Ancient Greek Literature

 
Written by Norman Sandridge on

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Ancient Greek literature is literature written in the Ancient Greek language from the earliest texts until the time of the Byzantine Empire. The earliest surviving works of ancient Greek literature, dating back to the early Archaic period, are the two epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey, set in an idealized archaic past today identified as having some relation to the Mycenaean era. These two epics, along with the Homeric Hymns and the two poems of Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, comprised the major foundations of the Greek literary tradition that would continue into the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

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The lyric poets Sappho, Alcaeus, and Pindar were highly influential during the early development of the Greek poetic tradition. Aeschylus is the earliest Greek tragic playwright for whom any plays have survived complete. Sophocles is famous for his tragedies about Oedipus, particularly Oedipus the King and Antigone. Euripides is known for his plays which often pushed the boundaries of the tragic genre. The comedic playwright Aristophanes wrote in the genre of Old Comedy, while the later playwright Menander was an early pioneer of New Comedy. The historians Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Thucydides, who both lived during the sixth century BC, wrote accounts of events that happened shortly before and during their own lifetimes. The philosopher Plato wrote dialogues, usually centered around his teacher Socrates, dealing with various philosophical subjects, whereas his student Aristotle wrote numerous treatises, which later became highly influential.

The Education of Cyrus (c. 365 BCE) is a narrative composed by Xenophon the Athenian, treating the life of the first king of the Persian Empire, Cyrus “the Great” (c. 600-530 BCE, more here), from his youth in the Persian educational system (agôgê) to his conquest of Babylon and establishment of one of the ancient world’s first large empires. Many throughout history have been interested in the Education of Cyrus, including Alexander “the Great”, the Roman general Scipio Africanus, Cicero, Machiavelli, Philip Sidney, and Thomas Jefferson, as well as several modern political scientists. In the past thirty years the work has seen a resurgence of scholarly interest, whether it is read as a handbook on leadership, a proto-novel, a relic of Achaemenid (early Persian) culture and Iranian folklore, a quasi-biography or history, a military treatise, an exploration of the emotions (e.g., romantic love, envy), or a philosophical engagement with many of the questions of childhood education, human psychology, justice, and the ideal society that were familiar to Athenians of the early fourth century like Plato and Isocrates.

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