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Greek Literature 101 - Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, Giorgos Seferis, Odysseas Elytis

The Greek have contributed a lot to the literature of the world, and without Greece the world of theater plays and philosophical writing would be very different. The different periods of Greek literature are generally divided into ancient Greek literature that was written before 350 BC, Byzantine literature that was written between 290 BC and 1453, and everything else after 1453 falls into the huge category of modern Greek literature.

Homer – the writer of the first epic piece of literature

Epics are quite common these days, but back in ancient Greece, when Homer wrote the Odyssey and Illiad, epics had never been heard of. A lot of mystery surrounds these two particular pieces of work as nobody is really sure about who Homer really was, and when exactly the two masterpieces have been written. He may have lived some time around the 8th century BC, but other sources place him somewhere in the 10th century BC – nobody can be really sure, but that does not lessen the impact on the Illiad and Odyssey. Plato described Homer as the leader of Greek culture later on, and coming from Plato, this is quite a compliment.

While other pieces of work have been attributed to Homer, the Illiad and the Odyssey are the two that are still read by many people, and the stories within the two epics have often been used as an inspiration for movies and other books. Both stories are told in the form of epic poems and tell the story of the war in and the fall of Troy and the journeys of Odysseys, who simply wants to return home but meets many obstacles along the way.

Herodotus

Herodotus lived in the 5th century BC and is a bit less mysterious than Homer. He plays a very important role for historians all over the world as he was the first person who made an organized effort to write down history by collecting materials and organizing them in a chronological and logical order. His “Histories” are the first known collection of historical information, though some of the stories in his history book seem a little outlandish and colorful. Herodotus, however, claimed that he simply wrote down the facts he had collected during his research. No matter how much truth there was in his “Histories” or not, one thing is clear: Herodotus can be called the father of history without a doubt.

Plato

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Plato was and still is one of the most important figures in Greek literature and philosophy. He is the man who wrote down the dialogues of Socrates (as Socrates himself never wrote down any of his wisdom), but also a man who wrote his own body of fascinating philosophical works. His works are the source of platonic love, and he also founded the first academy of the world: The Academy in Athens. Plato is one of the most influential philosophers of the world, and many ideas in philosophy, mathematics and other sciences can be traced back to his works. His texts are available in English translations, and if you had to choose just one Greek writer to read, then it should be Plato. Your brain will thank you, and you might very well get some great insights into the human mind (especially if you read the dialogues of Socrates).

Aristotle

Hardly a Greek writer in ancient Greece was simply a mere writer. They all were very intelligent people and often also philosophers, mathematician, astronomers etc. Aristotle, who taught Alexander the Great, was primarily a philosopher and scientist, but also wrote down his theories and ideas. Most famous are his works on logic, physics and ethics.

Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus

Unfortunately, of the ancient Greek tragedy writers, only the works of three have survived to this day. Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus are all Greek writers who wrote multiple plays and have been very popular in their day. Today, their works are still read and studied by people who are interested in the development of literature or who love theater. When you visit theaters, you might still find that there are some plays based on the work of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus. Sophocles is well know for his Oedipus plays, Euripides made himself a name with Medea, Electra and Iphigenia in Tauris. Aeschylus, often referred to as the father of tragedy, is known for plays like the Persians, Seven Against Thebes, and the trilogy Oresteia.

Giorgos Seferis

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Giorgos Seferis lived quite a long time after the ancient Greek writers and philosophers. However, he is worth mentioning as he is seen as the most influential Greek poet of the 20th century. He also write a Nobel prize for literature. He was born in 1900 and died 71 years later. His poets like the Cystern and the Three Secret Poems have all been translated into English and can be bought in poem collections.

Odysseas Elytis

Another Nobel prize winner from Greece is Odysseas Elytis (1911-1996), who wrote poems, essays, and some prose. In 1979, he won the Nobel prize for literature with his poetry. Many of his poems are also available in English.

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