Greek Literature

Overview of Greek Literature
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  1 LESSON 1-a- GREEK LITERATURE LESSON 1 GREEK LITERATURE Overview of Greek Literature Over a period of more than ten centuries, the ancient Greeks created a literature of such  brilliance that it has rarely been equaled and never surpassed. In poetry, tragedy, comedy, and history, Greek writers created masterpieces that have inspired, influenced, and challenged readers to the present day. There are four major periods of Greek literature: pre-classical, classical, Hellenistic-Roman, and Byzantine. Of these the most significant works were produced during the pre-classical and classical eras. Classical and Pre-classical antiquity Greek literature stretched from Homer until the 4th century BC and the rise of  Alexander the Great. At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the  Iliad   and the Odyssey . The other great poet of the pre-classical period was Hesiod. His two works were  Works and Days  and  Theogony . The first is a faithful depiction of the poverty-stricken country life he knew so well, and it sets forth principles and rules for farmers. Theogony  is a systematic account of creation and of the gods. It vividly describes the ages of mankind, beginning with a long-past Golden Age. Together the works of Homer and Hesiod comprised a kind of  Bible for the Greeks; Homer told the story of a heroic relatively near past, which Hesiod bracketed with a creation narrative and an account of the  practical realities of contemporary daily life. By 338 BC all of the Greek city-states except Sparta had been conquered by Philip II of Macedon. Greece was not independent again until the early 19th century, a period of more than 2,000 years. This period is called the Hellenistic  –   Roman Period. Philip's son Alexander the Great extended his father's conquests greatly. In so doing he inaugurated what is called the Age of Hellenism. The Greek word for Greece was Hellas. Hellenism, therefore, signifies the spread of Greek language, literature, and culture throughout the Mediterranean world. Alexander 's conquests were in the East, and Greek culture shifted first in that direction. Athens lost its preeminent status as the leader of Greek culture, and it was replaced temporarily  by Alexandria, Egypt. After the rise of Rome, all the Mediterranean area was brought within one far-flung empire. Greek civilization then spread westward as well. Educated Romans learned to speak and write Greek, and they looked to Greece's golden age for inspiration in philosophy, poetry, and drama. So dependent did Roman writers become, in fact, that they produced very little that was not based upon Greek works, especially in drama and philosophy. Best known of the late Greek historians to modern readers is Plutarch, who died about AD 119. His `Parallel Lives' of great Greek and Roman leaders has been read by every generation since the work was first published. His other surviving work is the `Moralia', a collection of essays on ethical, religious, political,  physical, and literary topics  2 LESSON 1-a- GREEK LITERATURE Translation of the Hebrew Bible During the Byzantine Period, Constantine the Great moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium (now Istanbul) in about AD 330 and renamed the city Constantinople. The Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire lasted until it was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 (see Byzantine Empire ). The civilization of this empire was Greek in language and heritage, but it was Christian in religion. One of the most valuable contributions of the Hellenistic period was the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The work was done at Alexandria and completed by the end of the 2nd century BC. The name Septuagint means seventy, from the tradition that there were 72 scholars who did the work. Since the language of the early Christian community was Greek, the Septuagint became its Bible. In religion the crowning literary achievement was considered to be the New Testament portion of the Christian Bible. Other books not in the Hebrew Bible were also written in Greek and included what is called the Apocrypha. There were very few literature that showed any real srcinality that written in the vernacular, the language of the common people. This literature--including poems, romances, and epics--was only written from the 12th century onward. Of the epics, the most memorable is the story of Digenis Akritas, based on a historical figure who died in about 788. It presents Akritas as the ideal medieval Greek hero. After the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, Greek national life and culture ended for centuries, as did literary production. It was only revived when Greece became independent in 1829. Lyric Poetry Greek lyric is the body of  lyric poetry written in dialects of ancient Greek. It is primarily associated with the early 7th to the early 5th centuries BC, sometimes called the Lyric Age of Greece but continued to be written into the Hellenistic and Imperial  periods. Poetry flourished in Alexandria in the third century BC. The chief Alexandrian poets were Theocritus, Callimachus, and Apollonius of Rhodes. Theocritus, who lived from about 310 to 250 BC, invented a new genre of poetry  —   bucolic, a genre that the Roman Virgil would later imitate in his   Eclogues . Lyric poetry got its name from the fact that it was srcinally sung by individuals or a chorus accompanied by the instrument called the lyre. Lyric poetry was divided in four genres, two of which were not accompanied by cithara,  but by flute. 1.   Elegiac poetry written in elegiac couplet 2.   Iambic poetry written in iambic trimester, popularized by Archilocus of Paros , 700BC. 3.   Monadic lyric popularized by the Nine lyric poets, particularly Alcaeus and Sappho 4.   Choral lyric popularized by Pindarus.  3 LESSON 1-a- GREEK LITERATURE Characteristics of Greek lyrics Greek lyric poems celebrate athletic victories  , commemorate the dead, exhort soldiers to valor, and offer religious devotion in the forms of  hymns, paeans, and dithyrambs. Love poems  praise the beloved, express unfulfilled desire, proffer seductions, or blame the former lover for a  breakup. In this last mood, love poetry might blur into invective, a poetic attack aimed at insulting or shaming a personal enemy, an art at which Archilochus, the earliest known Greek lyric poet, excelled. The themes of Greek lyric include politics, war, sports, drinking, money, youth, old age, death, the heroic past, the gods, and hetero- and homosexual love.  Major Poets The two major poets were Sappho and Pindar. Sappho, who lived in the period from 610 to 580 BC, has always been admired for the beauty of her writing. Her themes were personal. They dealt with her friendships with and dislikes of other women, though her brother Charaxus was the subject of several poems. Unfortunately, only fragments of her poems remain. With Pindar the transition has been made from the pre-classical to the classical age. He was born about 518 BC and is considered the greatest of the Greek lyricists. His masterpieces were the poems that celebrated athletic victories in the games at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and the Isthmus of Corinth. Greek Drama Ancient Greek drama developed around Greece's theater culture. Drama was particularly developed in Athens, so works are written in Attic dialect. The dialogues are in iambic trimeter,  while chorus are in the meters of choral lyric. The tragic plays grew out of simple choral songs and dialogues performed at festivals of the god Dionysus. In the classic period, performances included three tragedies and one pastoral drama, depicting four different episodes of the same myth. Wealthy citizens were chosen to bear the expense of costuming and training the chorus as a public and religious duty. Attendance at the festival performances was regarded as an act of worship. Performances were held in the great open-air theater of Dionysus in Athens. All of the greatest poets competed for the prizes offered for the best plays. Three Types of Drama/Play Tragedy The three best authors are Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. From Aeschylus, we still have seven tragedies, among which the only surviving series of three tragedies performed together, the so-called  Oresteia . Seven works of Sophocles have survived, the most important of which are  Oedipus rex  and   Antigone . From Euripides, seventeen tragedies have survived, among them   Medea  and  The Bacchae .  Comedy As with the tragedians, few works still remain of the great comedic writers. Of the works of earlier writers, only some plays by Aristophanes exist. These are a treasure trove of comic  4 LESSON 1-a- GREEK LITERATURE  presentation. He poked fun at everyone and every institution. For boldness of fantasy, for merciless insult, for unqualified indecency, and for outrageous and free political criticism, there is nothing to compare to the comedies of Aristophanes. In The Birds , he held up Athenian democracy to ridicule. In The Clouds , he attacked the philosopher Socrates. In  Lysistrata , he denounced war. Only 11 of his plays have survived. Satyr Play Satyr plays were an ancient Greek form of tragicomedy, similar in spirit to the bawdy satire of  burlesque. They featured choruses of  satyrs, were based on Greek mythology, and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality (including  phallic  props), pranks, sight gags, and general merriment. Although the genre was popular, only one example has survived in its entirety, Euripides'  Cyclops.  Greek History Two of the most famous historians who have ever written flourished during Greece's classical age: Herodotus and Thucydides. Herodotus is commonly called the father of history, and his History contains the first truly literary use of prose in Western literature. Of the two, Thucydides was the more careful historian. His critical use of sources, inclusion of documents, and laborious research made his History of the Peloponnesian War a significant influence on later generations of historians. A third historian of ancient Greece, Xenophon, began his  Hellenica  where Thucydides ended his work about 411 BC and carried his history to 362 BC. His writings were superficial in comparison to those of Thucydides, but he wrote with authority on military matters. Greek Influence The influence of Ancient Greek Literature on Western Literature has been enormous. In fact, the frame of Greek  literary genres has been almost perfectly adopted by Latin literature, firstly, and then by the European literatures, until the 18th century. The Greek works were well known by Roman writers, as well as by European writers since Renaissance. So, these works, particularly the Homeric poems and the tragedies were the model for the successive writers of the same genres. Early Greek Poetry SAPPHO (born c.  610, Lesbos [now part of Greece] — died c.  570 bc), Legends about Sappho abound, many having been repeated for centuries. She is said, for example, to have been married to Cercylas, a wealthy man from the island of Andros. But many scholars challenge this claim, finding evidence in the Greek words of the bawdry of later Comic
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