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Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 13 November 2013
Map of Greece under Theban Hegemony (Megistias)
Greece is a country in southeastern Europe, known in Greek as Hellas or Ellada, and consisting of a mainland and an archipelago of islands. Ancient Greece is the birthplace of Western philosophy ( Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle ), literature( Homer and Hesiod ), mathematics ( Pythagoras and Euclid ), history ( Herodotus ), drama ( Sophocles, Euripedes, and Aristophanes ), the Olympic Games, and democracy. The concept of an atomic universe was first posited in Greece through the work of Democritus and Leucippus. The process of today's scientific method was first introduced through the work of Thales of Miletus and those who followed him. The Latin alphabet also comes from ancient Greece, having been introduced to the region by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BCE, and early work in physics and engineering was pioneered by Archimedes, of the Greek colony of Syracuse, among others.
Mainland Greece is a large peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea (branching into the Ionian Sea in the west and the Aegean Sea in the east) which also comprises the islands known as the Cyclades and the Dodecanese (including Rhodes ), the Ionian islands (including Corcyra ), the isle of Crete, and the southern peninsula known as the Peloponnese.
The geography of Greece greatly influenced the culture in that, with few natural resources and surrounded by water, the people eventually took to the sea for their livelihood. Mountains cover eighty percent of Greece and only small rivers run through a rocky landscape which, for the most part, provides little encouragement for agriculture. Consequently, the early ancient Greeks colonized neighboring islands and founded settlements along the coast of Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor, modern day Turkey ). The Greeks became skilled seafaring people and traders who, possessing an abundance of raw materials for construction in stone, and great skill, built some of the most impressive structures in antiquity.



The designation Hellas derives from Hellen, the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha who feature prominently in Ovid 's tale of the Great Flood in his Metamorphoses. The mythical Deucalion (son of the fire-bringing titan Prometheus ) was the savior of the human race from the Great Flood, in the same way Noah is presented in the biblical version or Utnapishtim in the Mesopotamian one. Deucalion and Pyrrha repopulate the land once the flood waters have receded by casting stones which become people, the first being Hellen. Contrary to popular opinion, Hellas and Ellada have nothing to do with Helen of Troyfrom Homer's Iliad. Ovid, however, did not coin the designation. Thucydides writes, in Book I of his Histories:
I am inclined to think that the very name was not as yet given to the whole country, and in fact did not exist at all before the time of Hellen, the son of Deucalion; the different tribes, of which the Pelasgian was the most widely spread, gave their own names to different districts. But when Hellen and his sons became powerful in Phthiotis, their aid was invoked by other cities, and those who associated with them gradually began to be called Hellenes, though a long time elapsed before the name was prevalent over the whole country. Of this, Homer affords the best evidence; for he, although he lived long after the Trojan War, nowhere uses this name collectively, but confines it to the followers of Achilles from Phthiotis, who were the original Hellenes; when speaking of the entire host, he calls them Danäans, or Argives, or Achaeans.

Minoan Bull Leaping


Ancient Greek history is most easily understood by dividing it into time periods. The region was already settled, and agriculture initiated, during the Paleolithic era as evidenced by finds at Petralona and Franchthi caves (two of the oldest human habitations in the world). The Neolithic Age (c. 6000 - c. 2900 BCE) is characterized by permanent settlements (primarily in northern Greece), domestication of animals, and the further development of agriculture. Archaeological finds in northern Greece (Thessaly, Macedonia, and Sesklo, among others) suggest a migration from Anatolia in that the ceramic cups and bowls and figures found there share qualities distinctive to Neolithic finds in Anatolia. These inland settlers were primarily farmers, as northern Greece was more conducive to agriculture than elsewhere in the region, and lived in one-room stone houses with a roof of timber and clay daubing.
The Cycladic Civilization (c. 3200-1100 BCE) flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea (including Delos, Naxos and Paros ) and provides the earliest evidence of continual human habitation in that region. During the Cycladic Period, houses and temples were built of finished stone and the people made their living through fishing and trade. This period is usually divided into three phases: Early Cycladic, Middle Cycladic, and Late Cycladic with a steady development in art and architecture. The latter two phases overlap and finally merge with the Minoan Civilization, and differences between the periods become indistinguishable.
The Minoan Civilization (2700-1500 BCE) developed on the island of Crete, and rapidly became the dominant sea power in the region. The term `Minoan' was coined by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered the Minoan palace of Knossos in 1900 CE and named the culture for the ancient Cretan king Minos. The name by which the people knew themselves is not known. The Minoan Civilization was thriving, as the Cycladic Civilization seems to have been, long before the accepted modern dates which mark its existence and probably earlier than 6000 BCE.
The Minoans developed a writing system known as Linear A (which has not yet been deciphered) and made advances in ship building, construction, ceramics, the arts and sciences, and warfare. King Minos was credited by ancient historians (Thucydides among them) as being the first person to establish a navy with which he colonized, or conquered, the Cyclades.Archaeological and geological evidence on Crete suggests this civilization fell due to an overuse of the land causing deforestation though, traditionally, it is accepted that they were conquered by the Mycenaeans. The eruption of the volcano on the nearby island of Thera (modern day Santorini) between 1650 and 1550 BCE, and the resulting tsunami, is acknowledged as the final cause for the fall of the Minoans. The isle of Crete was deluged and the cities and villages destroyed. This event has been frequently cited as Plato's inspiration in creating his myth of Atlantis in his dialogues of the Critias and Timaeus.
Death Mask of Agamemnon

Death Mask of Agamemnon


The Mycenaean Civilization (approximately 1900-1100 BCE) is commonly acknowledged as the beginning of Greek culture, even though we know almost nothing about the Mycenaeans save what can be determined through archaeological finds and through Homer's account of their war with Troy as recorded in The Iliad. They are credited with establishing the culture owing primarily to their architectural advances, their development of a writing system (known as Linear B, an early form of Greek descended from the Minoan Linear A), and the establishment, or enhancement of, religious rites. The Mycenaeans appear to have been greatly influenced by the Minoans of Crete in their worship of earth goddesses and sky gods, which, in time, become the classical pantheon of ancient Greece.
The gods and goddesses provided the Greeks with a solid paradigm of the creation of the universe, the world, and human beings. An early myth relates how, in the beginning, there was nothing but chaos in the form of unending waters. From this chaos came the goddess Eurynome who separated the water from the air and began her dance of creation with the serpent Ophion. From their dance, all of creation sprang and Eurynome was, originally, the Great Mother Goddess and Creator of All Things.
By the time Hesiod and Homer were writing (8th century BCE), this story had changed into the more familiar myth concerning the titans, Zeus ' war against them, and the birth of the Olympian Gods with Zeus as their chief. This shift indicates a movement from a matriarchal religion to a patriarchal paradigm. Whichever model was followed, however, the gods clearly interacted regularly with the humans who worshipped them and were a large part of daily life in ancient Greece. Prior to the coming of the Romans, the only road in mainland Greece that was not a cow path was the Sacred Way which ran between the city of Athens and the holy city of Eleusis, birthplace of the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrating the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
By 1100 BCE the great Mycenaean cities of southwest Greece were abandoned and, some claim, their civilization destroyed by an invasion of Doric Greeks. Archaeological evidence is inconclusive as to what led to the fall of the Mycenaeans. As no written records of this period survive (or have yet to be unearthed) one may only speculate on causes. The tablets of Linear B script found thus far contain only lists of goods bartered in trade or kept in stock. No history of the time has yet emerged. It seems clear, however, that after what is known as the Greek Dark Ages (approximately 1100-800 BCE, so named because of the absence of written documentation) the Greeks further colonized much of Asia Minor, and the islands surrounding mainland Greece and began to make significant cultural advances. Beginning in c. 585 BCE the first Greek philosopher, Thales, was engaged in what, today, would be recognised as scientific inquiry in the settlement of Miletus on the Asia Minor coast and this region of Ionian colonies would make significant breakthroughs in the fields of philosophy and mathematics.
The Parthenon

The Parthenon


The Archaic Period (800-500 BCE) is characterized by the introduction of Republics instead of Monarchies (which, in Athens, moved toward Democratic rule) organised as a single city-state or polis, the institution of laws (Draco's reforms in Athens), the great Panathenaeic Festival was established, distinctive Greek pottery and Greek sculpture were born, and the first coins minted on the island kingdom of Aegina. This, then, set the stage for the flourishing of the Classical Period of ancient Greece given as 500-400 BCE or, more precisely, as 480-323 BCE, from the Greek victory at Salamis to the death of Alexander the Great. This was the Golden Age of Athens, when Pericles initiated the building of the Acropolis and spoke his famous eulogy for the men who died defending Greece at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. Greece reached the heights in almost every area of human learning during this time and the great thinkers and artists of antiquity ( Phidias, Plato, Aristophanes, to mention only three) flourished. Leonidas and his 300 Spartans fell at Thermopylae and, the same year (480 BCE), Themistocles won victory over the superior Persian naval fleet at Salamis leading to the final defeat of the Persians at Plataea in 379 BCE.
Democracy (literally Demos = people and Kratos = power, so power of the people) was established in Athens allowing all male citizens over the age of twenty a voice in government. The Pre-Socratic philosophers, following Thales' lead, initiated what would become the scientific method in exploring natural phenomena. Men like Anixamander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Democritus, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus abandoned the theistic model of the universe and strove to uncover the underlying, first cause of life and the universe.
Their successors, among whom were Euclid and Archimedes, continued philosophical inquiry and further established mathematics as a serious discipline. The example of Socrates, and the writings of Plato and Aristotle after him, have influenced western culture and society for over two thousand years. This period also saw advances in architecture and art with a movement away from the ideal to the realistic. Famous works of Greek sculpture such as the Parthenon Marbles and Discobolos (the discus thrower) date from this time and epitomize the artist's interest in depicting human emotion, beauty, and accomplishment realistically, even if those qualities are presented in works featuring immortals.
All of these developments in culture were made possible by the ascent of Athens following her victory over the Persians in 480 BCE. The peace and prosperity which followed the Persian defeat provided the finances and stability for culture to flourish.Athens became the superpower of her day and, with the most powerful navy, was able to demand tribute from other city states and enforce her wishes. Athens formed the Delian League, a defensive alliance whose stated purpose was to deter the Persians from further hostilities.
The city-state of Sparta, however, doubted Athenian sincerity and formed their own association for protection against their enemies, the Peloponnesian League (so named for the Peloponnesus region where Sparta and the others were located).The city-states which sided with Sparta increasingly perceived Athens as a bully and a tyrant, while those cities which sided with Athens viewed Sparta and her allies with growing distrust. The tension between these two parties eventually erupted in what has become known as the Peloponnesian Wars. The first conflict (c. 460-445 BCE) ended in a truce and continued prosperity for both parties while the second (431-404 BCE) left Athens in ruins and Sparta, the victor, bankrupt after her protracted war with Thebes.
This time is generally referred to as the Late Classical Period (c. 400-330 BCE). The power vacuum left by the fall of these two cities was filled by Philip II of Macedon (382-336 BCE) after his victory over the Athenian forces and their allies at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. Philip united the Greek city states under Macedonian rule and, upon his assassination in 336 BCE, his son Alexander assumed the throne.
Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great


Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) carried on his father's plans for a full scale invasion of Persia in retaliation for their invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. As he had almost the whole of Greece under his command, a standing army of considerable size and strength, and a full treasury, Alexander did not need to bother with allies nor with consulting anyone regarding his plan for invasion and so led his army into Egypt, across Asia Minor, through Persia, and finally to India. Tutored in his youth by Plato's great student Aristotle, Alexander would spread the ideals of Greek civilization through his conquests and, in so doing, transmitted Greek philosophy, culture, language, and art to every region he came in contact with.
In 323 BCE Alexander died and his vast empire was divided between four of his generals. This initiated what has come to be known to historians as the Hellenistic Age (323-31 BCE) during which Greek thought and culture became dominant in the various regions under these generals' influence. After a series of struggles between the Diodachi (`the successors' as Alexander's generals came to be known) General Antigonus established the Antigonid Dynasty in Greece which he then lost. It was regained by his grandson, Antigonus II Gonatus, by 276 BCE who ruled the country from his palace at Macedon.
The Roman Republic became increasingly involved in the affairs of Greece during this time and, in 168 BCE, defeated Macedon at the Battle of Pydna. After this date, Greece steadily came under the influence of Rome. In 146 BCE the region was designated a Protectorate of Rome and Romans began to emulate Greek fashion, philosophy and, to a certain extent, sensibilities. In 31 BCE Octavian Caesar annexed the country as a province of Rome following his victory over Mark Antonyand Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. Octavian became Augustus Caesar and Greece a part of the Roman Empire.


Ancient Greek Literature › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 11 October 2017
Erato (Jehosua)
Greek literature has influenced not only its Roman neighbors to the west but also countless generations across the European continent. Greek writers are responsible for the introduction of such genres as poetry, tragedy, comedy, and western philosophy to the world. These Greeks authors were born not only on the soil of their native Greece but also in Asia Minor ( Ionia ), the islands of the Aegean, Sicily, and southern Italy.


The Greeks were a passionate people, and this zeal can be seen in their literature. They had a rich history of both war and peace, leaving an indelible imprint on the culture and people. Author and historian Edith Hamilton believed that the spirit of life abounds throughout Greek history. In her The Greek Way she wrote,
Greek literature is not done in gray or with a low palette. It is all black and shining white or black and scarlet and gold. The Greeks were keenly aware, terribly aware, of life's uncertainty and the imminence of death. Over and over again they emphasize the brevity and the failure of all human endeavor, the swift passing of all that is beautiful and joyful. [...] Joy and sorrow, exultation and tragedy, stand hand in hand in Greek literature, but there is no contradiction involved thereby. (26)
To fully understand and appreciate Greek literature one must separate it, divide the oral epics from the tragedies and comedies as well as the histories from the philosophies. Greek literature can also be divided into distinct periods: Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. The literature of the Archaic era mostly centered on myth; part history and part folklore. Homer ’s epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey and Hesiod ’s Theogony are significant examples of this period. Literary Greece begins with Homer.Since writing had not yet arrived in Greece, much of what was created in this period was communicated orally, only to be put in written form years later.
The Classical era (4th and 5th centuries BCE) centered on the tragedies of such writers as Sophocles and his Oedipus Rex, Euripides ’s Hippolytus, and the comedies of Aristophanes. Lastly, the final period, the Hellenistic era, saw Greek poetry, prose, and culture expand across the Mediterranean influencing such Roman writers as Horace, Ovid, and Virgil.Unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, much of what was created during the Archaic and Classical period remains only in fragments.


During the Archaic period, the poets' works were spoken - an outcome of an oral tradition - delivered at festivals. A product of Greece's Dark Ages, Homer's epic the Iliad centered 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. Alexander the Great slept with a copy of the book under his pillow and even believed he was related to Achilles.


Homer's second work, the Odyssey, revolved around the ten-year “odyssey” of the Trojan War hero Odysseus and his attempt to return home. While most classicists and historians accept that Homer actually lived, there are some who propose his epics are the result of more than one author. Whether his or not, Homer's works would one day greatly influence the Roman author Virgil and his Aeneid. After Homer, lyric poetry - poetry to be sung - came into its own.


There were many others who ”wrote” during this period, among them were Aesop, Hesiod, and Sappho. The noted storyteller Aesop may or may not be the great fabulist of the ancient world. Professor and classicist DL Ashilman in his introduction to the book Aesop's Fables, wrote, "Aesop may not be a historical figure but rather a name that refers to a group of ancient storytellers." Convention claims that he was born a slave around 620 BCE in Asia Minor. After he received his freedom, he traveled throughout Greece collecting stories, including The Mischievous Dog, The Lion and the Mouse, and The Monkey as King. These stories often ended (not always happily) with a moral such as honesty is the best policy, look before you leap, heaven helps those who help themselves, and once bitten, twice shy. Written down years after his death, Aesop's fables were among the first printed works in vernacular English.
Another poet of the Archaic Period was Hesiod, the author of Theogony, a hymn to Apollo ’s Muses. He has been called the father of didactic poetry. Like Homer, little is known of his early life except that he came from Boeotia in central Greece.Theogony told of the origins and genealogies of the gods, the kingdom of Zeus. Hesiod wrote:
With the Heliconian Muses let us start
Our song: they hold the great and godly mount
of Helicon, and on their delicate feet
They dance around the darkly bubbling spring
And round the altar of the mighty Zeus. (23)
Later in the poem, he said:
Hail, daughters of Zeus
Give me sweet song
To celebrate the holy race of gods
Who live forever, sons of starry Heaven
And Earth, and gloomy Night, and salty Sea. (26)
His others works include Works and Days, The Shield of Herakles, and Catalogue of Women.
Lastly, one of the few female lyric poets of the period was Sappho, often called the tenth Muse. Born on the Aegean island of Lesbos, her poems were hymns to the gods and influenced such Romans poets as Horace, Catullus, and Ovid. Much of her poetry remains in fragments or quoted in the works of others.


Oral recitation of poetry, as well as lyric poetry, morphed into drama. The purpose of drama was to not only entertain but also to educate the Greek citizen, to explore a problem. Plays were performed in outdoor theaters and were usually part of a religious festival. Along with a chorus of singers to explain the action, there were actors, often three, who wore masks. Of the known Greek tragedians, there are only three for whom there are complete plays: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.Oddly, these are considered among the great tragic writers of the world. Hamilton wrote:
The great tragic artists of the world are four, and three of them are Greek. It is in tragedy that the pre-eminence of the Greeks can be seen most clearly. Except for Shakespeare, the great three, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides stand alone. Tragedy is an achievement peculiarly Greek. They were the first to perceive it and they lifted it to its supreme height. (171)
Aeschylus (c. 525 – c. 456 BCE) was the earliest of the three. Born in Eleusis around 525/4 BCE, he fought at the Battle of Marathon against the Persian invaders. 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, a play centering on the return of the Trojan War commander to his wife Clytemnestra, who would eventually kill him. After killing her husband she showed little remorse, she said
This duty is no concern of yours.
He fell by my hand,
by my hand he died, and by my hand
he will be buried, and nobody
in the house will weep. (99)
Most of Aeschylus's plays were centered on Greek myth, portraying the suffering of man and the justice of the 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 of the great tragic playwrights. 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, part of a trilogy, is Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King, a play written 16 years after first of the three, Antigone,a play about Oedipus' daughter. The third in the series was Oedipus at Colonus, relaying the final days of the blinded king.The tragedy of Oedipus centered on a prophecy that foretold of a man who would kill the king (his father) and marry the queen (his mother). Unknowingly, that man was Oedipus. 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.
Bust of Sophocles

Bust of Sophocles

The third great author of Greek tragedy was Euripides, an Athenian (c. 484 - 407 BCE). Unfortunately, his plays - often based on myth - were not very successful at the competitions; his critics often believe he was bitter about these losses. He was the author of 90 plays, among which are Hippolytus, Trojan Women, and Orestes. 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. His play Medea speaks of a bitter woman who took revenge against her lover by killing her children. In pain Medea screams:
O great Thesis and lady Artemis, do you see what I suffer, though I bound my accursed husband by weighty oaths? How I wish I might see him and his bride in utter ruin, house and all, for the wrongs they dare to inflict on me who never did them harm. (55)
Another playwright of the era was the Athenian author of Greek comedy, Aristophanes (c. 450? – c. 386 BCE). Author of Old Comedy, his plays were satires of public persons and affairs as well as candid political criticisms. Eleven of Aristophanes' plays have survived along with 32 titles and fragments of others. His plays include Knights, Lysistrata, Women at the Thesmorphoria, The Frogs, and Clouds, a play that ridiculed the philosopher Socrates as a corrupt teacher of rhetoric. His actors often wore grotesque masks and told obscene jokes. Many of his plays had a moral or social lesson, poking fun at the literary and social life of Athens.


Among the major contributors to Greek literature were the philosophers, among them Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, and Epicurus. One of the most influential Greek philosophers was Plato (427 – 347 BCE). As a student of Socrates, Plato's early works were a tribute to the life and death of his teacher: Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. He also wrote Symposium, a series of speeches at a dinner party. However, his most famous work was The Republic, a book on the nature and value of justice.
His student, Aristotle (384 – 322 CE), disagreed with Plato on several issues, mainly the concept of empiricism, the idea that a person could rely on his/her senses for information. His many works include Nichomachean Ethics (a treatise on ethics and morality), Physics, and Poetics. He was the creator of the syllogism and a teacher of Alexander the Great.


A final group of contributors to ancient Greek literature are the historians: Herodotus, Thucydides, and Polybius. Both Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE) and Thucydides (460 – 400 BCE) wrote around the time of the Peloponnesian Wars. Although little is known of his early life, Herodotus wrote on both the wars between Athens and neighboring Sparta as well as the Persian Wars. During his lifetime, his home of Halicarnassus in western Asia Minor was under Persian control. Although he is often criticized for factual errors, his accounts relied on earlier works and documents. His narratives demonstrate an understanding of the human experience and unlike previous writers, he did not judge. He traveled extensively, even to Egypt.
His contemporary, Thucydides, was the author, although incomplete, of a History of the Peloponnesian War. Part of his history was written as it happened and looked at both long-range and short-range causes of the war. His massive unfinished work would be completed by such Greek authors as Xenophon and Cratippus.


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 of what was written remains only 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, serving 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, concentrating on many of the ancient myths as well as the old cults and festivals. His work heavily influenced the poetry of Catullus and Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Aetia by Callimachus

Aetia by Callimachus

His pupil Theocritus (315 – 250 BCE) originally from Syracuse also worked in the library at Alexandria, producing a number of works of which only 30 poems and 24 epigrams exist. He is said to be the originator of pastoral poetry. Like his teacher, his work influenced future Roman authors such as Ovid.
Apollonius Rhodius (born c. 295 BCE) was, like the others, from Alexandria, serving as both a librarian and tutor. Historians are unsure of the origin of the “Rhodius” attached to his name; some assume he lived for a time in Rhodes. His major work was the four books of the Argonautica, a retelling of the story of Jason's travels to retrieve the fabled Golden Fleece. And, like Callimachus and Theocritus, his work influenced Catullus and Virgil.
Besides poetry and prose, the best-known playwright of the era, the Athenian Menander (342 – 290 BCE), must be mentioned.Menander was a student of philosophy and leading proponent of New Comedy, authoring over 100 plays, including Dyscolus, Perikeiromene, and Epitrepontes. He was the master of suspense. His plays were later adapted by the Roman authors Plautus and Terence.
The Hellenistic world produced a few notable historians, too. Polybius (200 -118 BCE) was a Greek who wrote on Rome ’s rise to power. Denounced as too friendly to Rome, he was a proponent of Greek culture in Rome. Of his Histories, only the first five books remain of the 40 written.
Lastly, Plutarch (born c. 45 BCE) was one of the most famous of the Greek historians. Originally from Chaeronea, he was a philosopher, teacher, and biographer. Although he spent time in Egypt and Rome (where he taught philosophy), he spent most of his life in his home city. Later in life, he served as a priest at the oracle at Delphi. His most famous work Parallel Livesprovided biographies of Roman statesmen as well as such Greeks as Alexander, Lycurgus, Themistocles, and Pericles.Unlike other histories, he chose not to write a continuous history but concentrated on the personal character of each individual.He also wrote on ethical, religious, political, and literary topics of the day.


After the death of Alexander the Great and the growth of Hellenistic culture across the Mediterranean, Roman literature and art had a distinctive Greek flavor. Greek literature had risen from the oral tradition of Homer and Hesiod through the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes and now lay on the tables of Roman citizens and authors. This literature included the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle and the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. Centuries of poetry and prose have come down through the generations, influencing the Romans as well as countless others across Europe. Referring to the “fire” of Greek poetry, Edith Hamilton wrote, "One might quote all the Greek poems there are, even when they are tragedies. Every one of them shows the fire of life burning high. Never a Greek poet that did not warm both hands at that flame." (26) Today, libraries both public and private contain the works of those ancient Greeks. And, countless future generations will be able to read and enjoy the beauty of Greek literature.


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