Ancient Greek History

What to Know About Ancient Greek Literature

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When we think of Ancient Greek literature, most of us envision works like the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were written by Homer. Although these works are enjoyed today, it is important to understand that this is only a small representation of what the literature was really like back then. There were different forms of literature that people enjoyed, and most of it was performed as part of an oral storytelling tradition and not read silently as they are today.

Ancient Greek Literature Was Performed by a Bard

As mentioned above, most of the works of classical literature were performed aloud. The bard usually accompanied his performance with a stringed instrument such as a lyre. Since the works of literature were performed orally, they were handed down through the generations based on memorization. As a result of this, it is likely that many of the traditional works of literature that were performed back then likely haven’t survived. Other works, however, such as the works of Homer, are still enjoyed today. Back then, being able to enjoy the stories told by a traveling bard was one of the most common forms of entertainment.

Common Styles of Ancient Greek Literature

There were a few different types of literature that were performed in Ancient Greece. Some of the earliest Ancient Greek writings that we know of today originated in the Mycenaean time period and the tradition of classical literature continued all the way through to the Hellenistic and Roman time periods. As the culture evolved, so did its literature. Here’s a look at some of the most common styles:

  • Epic Peom – Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey are written as epic poems and can be traced to the tail beginning of Ancient Greek literature. An epic poem is a type of oral poem that is told in an evelated style and usually tracks the grand story of at least one hero.
  • Lyric Poem. Lyric poems were most often performed with a lyre and also a full chorus. The first known lyric poem in Ancient Greece was called Archilochus and was written by Paros during the Archaic Period of Ancient Greece.
  • Drama. Theater was invented in Ancient Greece, and the plays that were written surrounding the theater culture were an important part of the Ancient Greek literary tradition. Most of the early works of drama were created in Athens and written in the Attican dialect that was spoken. During the Classical Period of Ancient Greece, drama was at its peak. Popular dramatic works were written by people like Sophocles and Euripedes and many of their works are still performed today.
  • Historiography. During the Classical Period of Ancient Greece, there were a few writers who were interested in tracking historical events. The works of Herodotus, known as the “Father of History”, and Thucydides, are still considered good sources of information concerning the history of Ancient Greece. Thycydides was particularly known for his accuracy.

As you can see, there were many types of literature that the Ancient Greeks enjoyed, and many of these are still widely known today.


Wikipedia – Ancient Greek Literature

Wikipedia – Epic Poetry

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This post was written by Greek Boston