You are on page 1of 6

GREEK LITERATURE CLASSICAL PERIOD There are four major periods of Greek literature: preclassical, classical, HellenisticRoman, and

Byzantine. Of these the most significant works were produced during the preclassical and classical eras. Epic Tradition 1. Homer

At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey'.They have influenced writers throughout the ages for the beauty and power of their imagery, for their character development, for the universality of their themes, and for their extraordinary stories. Remarkably, Homer had no authors to imitate, no prototypical literature to guide him, for literature–indeed, civilization itself–was still in its infancy when he composed his works. He was the world’s first great writer, a model for others to imitate.

Scholars conjecture from scraps of evidence that Homer was a blind poet who may have been born on the island of Chios (also spelled in English as Khios) in the Aegean Sea; in Smyrna, a seaport in western Turkey; in Colophon, near Ephesus, Turkey; on Rhodes, an Aegean island; in Salamis, Cyprus; or in Athens or Argos on the Greek mainland. Because of the dearth of information about him, it is not possible to determine specific details about his life: where he lived, whether he was married, when he died. In fact, it is not even possible to determine whether he was one person or several.

Homer probably composed his works between 700 and 800 B.C., according to linguistic, geographical, and historical evidence in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Rather than writing his compositions, he probably recited them. For this reason, it is said, he called himself a “singer” rather than a writer. (Although “sing” connotes music, it can also refer to spoken words that describe or narrate, usually in verse.) …….One of the hallmarks of the Homeric style is the epithet, a combination of a descriptive phrase and a noun. An epithet presents a miniature portrait that identifies a person or thing by highlighting a prominent characteristic of that person or thing. In English, the

wine-dark sea. Almost all his early poems have been lost. . earth-shaking Poseidon. probably representing his masterpieces. rosy-fingered dawn. The Theogony is particularly important as an often confusing account of the evolution of the Greek gods. Pindar • • • • TRAGEDY The Greeks invented the epic and lyric forms and used them skillfully. but his reputation was probably established by his later hymns in honour of the gods. at least according to Herodotus. The Homeric epithet is an ancient relative of such later epithets as Richard the Lion-Hearted. Ivan the Terrible. Hesiod probably lived around 700 B. 2. respected throughout the Greek world. are odes commissioned to celebrate triumphs in various Hellenic athletic games. Homer and Hesiod are also central to the history of ancient Greece because they are reputed to have given the Greeks their gods. such as the following: fleet-footed Achilles. The extant poems. Hesiod is also credited with creating didactic (instructive and moralizing) poetry. Sappho 4. and gray-eyed Athena. 3. The occasion of Hesiod's writing of the Works and Days is a dispute between Hesiod and his brother Perses over the distribution of his father's land. They also invented drama and produced masterpieces that are still reckoned as drama's crowning achievement. and America the Beautiful. Hesiod • • • Hesiod and Homer are the first great writers of Greek literature. He developed into the greatest lyric poet of ancient Greece.Homeric epithet usually consists of a noun modified by a compound adjective. LYRIC POETRY The type of poetry called lyric got its name from the fact that it was originally sung by individuals or a chorus accompanied by the instrument called the lyre. In the age that followed the defeat of Persia (490 to 479 BC). the With Pindar the transition has been made from the preclassical to the classical age.C Hesiod's major works are Theogony and Works and Days.

mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.awakened national spirit of Athens was expressed in hundreds of superb tragedies based on heroic and legendary themes of the past. • 7. Euripides • Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times. At least one of Aeschylus's works was influenced by the Persian invasion of Greece. especially in representing traditional. All three plays concern the fate of Thebes during and after the reign of King Oedipus. The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus rex and Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays. 5. His play The Persians is a source of information about this period in Greek history. which took place during his lifetime. Sophocles influenced the development of the drama. The Theban plays consist of three plays: Oedipus the King (also called Oedipus Tyrannus or Oedipus Rex). Attendance at the festival performances was regarded as an act of worship. he expanded the number of characters in plays to allow for conflict amongst them. meaning "shame" According to Aristotle. most importantly by adding a third actor. All of the greatest poets competed for the prizes offered for the best plays. Performances were held in the great open-air theater of Dionysus in Athens.) The tragic plays grew out of simple choral songs and dialogues performed at festivals of the god Dionysus. although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy. Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. 6. thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. Wealthy citizens were chosen to bear the expense of costuming and training the chorus as a public and religious duty. previously.Aeschylus • • • • the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived and is often described as the father of tragedy. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that . characters interacted only with the chorus. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos (αἶσχος). Sophocles • • • • Sophocles is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. Sophocles is one of those who is recorded as being a participant in a relationship between an erastês ("lover") and eromenos ("beloved"). the other members of which are now lost. (See also Drama. It was common in fifth-century Greece for men of the upper classes to cultivate sexual relationships with adolescent boys.

delightful lyric poetry. For boldness of fantasy. COMEDY Like tragedy. whose most famous practitioner was the Athenian Aristophanes (ca. In 'Lysistrata' he denounced war. for unqualified indecency. It was a mixture of fantasy. Aristophanes • The Old Comedy was a form of drama which has no parallel in subsequent European literature. and insult. • New Comedy was the term for the comedy of manners popular in Greece after 320 B. in the case of Aristophanes at least. and prizes were offered for the best productions. in strong contrast to the Old Comedy. comedy arose from a ritual in honor of Dionysus.later writers adapted to comedy and some of which are characteristic of romance. • 9.Euripides' play follows the fates of the women of Troy after their city has been sacked.. but in this case the plays were full of frank obscenity. knockabout farce. In 'The Birds' he held up Athenian democracy to ridicule. abuse. there developed what was called the New Comedy. Menander is considered the best of its writers. Menander • During the 4th century BC. and as their remaining families are about to be taken away as slaves. and. At Athens the comedies became an official part of the festival celebration in 486 BC. obscenity (probably of ritual origin). and biting political . This art Aristophanes practiced with superb skill. and yet he also became "the most tragic of poets" • The Trojan Women. there is nothing to compare to the comedies of Aristophanes.). and for outrageous and free political criticism. their husbands killed. 8. fantasy.C. It paid little attention to consistency of time or place or character and was not very interested in the logical development of a dramatic plot.C. political and personal satire. for merciless insult. In 'The Clouds' he attacked the philosopher Socrates. 450-385 B. Whereas the Old Comedy was characterized by broad .

• The Hellenica.• and social satire . • The Anabasis ("March Up Country"). Little is known of his personal history since ancient records are scanty. PHILOSOPHY The greatest prose achievement of the 4th century was in philosophy. from the Peloponnesian War to the Theban supremacy. Dyskolos ("Old Cantankerous" or "The Grouch") the only play that survives in its entirety HISTORY 10. There were many Greek philosophers. and employs the annalistic method and exhibits a pro-Spartan bias. He has been called the "Father of History" since he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically. and Aristotle. Xenophon of Athens • He served with the Greek mercenaries of the Persian prince Cyrus. 11. Thucydides 12. perhaps Xenophon's most famous and most exciting work. Although some of his stories were not completely accurate. Plato. Socrates . an experience on which he based his best-known work. in seven books. contradictory and often fanciful. in seven books.Persian Wars and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information. the New Comedy portrayed ordinary people and their private domestic problems. test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. but three names tower above the rest: Socrates. 13. Herodotus • Commonly called the father of history. the Anabasis. and his 'History' contains the first truly literary use of prose in Western literature. he claimed that he was reporting only what had been told to him. Its prose was highly regarded in antiquity and exerted a strong influence on Latin literature. is a continuation of the history of Thucydides. • The Histories— his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced — is a record of his "inquiry" being an investigation of the origins of the Greco. is a history of the expedition of the Greek mercenaries of the younger Cyrus through the Persian Empire.

who in turn instructed Aristotle.) • Plato's text The Republic. or "dialectics. Later Aristotle began his own school in Athens. After Plato's death he traveled widely and educated a famous pupil. 15. it became a famous hotbed of philosophical and scientific discussion.C. first as a student and then as a teacher. Aristotle • Aristotle is one of the "big three" in ancient Greek philosophy. and at age 70 he was charged with heresy and corruption of local youth. along with Plato and Socrates. He spent years in the public places of Athens. the Macedonian who nearly conquered the world. (Socrates was often one of the characters. becoming one of history's earliest martyrs of conscience. he carried out the death sentence by drinking hemlock.• • • • Socrates is the ancient Greek thinker who laid the early foundations for Western philosophical thought. • • • . known as the Lyceum. Socrates. Alexander the Great. he studied under the great Greek thinker. Plato • The son of an aristocrat. remains a staple of college reading lists around the world. Socrates's iconoclastic attitude didn't sit well with everyone. engaging his fellow citizens in philosophical discussions and urging them to greater self-analysis. in which he lays out his ideas on the perfect state. Aristotle is known for his carefully detailed observations about nature and the physical world. 14. and is regarded by many as the first known university in the world." in which knowledge is revealed as two characters ask and answer questions of each other. Among his works are the texts Physics. Metaphysics. His "Socratic Method" involved asking probing questions in a give-and-take which would eventually lead to the truth. which laid the groundwork for the modern study of biology.) Aristotle spent nearly 20 years at Plato's Academy. Convicted.. Socrates was born in Athens and fought as a foot soldier in the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. but in later years became a devotee of philosophy and argument. who in turn instructed the philosopher Aristotle. (Socrates taught Plato. • Plato's writings mostly take the form of dialogues. Rhetoric and Ethics. • After years of travel and study. Socrates's most famous pupil was Plato. Plato founded the Academy in his native Athens in 387 B.