Guides & tips

for students:

Greek Literature


Introduction

Greek literature refers to literary works of both ancient and modern origin written in the Greek language in places that were under the influence of Greece. In talking about Greek literature, it must be understood that the topic spans a very long period and covers many genres of literature. It must also be understood that Greek literature is written in several dialects of Greek, both ancient and modern, and under differing cultural, social and political dispensations. Greek literature includes such forms of literature as pastoral poetry, epic stories, odes, eulogies, tragedy, comedy, lyrical poetry, and elegies.

Language of Greek Literature

Greek literature as it spanned many centuries was written in several dialects of both Ancient and Modern Greek. In the ancient period, there were three major dialects of Greek. These were the Aeolic Greek spoken by the Aeolians, Ionic Greek spoken by the Ionians and Doric Greek spoken by the Dorians. The works of the famous Greek Poet, Homer were written basically in literary Ionic Greek, including the Iliad and the Odyssey. Attic Greek was a sub dialect of Ionic Greek and was the language spoken in the city of Athens. The works of the famous Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle were written in Attic Greek. Koine Greek or “common Greek” was the language spoken by the inhabitants of conquered territories during the days of Greek colonial ascendancy under Alexander the Great and was based on a dialect of Attic Greek. The New Testament also called the “Septuagint” - because it was written by about seventy two scholars - was written in Koine Greek. Medieval Greek also known as Byzantine Greek was spoken in the period during which the Byzantine Empire controlled a large part of Eastern Europe up to the time when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans. Modern Greek is usually assigned as being spoken from after the fall of Constantinople but had existed alongside ancient forms before then.

Some famous Greek Poets, Writers and Philosophers

Down through the ages, Greek literature has thrown up many important writers and literary gurus some of who have left a lasting legacy on the literary landscape of the world. One very famous Greek Poet was Homer who wrote the classic epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Hesiod was another great Greek writer of the pre-classical period. His best known works were Works and Day and Theogony. The classical period threw up Sappho and Pindar who composed major lyrical poetry. Herodotus and Thucydides were famous historians of the classical period, while the famous Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle also belonged to this period. Other periods of Greek literature were the Hellenistic, the Byzantine and the Modern periods.