Ancient Greek literature (800 BC-350 AD)
Ancient Greek literature refers to literature written in Ancient Greek dialects. These works range from the oldest surviving written works in the
Greek language until works from the fifth century AD. The Greek language arose from the
proto-Indo-European language; roughly two-thirds of its words can be derived from various reconstructions of the tongue. A number of
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.
Idealized portrayal of
Preclassical (800 BC-500 BC)
The Greeks created poetry before making use of writing for literary purposes. Poems created in the Preclassical period were meant to be sung or recited (writing was little known before the 7th century BC). Most poems focused on myths, legends that were part folktale and part religion. Tragedies and comedies emerged around 600 BC.
At the beginning of Greek literature stand the works of
Iliad and the
Odyssey. Though dates of composition vary, these works were fixed around 800 BC
or after. Another significant figure was the poet
Hesiod. His two surviving works are
Works and Days and
Classical (500 BC-323 BC)
classical period, many of the genres of western literature became more prominent.
dramatic presentations of
dialectics, and philosophical treatises all arose in this period.
The two major lyrical poets were
Pindar. Of the hundreds of
tragedies written and performed during this time period, only a limited number of plays survived. These plays are authored by
The comedy arose from a ritual in honor of
Dionysus. These plays were full of obscenity, abuse, and insult. The surviving plays by
Aristophanes are a treasure trove of comic presentation.
Two influential historians of this age are
Thucydides. A third historian,
Xenophon, wrote "Hellenica," which is considered an extension of Thucydides's work.
The greatest prose achievement of the 4th century BC was in philosophy.
Greek philosophy flourished during the classical period. Of the philosophers,
Aristotle are the most famous.
Hellenistic (323 BC-31 BC)
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 Hellenistic age is defined as the time between the death of Alexander the Great and the rise of Roman domination. After the 3rd century BC, the Greek colony of
Alexandria in northern
Egypt became the center of Greek culture.
Greek poetry flourished with significant contributions from
Apollonius of Rhodes. Theocritus, who lived from about 310 to 250 BC, was the creator of pastoral poetry, a type that the
Virgil mastered in his
Drama was represented by the
New Comedy, of which
Menander was the principal exponent.
One of the most valuable contributions of the Hellenistic period was the translation of the
Old Testament into Greek. This work was done at Alexandria and completed by the end of the 2nd century BC.
Roman Age (31 BC-284 AD)
Roman literature was written in Latin and contributed significant works to the subjects of poetry, comedy, history, and tragedy. A large proportion of literature from this time period were histories.
Significant historians of the period were
Dionysius of Halicarnassus,
Appian of Alexandria,
Plutarch. The period of time they cover extended from late in the 4th century BC to the 2nd century AD.
Many contributions were also made in the sciences.
Eratosthenes of Alexandria wrote on
geography, but his work is known mainly from later summaries. The physician
Galen pioneered developments in various scientific disciplines including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology.
New Testament, written by various authors in varying qualities of
Koine Greek, hails from this period. The
Gospels and the
Epistles of Saint Paul were written in this time period as well.