Ancient Greek Literature

Ancient Greek Literature

Literature written in the Ancient Greek language refers to Ancient Greek Literature which belongs to Classical literature. The world got introduced to genres such as poetry, tragedy, comedy and western philosophy because of Greek writers. These Greek authors did not solely take birth on their native land Greece but also in Asia Minor, the islands of the Aegean, Sicily and southern Italy. Greek Literature had its influence not only on its Roman neighbours and but also on infinite generations across the European continent.

The two epic poems, Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey set in the Mycenaean are the earliest surviving works of ancient Greek literature, dating back to the early Archaic period. They are among the earliest texts until the time of the Byzantine Empire. The major foundation of the Greek Literary tradition comprises of two epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey along with the Homeric Hymns. Also the two poems of Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days. These continued into the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Though relatively only a small proportion of the ancient Greek literature survives, yet it remains important due to its supreme quality. It was so impactful that even until the mid 19th century writers belonging to the Western world kept up the Greek tradition of writing. They knew that the forms they used were of Greek invention.

Starting from school going student, everyone must have heard about Alexander the Great. Greece had a rich history of both war and peace which left an inerasable imprint on its people and culture. To get a clear view and appreciate Greek Literature, one must divide the oral epics from the tragedies and comedies. Also the histories from the philosophies. Greek literature can be divided into distinct periods namely: Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic.

Before moving into further detail, lets have a short overview. Literature belonging to the Archaic era mostly centred on myth; part history and part folklore. Some of the significant examples of this period are Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony. Much of what was created in this period were communicated orally and got its written form years later.
The Classical era (4th and 5th century BCE) centred on the tragedies of writers such as Sophocles Oedipus Rex, Euripides Hippolytus, and the comedies of Aristophanes. Unfortunately, except few exceptions, much literary works of the Archaic and Classical period remains only in fragments.
Lastly the Hellenistic era, saw the face of Greek poetry, prose and culture expand across the Mediterranean influencing Roman writers such as Horace, Ovid and Virgil

The Archaic Period

During the Archaic period, the poets’ works were in the form of oral tradition delivered at festivals. A product of Greece’s Dark Ages, Homer’s epic The Iliad centred on the last days of the Trojan War. A war initiated by the love of a beautiful woman, Helen. It brought an array of heroes such as Achilles, Hector, and Paris to generations of Greek youth. It was a poem of contrasts: gods and mortals, divine and human, war and peace. The action of the play not only takes place on earth but also in the heavens and underworld. The events are often affected by the events on Mount Olympus and Gods and nature spirits all help and hinder the human characters in various ways throughout the poem. Alexander the Great slept with a copy of the book under his pillow and even believed he was related to Achilles. Read heroism and leadership in Homer’s Iliad.
 The Odyssey, Homer’s second work revolved around the ten-year “Odyssey” of the Trojan War hero Odysseus and his attempt to return home.



In the Archaic period, the several types of Greek lyric poetry originated among the poets of the Aegean Islands and of Ionia on the coast of Asia Minor. Archilochus of Paros, of the 7th century BC, was the earliest Greek poet to employ the forms of elegy and of personal lyric poetry. His work was very highly rated by the ancient Greeks but survives only in fragments. His forms and metrical patterns, elegiac couplet and a variety of lyric metres were taken up by Ionian poets. At the beginning of the 6th century Alcaeus and Sappho produced lyric poetry composing in the Aeolic dialect of Lesbos. They mostly named the metres after them, namely, the alcaic and the sapphic. No other poets of ancient Greece could enter into so close a personal relationship with the reader like Alcaeus, Sappho, and Archilochus.
They were succeeded by Anacreon of Teos, in Ionia. Choral lyric, with musical accompaniment, belonged to the Dorian tradition. Alcman in Sparta and Stesichorus in Sicily were its representative poets in the period.
Lastly, Sappho was one of the few female lyric poets of the period, often called the tenth Muse. Born on the Aegean island of Lesbos, her poems were hymns to the gods and influenced Romans poets such as Horace, Catullus, and Ovid. Much of her poetry remains in fragments or quoted in the works of others.

Classical period

Classical period was about oral recitation of poetry, morphed into drama. The purpose of drama was not only to entertain but a means to educate the Greek citizens. Plays were usually a part of religious festivals, performed outdoors on theatres. A chorus of singers used to explain the action. The Classical era mainly centred around tragedies and comedies. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are considered among the great tragic writers of the world.

 Aeschylus (c. 525 – c. 456 BCE) was the earliest among these three.
His first play was performed in 499 BCE. His surviving works include Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Suppliants (a play that beat out Sophocles in a competition), Prometheus Bound, Oresteia. Part of the Oresteia trilogy, his most famous work was probably Agamemnon. Agamemnon is a play centering on the return of the Trojan War commander Agamemnon to his wife Clytemnestra, who eventually kills him.
Most of Aeschylus’ plays centred on Greek myth, portraying the suffering of man and the justice of gods. His works were among the first to have a dialogue between the play’s characters.

 Sophocles (c. 496 – c. 406 BCE) was the second among the great tragic playwrights of his time. Of his 120 plays performed in competition, only 20 were victorious. Losing far too many to Aeschylus. Only three of his seven surviving plays are complete. His most famous work is Oedipus Rex, part of a trilogy. The tragedy of King Oedipus centred on a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. By trying to escape the bitter destiny, unfortunately they fulfilled the latter. However, the tragedy of the play is not that he killed his father and married his mother but that he found out about it; it was an exploration of the tragic character of a now blinded hero. Oedipus Rex works as the greatest example under Aristotle’s theory of tragedy till date.



 Euripides (c. 484 – 407 BCE), an Athenian, was the third great author of Greek tragedians. His plays were often based on myth. But unfortunately, his plays were not very successful at the competitions. He was the author of 92 plays. Some of his notable works include Hippolytus, The Trojan Women, Bacchae, Medea, Electra and Orestes. His play Medea speaks of a bitter woman who took revenge against her lover by killing her children. He became “the most tragic of poets”, by focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown. Euripides was known for introducing a second act to his plays, which were concerned with kings and rulers as well as disputes and dilemmas. He died shortly after traveling to Macedon where he was to write a play about the king’s coronation.

Aeschylus still looked back to the Archaic period, Sophocles was in transition between periods, and Euripides was fully injected with the new spirit of the Classical age.
This was also a golden age for rhetoric and oratory, first taught by Corax of Syracuse in the 5th century. The study of rhetoric and oratory raised questions of truth and morality in argument. Thus for the philosopher, advocate and politician, it was a matter of concern.

Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic period produced its share of poets, prose writers, and historians. Among them were Callimachus, his student Theocritus, Apollonius Rhodius, and the highly respected historian Plutarch. Unfortunately, like the previous eras, much literary works of this period remains in fragments or quoted in the works of others.

The poet Callimachus (310 – 240 BCE) was originally from Cyrene but migrated to Egypt and spent most of his life in Alexandria. He served as a librarian under both Ptolemy II and III. Of his over 800 books, 6 hymns, and 60 epigrams, only fragments remain. His most famous work was Aetia (Causes), which revealed his fascination for the great Greek past. His work heavily influenced the poetry of Catullus and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Callimachus‘ student Theocritus (315 – 250 BCE) originally from Syracuse also worked in the library at Alexandria, producing a number of works. He is said to be the originator of pastoral poetry. Like his tutor, his work influenced future Roman authors such as Ovid.

 Apollonius Rhodius (born c. 295 BCE) served as a  librarian and tutor. His major work was the four books of the Argonautica. It is a retelling of the story of Jason’s travels to reclaim the fabled Golden Fleece. Likewise Callimachus and Theocritus, his work influenced Catullus and Virgil.

Besides poetry and prose, the Athenian Menander (342 – 290 BCE) was the best-known playwright of the era. Menander was a student of philosophy and leading proponent of New Comedy. He authored over 100 plays which includes Dyscolus, Perikeiromene, and Epitrepontes. He was the master of suspense. His plays were later adapted by the Roman authors Plautus and Terence.

 The Hellenistic period lasted from the end of the 4th to the end of the 1st century BC. For the next three centuries, until Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Greek writers were conscious of belonging to a world of which Rome was the centre. To know more about Greek philosophers and historians, subscribe and keep an eye for our next post.

About the author :

This Post Has 32 Comments

    1. Shuvo Azam

      Of course you can. In fact it is our desire to share thoughts with each other. You can send your feedback to our contact page. Email us here: support@shuvoart.com or via our facebook page. We will be pleased if you join us by your writings. Thank you!

  1. Hairstyles

    Thanks for the guidelines shared on the blog. Something also important I would like to express is that losing weight is not exactly about going on a celebrity diet and trying to lose as much weight as you’re able in a couple of days. The most effective way to lose weight is by consuming it little by little and right after some basic guidelines which can allow you to make the most from your attempt to slim down. You may be aware and be following many of these tips, although reinforcing knowledge never hurts.

  2. Lisa

    Want to see more posts like this☺

  3. payday loans

    A lot of thanks for all your efforts on this site. Gloria enjoys doing investigation and it’s easy to understand why. Almost all know all concerning the dynamic means you deliver great items on the web blog and as well encourage contribution from other people on that concern plus our daughter is actually being taught a lot. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. You’re the one conducting a glorious job.

  4. viagra price

    A lot of thanks for all your valuable hard work on this web page. Kate loves getting into investigation and it’s really easy to understand why. I know all of the dynamic medium you make insightful solutions on this web blog and as well as foster participation from people on that idea so our girl is certainly discovering a lot of things. Have fun with the remaining portion of the new year. You are conducting a powerful job.

  5. kamagra prices

    Needed to write you this very small word to help thank you very much yet again with the superb tips you have shown on this website. This is so unbelievably open-handed with you to provide without restraint what exactly numerous people would have supplied for an electronic book to help with making some profit on their own, principally since you might well have tried it in the event you wanted. Those thoughts likewise worked to become a great way to recognize that the rest have the same passion the same as my very own to see way more with regards to this problem. I think there are thousands of more pleasurable times up front for those who start reading your website.

  6. purchase asendin

    I am commenting to let you know of the fine encounter my cousin’s daughter experienced reading your site. She even learned many issues, not to mention what it’s like to have a wonderful giving mindset to have many people quite simply grasp chosen hard to do subject areas. You really exceeded our expectations. Many thanks for giving the insightful, healthy, educational and as well as easy thoughts on the topic to Jane.

  7. Madusha Mannpperuma

    Obviously ,This is a great letter

  8. Free Stuff

    Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this information. Today bloggers publish just about gossips and net and this is actually irritating. A good blog with interesting content, that’s what I need. Thank you for keeping this website, I will be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it.

  9. altyazili

    Hello there. I found your web site via Google even as searching for a similar matter, your website got here up. It looks great. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to come back then. Wilhelmine Nickolaus Eddana

  10. movies

    I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an impatience over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike. Cassandra Yuma Linc

  11. canli

    I think this is a real great post. Thanks Again. Keep writing. Ulrikaumeko Ichabod Immanuel Cristabel Bradley Shear

  12. Hairstyles

    Excellent blog here! Also your web site loads up very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  13. watch

    I enjoyed your article. I was also a public service worker for the federal government for 31 years. Although we still feel the call to duty, that duty is now to take care of yourself so that in the future, we yet may be able to help others. Lauren Reynolds Kenn

  14. watch

    Hurrah! Finally I got a web site from where I can genuinely get useful information regarding my study and knowledge. Berry Rees Hatti

  15. watch

    check below, are some completely unrelated internet sites to ours, nonetheless, they may be most trustworthy sources that we use Charlot Sutton Adolph

  16. series online

    Excellent blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers? Thalia Brad Heinrike

  17. movie online

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a book from our area library but I think I learned better from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent information being shared freely out there. Lacy Nobie Elisa

  18. 123movies

    Great work Alex. Normanton Church is a really remarkable venue and your photos make it even a more beautiful. Laetitia Xenos Waly

  19. Denise Zerbe

    I’ll immediately seize your rss as I can not in finding your email
    subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any?

    Kindly let me recognise in order that I may subscribe.
    Thanks.

  20. Kristina Reyes

    I have been browsing on-line more than 3 hours today, but I by no means found any fascinating article like yours.
    It is lovely worth enough for me. In my view,
    if all web owners and bloggers made just right content as you probably did,
    the web will be much more helpful than ever before.

  21. Loretta Nguyen

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you
    writing this post and also the rest of the
    site is also really good.

  22. Anne Tandy

    I have been browsing online more than 4 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours.

    It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the
    internet will be much more useful than ever before.

  23. Today, with all the fast life style that everyone is having, credit cards have a big demand throughout the economy. Persons coming from every area of life are using credit card and people who aren’t using the credit cards have made up their minds to apply for even one. Thanks for expressing your ideas about credit cards. https://psoriasismedi.com psoriasis medications

Leave a Reply