French.

Chronicles, distinct from historic, arose in this period. Encyclopedias also flourished in this period.

Modern Greek (post 1453)[edit | edit source]

Main article: Modern Greek literature
File:Adamantios Korais.jpg

Adamantios Korais, major figure of the Greek Enlightenment.

File:Cavafy1900.jpg

Constantine P. Cavafy.

Modern Greek literature refers to literature written in common Modern Greek, emerging from late Byzantine times in the 11th century AD. During this period, spoken Greek became more prevalent in the written tradition, as demotic Greek came to be used more and more over the Attic idiom and the katharevousa reforms.

The Cretan Renaissance poem Erotokritos is undoubtedly the masterpiece of this early period of modern Greek literature, and represents one of its supreme achievements. It is a verse romance written around 1600 by Vitsentzos Kornaros (1553–1613).

The Korakistika (1819), a lampoon written by Jakovakis Rizos Neroulos and directed against the Greek intellectual Adamantios Korais, is a major example of the Greek Enlightenment and emerging nationalism.

Contemporary Greek literature[edit | edit source]

Contemporary Greek literature is usually (but not exclusively) written in monotonic orthography. Some of the most renowned representatives of modern Greek literature include:

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. adapted from Karl Dieterich, "Byzantine Literature", Catholic Encyclopedia, 1911

External links[edit | edit source]

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