- Greek literature
Greek literature refers to those writings autochthonic to the areas of Greek influence, typically though not necessarily in one of the Greek dialects, throughout the whole period in which the Greek-speaking peoples have existed.
Ancient Greek literature (Before AD 300)
Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in Ancient Greek from the oldest surviving written works in the
Greek languageuntil 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 that 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 Ioniaand was fully adopted by Athens by the fifth century BC.
At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of
Homer, the Iliadand 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 Daysand Theogony. Some ancients thought Homer and Hesiod roughly contemporaneous, even rivals in contests, but modern scholarship raises doubts on these issues.
In the classical period many of the genres of western literature became more prominent. Lyrical poetry,
odes, pastorals, elegies, epigrams; dramatic presentations of comedyand 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
Sapphoand 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 Aristophanesare a treasure trove of comic presentation. Menanderis 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:
Herodotusand 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.
By 338 BC many of the key Greek city-states had been conquered by
Philip II of Macedon. Philip II's son Alexanderextended his father's conquests greatly. The Greek colony of Alexandriain northern Egyptbecame, 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 Virgilmastered in his Eclogues.
One of the most valuable contributions of the Hellenistic period was the translation of the
Old Testamentinto Greek. The work was done at Alexandria and completed by the end of the 2nd century BC. The name Septuagintmeans "seventy," from the tradition that there were 72 scholars who did the work.
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. Eratosthenesof Alexandria, who died about 194 BC, wrote on astronomyand 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 medicineafter Hippocrates, who laid the foundation of medicine in the 5th century BC.
New Testament, written by various authors in varying qualities of Koine Greekhails from this period (1st to early 2nd century AD), the most important works being the Gospelsand the Epistles of Saint Paul. Patristicliterature was written in the Hellenistic Greekof this period. Syria and Alexandria, especially, flourished.
Byzantine (AD 290-1453)
Byzantine literature refers to literature of the
Byzantine Empirewritten in Atticizing, Medieval and early Modern Greek.
If Byzantine literature is the expression of the intellectual life of the
Byzantine Greeksduring 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 Hellenisticintellectual culture and Roman governmental organization are added the emotional life of Christianityand the world of Oriental imagination, the last enveloping all the other three. [adapted from Karl Dieterich, " Byzantine Literature", "Catholic Encyclopedia", 1911]
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 Empirewere written in French. Chronicles, distinct from histories, arose in this period. Encyclopedias also flourished in this period.
Modern Greek (post 1453)
Modern Greek literature refers to
literaturewritten 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 Greekcame to be used more and more over the Attic idiom and the katharevousareforms.
Erotokritos" is undoubtedly the masterpiece of this period, and perhaps the supreme achievement of modern Greek literature. It is a verse romance written around 1600 by Vitsentzos Kornaros( 1553- 1613).
Korakistika" ( 1819), a lampoon written by Jakovakis Rizos Neroulosand directed against the Greek intellectual Adamantios Korais, is a major example of the Greek Enlightenment and emerging nationalism.
Contemporary Greek literature
Contemporary Greek literature is typically written in the monotonic Greek alphabet. Some of the most renowned representatives of modern Greek literature include:
Constantine P. Cavafy
Dimitris P. Kraniotis
Loeb Classical Library
Ancient Greek literature
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/inourtime.shtml Greek and Roman love poetry] ,
BBC Radio 4, "In Our Time", 26 April 2007
* [http://users.telenet.be/herman.lauvrys/authors.htm Greek Authors on the Web]
* [http://www.pinellasfla.com/litgreeks.htm Synopsis of the most famous works and author pictures]
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