Greek literature, term for ancient Greek literature (commonly known as Greek literature) that began before the 8th century BC. And ends in Byzantine times (4th / 5th century AD).
Their history is characterized by constant adaptation to new ways of thinking, by the inclusion of new areas in literature and by the development of new literary genres. The traditional was never given up, but maintained and refined in early schools.
The rich traditions of non-fictional literature are also included in this early epoch of literary history.
Archaic Period (800–500 BC)
The great epics
Greek literature is the oldest European literature of all, its oldest genre is the epic. The great epics “Iliad” and “Odyssey” written in dactylic hexameters have come down to us under the name Homer . They are borne by the values of noble society, but also reflect an archaic world; The focus is on (gods and heroes) myths, the central event is the battle for Troy. All later Greek poets drew from Homer’s work, the philosophers also grappled with it; it is an inexhaustible reservoir for art and literature up to the present day. – Around 700 BC Hesiod took over in Boeotia, the first poet in Europe whose name can be identified with certainty, the epic form for his didactic poems (didactic poetry), which are dedicated to theological speculation (“theogony”) and peasant ethics and contemporary problems (“works and days”).
Early poetry and philosophical works
Since the middle of the 7th century, parallel to the first forms of democratic self-understanding (Greece, history), poetry emerged as an expression of individual feelings, which was performed with instrumental accompaniment, individual poets thus emerged with previously unknown freedom. The design options and content are diverse; later attempts at classification are based on external characteristics. The lyrical poets (their works are mostly only preserved in fragments) sometimes created their own characteristic forms of meter and stanza structure, such as Sappho (Sapphic stanza) and Alkaios (Alkaean stanza) on Lesbos, Anacreon in Ionia. Poetic exhortations, invectives and reflections can be found in Tyrtaios in Sparta, in Archilochus and Hipponax (Choliambus) in Ionia, in Semonides of Amorgos, in Solon in Athens and Theognis from Megara; their meters are mostly distich and iambus. The cult choral lyric (chorus) was cultivatedby Alkman in Sparta, Arionfrom Lesbos, Stesichoros in Sicily and Simonides from Keos. – middle of the 6th century BC The first philosophical works (pre-Socratics), partly in prose (Anaximander in Miletus, Heraklit in Ephesus), partly in the form of a didactic poem in hexameters (Parmenides in Elea, Empedocles in Sicily). Around 500 BC The pioneer of Greek historiography, the ethnographer, geographer and genealogist Hekataios of Miletus wrote.
Classical period (500– late 4th century BC)
Tragedy and comedy
In the 5th century BC Athens was the spiritual center of Greece, its culture produced works that the later epochs understood as timelessly exemplary. That is true of v. a. for the tragedy that emerged from the dithyrambus and was further shaped by Thespis, which flourished in Athens through Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and which became the measure for more than two millennia in the theater. The dominant theme – as demonstrated by the myth – was the relationship between man and deity (Greek mythology). The comedy is also of Greek origin. Eupolis, Kratinos and V. a. Aristophanes, representative of the “old comedy,” treated here, for example, Partly also through mythological material, critical of political and cultural life in the polis. In the 4th century BC BC (also due to the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, 404 BC) the political issues receded, the “middle comedy” (of which no piece has been passed down in full) brought mythological parodies and everyday problems to the stage (representatives Antiphanes, among others), and finally the “new comedy” (end of the 4th – 2nd century BC) only dealt with general human problems (represented in Athens by Menander, Philemonand Diphilos, among others).
Historiographic and philosophical prose
The prose also developed its genres in the political culture: Herodotus, the “father” of Greek historiography, presented the conflict between Greeks and “barbarians” in the Persian Wars in Ionic dialect; Thucydides described the Peloponnesian War in Attic dialect. Him joined Xenophon, Theopompus of Chios and Ephorus of Kyme to.
Important works of Greek literature (selection)
- Homer’s epics : “Iliad”, “Odyssey” (around 800 BC)
- Hesiod’s didactic poems : “Theogony”, “Works and Days” (around 700 BC)
- the songs of the Sappho (around 600 BC)
- the fragments preserved from Heraclitus (around 500 BC)
- the odes and hymns of Pindar (after 500 BC)
- the tragedies of Aeschylus, among others “The Persians” (472 BC), “The Oresty” (458 BC)
- the tragedies of Sophocles, among others “Antigone” (441 BC), “King Oedipus” (before 425 BC)
- the tragedies of Euripides, among others “Medea” (431 BC), “The Trojans” (415 BC)
- the historical work of Thucydides, among others. “The Peloponnesian War” (between about 431 and 404 BC)
- the historical work of Herodotus (before 424 BC)
- the comedies of Aristophanes, among others “Peace” (421 BC), “Lysistrate” (411 BC)
- the philosophical dialogues of Plato, among others. “Politeia”, “Symposion” (both between about 387 and 367 BC), and the text “The Defense of Socrates” (between about 395 and 390 BC)
- the textbooks of Aristotle, among others. “Nicomachean Ethics” (between 335 and 323 BC), “Metaphysics” (4th century BC), “On poetry” (between 367 and 347 BC)
- the idylls of Theocritus (around 270 BC)
- the writings of Plutarch, among others. the “parallel biographies” (after 96 AD)
- the dialogues of Lukian, among others. »Talks with the gods«, »talks with hetaerae« (both perhaps 160–170)
- the novel “Daphnis and Chloe” by Longos (around 200)
The year numbers indicate the time of origin, in the case of the dramas the year of the premiere.
The sophists (including Protagoras and Gorgias) who came to Athens from all over Greece subjected traditional religious, ethical and political views to rational criticism in their arguments. Its work and the transfer of political decisions to large democratic bodies made poetry recede as a means of communication. By Antiphon, Andokides, Lysias, in the 4th century by Demosthenes and Isocrates the art form of political and judicial speech was developed further and the form of the open letter was introduced as a means of political discussion. As a new form of literature in the confrontation with the Sophists, the pupils of Socrates, v. a. Plato, Xenophon and later Aristotle, the philosophical dialogue. The Athens philosophical schools of the Platonic Academy, Peripatos (especially Theophrastus), the “garden” of Epicurus and the Stoa (Greek philosophy) became literary centers. In addition, scientific (medical and biological) treatises (Hippocrates, Theophrastus). Inspired by the Peripatos, the biography emerged as a new genre.
Classical Greek poetry – as choral poetry – flourished outside of Athens: Outstanding figures were Pindar of Thebes and Bakchylides of Keos, while in Sicily Epicharm wrote his Doric comedies, rich in farcical and mimetic elements. Towards the end of the 4th century, Erinna wrote poems of personal content in the Doric dialect.