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Ancient Greek Poetry and Literature
Written by: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Edition
The ancient literature falls into three periods: (A) The Early Literature, to about 475 b.c.; epic, elegiac, iambic and lyric poetry; the beginnings of literary prose. (B) The Attic Literature 475-300 b.c.; tragic and comic drama; historical, oratorical and philosophical prose. (C) The Literature of the Decadence, 300 b.c. to a.d. 529; which may again be divided into the Alexandrian period, 300-146 b.c., and the Graeco-Roman period, 146 b.c. toa.d. 529.
For details regarding particular works or the lives of their authors reference should be made to the separate articles devoted to the principal Greek writers. The object of the following pages is to sketch the literary development as a whole, to show how its successive periods were related to each other, and to mark the dominant characteristics of each.
(A) The Early Literature.—A process of natural growth may be traced through all the best work of the Greek genius. The Greeks were not literary imitators of foreign models; the forms of poetry and prose in which they attained to such unequalled excellence were first developed by themselves. Their literature had its roots in their political and social life; it is the spontaneous expression of that life in youth, maturity and decay; and the order in which its several fruits are produced is not the result of accident or caprice. Further, the old Greek literature has a striking completeness, due to the fact that each great branch of the Hellenic race bore a characteristic part in its development. Ionians, Aeolians, Dorians, in turn contributed their share. Each dialect corresponded to a certain aspect of Hellenic life and character. Each found its appropriate work.
The Ionians on the coast of Asia Minor—a lively and genial people, delighting in adventure, and keenly sensitive to everything bright and joyous—created artistic epic poetry out of the lays in which Aeolic minstrels sang of the old The dialects.Achaean wars. And among the Ionians arose elegiac poetry, the first variation on the epic type. These found a fitting instrument in the harmonious Ionic dialect, the flexible utterance of a quick and versatile intelligence. The Aeolians of Lesbos next created the lyric of personal passion, in which the traits of their race—its chivalrous pride, its bold but sensuous fancy—found a fitting voice in the fiery strength and tenderness of Aeolic speech. The Dorians of the Peloponnesus, Sicily and Magna Graecia then perfected the choral lyric for festivals and religious worship; and here again an earnest faith, a strong pride in Dorian usage and renown had an apt interpreter in the massive and sonorous Doric. Finally, the Attic branch of the Ionian stock produced the drama, blending elements of all the other kinds, and developed an artistic literary prose in history, oratory and philosophy. It is in the Attic literature that the Greek mind receives its most complete interpretation.
A natural affinity was felt to exist between each dialect and that species of composition for which it had been specially used. Hence the dialect of the Ionian epic poets would be adopted with more or less thoroughness even by epic or elegiac poets who were not Ionians. Thus the Aeolian Hesiod uses it in epos, the Dorian Theognis in elegy, though not without alloy. Similarly, the Dorian Theocritus wrote love-songs in Aeolic. All the faculties and tones of the language were thus gradually brought out by the co-operation of the dialects. Old Greek literature has an essential unity—the unity of a living organism; and this unity comprehends a number of distinct types, each of which is complete in its own kind.
Extant Greek literature begins with the Homeric poems. These are works of art which imply a long period of antecedent poetical cultivation. Of the pre-Homeric poetry we have no remains, and very little knowledge. Such Pre-Homeric poetry.glimpses as we get of it connect it with two different stages in the religion of the prehistoric Hellenes. The first of these stages is that in which the agencies or forms of external nature were personified indeed, yet with the consciousness that the personal names were only symbols. Some very ancient Greek songs of which mention is made may Songs of the seasons.have belonged to this stage—as the songs of Linus, Ialemus and Hylas. Linus, the fair youth killed by dogs, seems to be the spring passing away before Sirius. Such songs have been aptly called “songs of the seasons.” The second stage is that in which the Hellenes have now definitively personified the powers which they worship. Apollo, Demeter, Dionysus, Cybele, have now become to them beings with clearly conceived attributes. To this second stage belong Hymns.the hymns connected with the names of the legendary bards, such as Orpheus, Musaeus, Eumolpus, who are themselves associated with the worship of the Pierian Muses and the Attic ritual of Demeter. The seats of this early sacred poetry are not only “Thracian”—i.e. on the borders of northern Greece—but also “Phrygian” and “Cretan.” It belongs, that is, presumably to an age when the ancestors of the Hellenes had left the Indo-European home in central Asia, but had not yet taken full possession of the lands which were afterwards Hellenic. Some of their tribes were still in Asia; others were settling in the islands of the Aegean; others were passing through the lands on its northern seaboard. If there was a period when the Greeks possessed no poetry but hymns forming part of a religious ritual, it may be conjectured that it was not of long duration. Already in the Iliad a secular character belongs to the marriage hymn and to the dirge for the dead, which in ancient India were chanted by the priest. The bent of the Greeks was to claim poetry and music as public joys; they would not long have suffered them to remain sacerdotal mysteries. And among the earliest themes on which the lay artist in poetry was employed were probably war-ballads, sung by minstrels in the houses of the chiefs whose ancestors they celebrated.
Such war-ballads were the materials from which the earliest epic poetry of Greece was constructed. By an “epic” poem the Greeks meant a narrative of heroic action in hexameter verse. The term ?πη meant at first simply Epos.“verses”; it acquired its special meaning only when μ?λη, lyric songs set to music, came to be distinguished from ?πη verses not set to music, but merely recited. Epic poetry is the only kind of extant Greek poetry which is older than about 700 b.c. The early epos of Greece is represented by the Iliadand the Odyssey, Hesiod and the Homeric hymns; also by some fragments of the “Cyclic” poets.
After the Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesus, the Aeolian emigrants who settled in the north-west of Asia Minor brought with them the warlike legends of their chiefs, the Achaean princes of old. These legends lived in the The “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.”ballads of the Aeolic minstrels, and from them passed southward into Ionia, where the Ionian poets gradually shaped them into higher artistic forms. Among the seven places which claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, that which has the best title is Smyrna. Homer himself is called “son of Meles”—the stream which flowed through old Smyrna, on the border between Aeolia and Ionia. The tradition is significant in regard to the origin and character of the Iliad, for in the Iliad we have Achaean ballads worked up by Ionian art. A preponderance 508of evidence is in favour of the view that the Odyssey also, at least in its earliest form, was composed on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor. According to the Spartan account, Lycurgus was the first to bring to Greece a complete copy of the Homeric poems, which he had obtained from the Creophylidae, a clan or gild of poets in Samos. A better authenticated tradition connects Athens with early attempts to preserve the chief poetical treasure of the nation. Peisistratus is said to have charged some learned men with the task of collecting all “the poems of Homer”; but it is difficult to decide how much was comprehended under this last phrase, or whether the province of the commission went beyond the mere task of collecting. Nor can it be determined what exactly it was that Solon and Hipparchus respectively did for the Homeric poems. Solon, it has been thought, enacted that the poems should be recited from an authorized text (?ξ ?ποβολ?ς); Hipparchus, that they should be recited in a regular order (?ξ ?πολ?ψεως). At any rate, we know that in the 6th century b.c. a recitation of the poems of Homer was one of the established competitions at the Panathenaea, held once in four years. The reciter was called a rhapsodist—properly one who weaves a long, smoothly-flowing chant, then an epic poet who chants his own or another’s poem. The rhapsodist did not, like the early minstrel, use the accompaniment of the harp; he gave the verses in a flowing recitative, bearing in his hand a branch of laurel, the symbol of Apollo’s inspiration. In the 5th century b.c. we find that various Greek cities had their own editions (α? πολιτικα?, κατ? π?λεις or ?κ π?λεων ?κδ?σεις) of the poems, for recitation at their festivals. Among these were the editions of Massilia, of Chios and of Argolis. There were also editions bearing the name of the individual editor (α? κατ? ?νδρα)—the best known being that which Aristotle prepared for Alexander. The recension of the poems by Aristarchus (156 b.c.) became the standard one, and is probably that on which the existing text is based. The oldest Homeric MS. extant, Venetus A of the Iliad, is of the 10th century; the first printed edition of Homer was that edited by the Byzantine Demetrius Chalcondyles (Florence, 1488).
The ancient Greeks were almost unanimous in believing the Iliad and the Odyssey to be the work of one man, Homer, to whom they also ascribed some extant hymns, and probably much more besides. Aristotle and Aristarchus seem The Homeric question.to have put Homer’s date about 1044 b.c., Herodotus about 850 b.c. It is not till about 170 b.c. that the grammarians Hellanicus and Xenon put forward the view that Homer was the author of the Iliad, but not of the Odyssey. Those who followed them in assigning different authors to the two poems were called the Separators (Chorizontes). Aristarchus combated “the paradox of Xenon,” and it does not seem to have had much acceptance in antiquity. Giovanni Battista Vico, a Neapolitan (1668-1744), seems to have been the first modern to suggest the composite authorship and oral tradition of the Homeric poems; but this was a pure conjecture in support of his theory that the names of ancient lawgivers and poets are often mere symbols. F. A. Wolf, in the Prolegomena to his edition (1795), was the founder of a scientific scepticism. The Iliad, he said (for he recognized the comparative unity and consistency of the Odyssey), was pieced together from many small unwritten poems by various hands, and was first committed to writing in the time of Peisistratus. This view was in harmony with the tone of German criticism at the time; it was welcomed as a new testimony to the superiority of popular poetry, springing from fresh natural sources, to elaborate works of art; and it at once found enthusiastic adherents. For the course of Homeric controversy since Wolf the reader is referred to the article Homer.
The Ionian school of epos produced a number of poems founded on the legends of the Trojan war, and intended as introductions or continuations to the Iliad and the Odyssey. The grammarian Proclus (a.d. 140) has Cyclic poems.preserved the names and subjects of some of these; but the fragments are very scanty. The Nostoi or Homeward Voyages, by Agias (or Hagias) of Troezen, filled up the gap of ten years between the Iliad and the Odyssey; the Lay of Telegonus, by Eugammon of Cyrene, continued the story of the Odyssey to the death of Odysseus by the hand of Telegonus, the son whom Circe bore to him. Similarly the Cyprian Lays by Stasinus of Cyprus, ascribed by others to Hegesias (or Hegesinus) of Salamis or Halicarnassus, was introductory to the Iliad; the Aethiopis and the Sack of Troy, by Arctinus of Miletus, and the Little Iliad, by Lesches of Mytilene, were supplementary to it. These and many other names of lost epics—some taken also from the Theban myths (Theba?s, Epigoni, Oedipodea)—serve to show how prolific was that epic school of which only two great examples remain. The name ofepic cycle was properly applied to a prose compilation of abstracts from these epics, pieced together in the order of the events. The compilers were called “cyclic” writers; and the term has now been transferred to the epic poets whom they used.1
The epic poetry of Ionia celebrated the great deeds of heroes in the old wars. But in Greece proper there arose another school of epos, which busied itself with religious lore and ethical precepts, especially in relation to the rural Hesiodic epos.life of Boeotia. This school is represented by the name of Hesiod. The legend spoke of him as vanquishing Homer in a poetical contest of Chalcis in Euboea; and it expresses the fact that, to the old Greek mind, these two names stood for two contrasted epic types. Nothing is certainly known of his date, except that it must have been subsequent to the maturity of Ionian epos. He is conjecturally placed about 850-800 b.c.; but some would refer him to the early part of the 7th century b.c. His home was at Ascra, a village in a valley under Helicon, whither his father had migrated from Cyme in Aeolis on the coast of Asia Minor. In Hesiod’s Works and Days we have the earliest example of a didactic poem. The seasons and the labours of the Boeotian farmer’s year are followed by a list of the days which are lucky or unlucky for work. The Theogony, or “Origin of the Gods,” describes first how the visible order of nature arose out of chaos; next, how the gods were born. Though it never possessed the character of a sacred book, it remained a standard authority on the genealogies of the gods. So far as a corrupt and confused text warrants a judgment, the poet was piecing together—not always intelligently—the fragments of a very old cosmogonic system, using for this purpose both the hymns preserved in the temples and the myths which lived in folklore. The epic lay in 480 lines called the Shield of Heracles—partly imitated from the 18th book of the Iliad—is the work of an author or authors later than Hesiod. In the Hesiodic poetry, as represented by the Works and Days and the Theogony, we see the influence of the temple at Delphi. Hesiod recognizes the existence of δα?μονες—spirits of the departed who haunt the earth as the invisible guardians of justice; and he connects the office of the poet with that of the prophet. The poet is one whom the gods have authorized to impress doctrine and practical duties on men. A religious purpose was essentially characteristic of the Hesiodic school. Its poets treated the old legends as relics of a sacred history, and not merely, in the Ionian manner, as subjects of idealizing art. Such titles as the Maxims of Cheiron and the Lay of Melampus, the seer—lost poems of the Hesiodic school—illustrate its ethical and its mystic tendencies.
The Homeric Hymns are a collection of pieces, some of them very short, in hexameter verse. Their traditional title is—Hymns or Preludes of Homer and the Homeridae. The second of the alternative designations is the true one. The Homeric hymns.The pieces are not “hymns” used in formal worship, but “preludes” or prefatory addresses (προο?μια) with which the rhapsodists ushered in their recitations of epic poetry. The “prelude” might be addressed to the presiding god of the festival, or to any local deity whom the reciter wished to honour. The pieces (of which there are 33) range in date perhaps from 750 to 500 b.c. (though some authorities assign dates as late as the 3rd and 4th centuries a.d.; see ed. by Sikes and Allen, e.g. p. 228), and it is probable that the collection was 509formed in Attica, for the use of rhapsodists. The style is that of the Ionian or Homeric epos; but there are also several traces of the Hesiodic or Boeotian school. The principal “hymns” are (1) to Apollo (generally treated as two or more hymns combined in one); (2) to Hermes; (3) to Aphrodite; and (4) to Demeter. The hymn to Apollo, quoted by Thucydides (iii. 104) as Homer’s, is of peculiar interest on account of the lines describing the Ionian festival at Delos. Two celebrated pieces of a sportive kind passed under Homer’s name. The Margites—a comic poem on one “who knew many things but knew them all badly”—is regarded by Aristotle as the earliest germ of comedy, and was possibly as old as 700 b.c. Only a few lines remain. TheBatracho(myo)machia, or Battle of the Frogs and Mice probably belongs to the decline of Greek literature, perhaps to the 2nd century b.c.2 About 300 verses of it are extant.
In the Iliad and the Odyssey the personal opinions or sympathies of the poet may sometimes be conjectured, but they are not declared or even hinted. Hesiod, indeed, sometimes gives us a glimpse of his own troubles or views. Transition from epos to elegy.Yet Hesiod is, on the whole, essentially a prophet. The message which he delivers is not from himself; the truths which he imparts have not been discovered by his own search. He is the mouthpiece of the Delphian Apollo. Personal opinion and feeling may tinge his utterance, but they do not determine its general complexion. The egotism is a single thread; it is not the basis of the texture. Epic poetry was in Greece the foundation of all other poetry; for many centuries no other kind was generally cultivated, no other could speak to the whole people. Politically, the age was monarchical or aristocratic; intellectually, it was too simple for the analysis of thought or emotion. Kings and princes loved to hear of the great deeds of their ancestors; common men loved to hear of them too, for they had no other interest. The mind of Greece found no subject of contemplation so attractive as the warlike past of the race, or so useful as that lore which experience and tradition had bequeathed. But in the course of the 8th century b.c. the rule of hereditary princes began to disappear. Monarchy gave place to oligarchy, and this—often after the intermediate phase of a tyrannis—to democracy. Such a change was necessarily favourable to the growth of reflection. The private citizen is no longer a mere cipher, the Homeric τις, a unit in the dim multitude of the king-ruled folk; he gains more power of independent action, his mental horizon is widened, his life becomes fuller and more interesting. He begins to feel the need of expressing the thoughts and feelings that are stirred in him. But as yet a prose literature does not exist; the new thoughts, like the old heroic stories, must still be told in verse. The forms of verse created by this need were the Elegiac and the Iambic.
The elegiac metre is, in form, a simple variation on the epic metre, obtained by docking the second of two hexameters so as to make it a verse of five feet or measures. But the poetical capabilities of the elegiac couplet are of a Elegy.wholly different kind from those of heroic verse. ?λεγος seems to be the Greek form of a name given by the Carians and Lydians to a lament for the dead. This was accompanied by the soft music of the Lydian flute, which continued to be associated with Greek elegy. The non-Hellenic origin of elegy is indicated by this very fact. The flute was to the Greeks an Asiatic instrument—string instruments were those which they made their own—and it would hardly have been wedded by them to a species of poetry which had arisen among themselves. The early elegiac poetry of Greece was by no means confined to mourning for the dead. War, love, politics, proverbial philosophy, were in turn its themes; it dealt, in fact, with the chief interest of the poet and his friends, whatever that might be at the time. It is the direct expression of the poet’s own thoughts, addressed to a sympathizing society. This is its first characteristic. The second is that, even when most pathetic or most spirited, it still preserves, on the whole, the tone of conversation or of narrative. Greek elegy stops short of lyric passion. English elegy, whether funereal as in Dryden and Pope, or reflective as in Gray, is usually true to the same normal type. Roman elegy is not equally true to it, but sometimes tends to trench on the lyric province. For Roman elegy is mainly amatory or sentimental; and its masters imitated, as a rule, not the early Greek elegists, not Tyrtaeus or Theognis, but the later Alexandrian elegists, such as Callimachus or Philetas. Catullus introduced the metre to Latin literature, and used it with more fidelity than his followers to its genuine Greek inspiration.
Elegy, as we have seen, was the first slight deviation from epos. But almost at the same time another species arose which had nothing in common with epos, either in form or in spirit. This was the iambic. The word ?αμβος, Iambic verse.iambus (??πτειν, to dart or shoot) was used in reference to the licensed raillery at the festivals of Demeter; it was the maiden Iambe, the myth said, who drew the first smile from the mourning goddess. The iambic metre was at first used for satire; and it was in this strain that it was chiefly employed by its earliest master of note, Archilochus of Paros (670 b.c.). But it was adapted to the expression generally of any pointed thought. Thus it was suitable to fables. Elegiac and iambic poetry both belong to the borderland between epic and lyric. While, however, elegy stands nearer to epos, iambic stands nearer to the lyric. Iambic poetry can express the personal feeling of the poet with greater intensity than elegy does; on the other hand, it has not the lyric flexibility, self-abandonment or glow. As we see in the case of Solon, iambic verse could serve for the expression of that deeper thought, that more inward self-communing, for which the elegiac form would have been inappropriate.
But these two forms of poetry, both Ionian, the elegiac and the iambic, belong essentially to the same stage of the literature. They stand between the Ionian epos and the lyric poetry of the Aeolians and Dorians. The earliest of the Greek elegists, Callinus and Tyrtaeus, use elegy to rouse a warlike spirit in sinking hearts. Archilochus too wrote warlike elegy, but used it also in other strains, as in lament for the dead. The elegy of Mimnermus of Smyrna or Colophon is the plaintive farewell of an ease-loving Ionian to the days of Ionian freedom. In Solon elegy takes a higher range; it becomes political and ethical.3 Theognis represents the maturer union of politics with a proverbial philosophy. Another gnomic poet was Phocylides of Miletus; an admonitory poem extant under his name is probably the work of an Alexandrine Jewish Christian. Xenophanes gives a philosophic strain to elegy. With Simonides of Ceos it reverts, in an exquisite form, to its earliest destination, and becomes the vehicle of epitaph on those who fell in the Persian Wars. Iambic verse was used by Simonides (or Semonides) of Amorgus, as by Archilochus, for satire—but satire directed against classes rather than persons. Solon’s iambics so far preserve the old associations of the metre that they represent the polemical or controversial side of his political poetry. Hipponax of Ephesus was another iambic satirist—using the σκ?ζων (“limping”) or choliambic verse, produced by substituting a spondee for an iambus in the last place. But it was not until the rise of the Attic drama that the full capabilities of iambic verse were seen.
The lyric poetry of early Greece may be regarded as the final form of that effort at self-expression which in the elegiac and iambic is still incomplete. The lyric expression is deeper and more impassioned. Its intimate union Lyric poetry.with music and with the rhythmical movement of the dance gives to it more of an ideal character. At the same time the continuity of the music permits pauses to the voice—pauses necessary as reliefs after a climax. Before lyric poetry could be effective, it was necessary that some progress should have been made in the art of music. The instrument used by the Greeks to accompany the voice was the four-stringed lyre, and the first great epoch in Greek music was when Terpander of Lesbos (660 b.c.), by adding three strings, gave the lyre the 510compass of the octave. Further improvements are ascribed to Olympus and Thaletas. By 500 b.c. Greek music had probably acquired all the powers of expression which the lyric poet could demand. The period of Greek lyric poetry may be roughly defined as from 670 to 440 b.c. Two different parts in its development were taken by the Aeolians and the Dorians.
The lyric poetry of the Aeolians—especially of Lesbos—was essentially the utterance of personal feeling, and was usually intended for a single voice, not for a chorus. Lesbos, in the 7th century b.c., had attained some naval Aeolian school.and commercial importance. But the strife of oligarchy and democracy was active; the Lesbian nobles were often driven by revolution to exchange their luxurious home-life for the hardships of exile. It is such a life of contrasts and excitements, working on a sensuous and fiery temperament, that is reflected in the fragments of Alcaeus. In these glimpses of war and love, of anxiety for the storm-tossed state and of careless festivity, there is much of the cavalier spirit; if Archilochus is in certain aspects a Greek Byron, Alcaeus might be compared to Lovelace. The other great representative of the Aeolian lyric is Sappho, the only woman of Greek race who is known to have possessed poetical genius of the first order. Intensity and melody are the characteristics of the fragments that remain to us.4 Probably no poet ever surpassed Sappho as an interpreter of passion in exquisitely subtle harmonies of form and sound. Anacreon of Teos, in Ionia, may be classed with the Aeolian lyrists in so far as the matter and form of his work resembled theirs, though the dialect in which he wrote was mainly the Ionian. A few fragments remain from his hymns to the gods, from love-poems and festive songs. The collection of sixty short pieces which passes current under his name date only from the 10th century. The short poems which it comprises are of various age and authorship, probably ranging in date from c. 200 b.c. to a.d. 400 or 500. They have not the pure style, the flexible grace, or the sweetness of the classical fragments; but the verses, though somewhat mechanical, are often pretty.
The Dorian lyric poetry, in contrast with the Aeolian, had more of a public than of a personal character, and was for the most part choral. Hymns or choruses for the public worship of the gods, and odes to be sung at festivals on Dorian school.occasions of public interest, were its characteristic forms. Its central inspiration was the pride of the Dorians in the Dorian past, in their traditions of worship, government and social usage. The history of the Dorian lyric poetry does not present us with vivid expressions of personal character, like those of Alcaeus and Sappho, but rather with a series of artists whose names are associated with improvements of form. Thus Alcman (the Doric form of Alcmaeon; 660 b.c.) is said to have introduced the balanced movement of strophe and antistrophe. Stesichorus, of Himera in Sicily, added the epode, sung by the chorus while stationary after these movements; Arion of Methymna in Lesbos gave a finished form to the choral hymn (“dithyramb”) in honour of Dionysus, and organized the “cyclic” or circular chorus which sang it at the altar. Ibycus of Rhegium (c. 540) wrote choral lyrics after Stesichorus and glowing love-songs in the Aeolic style.
The culmination of the lyric poetry is marked by two great names, Simonides and Pindar. Simonides (556-468) was an Ionian of the island of Ceos, but his lyrics belonged by form to the choral Dorian school. Many of his subjects Simonides and Pindar.were taken from the events of the Persian wars: his epitaphs on those who fell at Thermopylae and Salamis were celebrated. In him the lyric art of the Dorians is interpreted by Ionian genius, and Athens—where part of his life was passed—is the point at which they meet. Simonides is the first Greek lyrist whose significance is not merely Aeolian or Dorian but Panhellenic. The same character belongs even more completely to his younger contemporary. Pindar (518-c. 443) was born in Boeotia of a Dorian stock; thus, as Ionian and Dorian elements meet in Simonides, so Dorian and Aeolian elements meet in Pindar. Simonides was perhaps the most tender and most exquisite of the lyric poets. Pindar was the boldest, the most fervid and the most sublime. His extant fragments5 represent almost every branch of the lyric art. But he is known to us mainly by forty-four Epinicia, or odes of victory, for the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian festivals. The general characteristic of the treatment is that the particular victory is made the occasion of introducing heroic legends connected with the family or city of the victor, and of inculcating the moral lessons which they teach. No Greek lyric poetry can be completely appreciated apart from the music, now lost, to which it was set. Pindar’s odes were, further, essentially occasional poems; they abound in allusions of which the effect is partly or wholly lost on us; and the glories which they celebrate belong to a life which we can but imperfectly realize. Of all the great Greek poets, Pindar is perhaps the one to whom it is hardest for us to do justice; yet we can at least recognize his splendour of imagination, his strong rapidity and his soaring flight.
Bacchylides of Ceos (c. 504-430), the youngest of the three great lyric poets and nephew of Simonides, was known only by scanty fragments until the discovery of nineteen poems on an Egyptian papyrus in 1896. They consist of thirteen (or fourteen) epinicia, two of which celebrate the same victories as two odes of Pindar. The papyrus also contains six odes for the festivals of gods or heroes. The poems contain valuable information on the court life of the time and legendary history. Bacchylides, the little “Cean nightingale,” is inferior to his great rival Pindar, “the Swan of Dirce,” in originality and splendour of language, but he writes simply and elegantly, while his excellent γν?μαι attracted readers of a philosophical turn of mind, amongst them the emperor Julian.
Similarly, the scanty fragments of Timotheus of Miletus (d. 357), musical composer and poet, and inventor of the eleven-stringed lyre, were increased by the discovery in 1902 of some 250 lines of his “nome” the Persae, written after the manner of Terpander. The beginning is lost; the middle describes the battle of Salamis; the end is of a personal nature. The papyrus is the oldest Greek MS. and belongs to the age of Alexander the Great. The language is frequently very obscure, and the whole is a specimen of lyric poetry in its decline.
(B) The Attic Literature.—The Ionians of Asia Minor, the Aeolians and the Dorians had now performed their special parts in the development of Greek literature. Epic poetry had interpreted the heroic legends of warlike deeds done by Zeus-nourished kings and chiefs. Then, as the individual life became more and more elegiac and iambic poetry had become the social expression of that life in all its varied interests and feelings. Lastly, lyric poetry had arisen to satisfy a twofold need—to be the more intense utterance of personal emotion, or to give choral voice, at stirring moments, to the faith or fame, the triumph or the sorrow, of a city or a race. A new form of poetry was now to be created, with elements borrowed from all the rest. And this was to be achieved by the people of Attica, in whose character and language the distinctive traits of an Ionian descent were tempered with some of the best qualities of the Dorian stock.
The drama (q.v.) arose from the festivals of Dionysus, the god of wine, which were held at intervals from the beginning of winter to the beginning of spring. A troop of rustic Origin of drama.
Tragedy.worshippers would gather around the altar of the god, and sing a hymn in his honour, telling of his victories or sufferings in his progress over the earth. “Tragedy” meant “the goat-song,” a goat (τρ?γος) being sacrificed to Dionysus before the hymn was sung. “Comedy,” “the village-song,” is the same hymn regarded as an occasion for 511rustic jest. Then the leader of the chorus would assume the part of a messenger from Dionysus, or even that of the god himself, and recite an adventure to the worshippers, who made choral response. The next step was to arrange a dialogue between the leader (κορυφα?ος, coryphaeus) and one chosen member of the chorus, hence called “the answerer” (?ποκριτ?ς, hypocrites, afterwards the ordinary word for “actor”). This last improvement is ascribed to the Attic Thespis (about 536 b.c.). The elements of drama were now ready. The choral hymn to Dionysus (the “dithyramb”) had received an artistic form from the Dorians; dialogue, though only between the leader of the chorus and a single actor, had been introduced in Attica. Phrynichus, an Athenian, celebrated in this manner some events of the Persian Wars; but in his “drama” there was still only one actor. Choerilus of Athens and Pratinas of Phlius, who belonged to the same period, developed the satyric drama; Pratinas also wrote tragedies, dithyrambs, and hyporchemata (lively choral odes chiefly in honour of Apollo).
Aeschylus (born 525 b.c.) became the real founder of tragedy by introducing a second actor, and thus rendering the dialogue independent of the chorus. At the same time the choral song—hitherto the principal part of the performance—became Aeschylus.subordinate to the dialogue; and drama was mature. Aeschylus is also said to have made various improvements of detail in costume and the like; and it was early in his career that the theatre of Dionysus under the acropolis was commenced—the first permanent home of Greek drama, in place of the temporary wooden platforms which had hitherto been used. The system of the “trilogy” and the “tetralogy” is further ascribed to Aeschylus,—the “trilogy” being properly a series of three tragedies connected in subject, such as the Agamemnon, Cho?phori, Eumenides, which together form the Oresteia, or Story of Orestes. The “tetralogy” is such a triad with a “satyric drama” added—that is, a drama in which “satyrs,” the grotesque woodland beings who attended on Dionysus, formed the chorus, as in the earlier dithyramb from which drama sprang. The Cyclops of Euripides is the only extant specimen of a satyric drama. In the seven tragedies which alone remain of the seventy which Aeschylus is said to have composed, the forms of kings and heroes have a grandeur which is truly Homeric; there is a spirit of Panhellenic patriotism such as the Persian Wars in which he fought might well quicken in a soldier-poet; and, pervading all, there is a strain of speculative thought which seeks to reconcile the apparent conflicts between the gods of heaven and of the underworld by the doctrine that both alike, constrained by necessity, are working Sophocles.out the law of righteousness. Sophocles, who was born thirty years after Aeschylus (495 b.c.), is the most perfect artist of the ancient drama. No one before or after him gave to Greek tragedy so high a degree of ideal beauty, or appreciated so finely the possibilities and the limitations of its sphere. He excels especially in drawing character; his Antigone, his Ajax, his Oedipus—indeed, all the chief persons of his dramas—are typical studies in the great primary emotions of human nature. He gave a freer scope to tragic dialogue by adding a third actor; and in one of his later plays, the Oedipus at Colonus, a fourth actor is required. From the time when he won the tragic prize against Aeschylus in 468 to his death in 405 b.c. he was the favourite dramatist of Athens; and for us he is not only a great dramatist, but also the most spiritual representative of the age of Pericles. The distinctive interest of Euripides is of Euripides.another kind. He was only fifteen years younger than Sophocles; but when he entered on his poetical career, the old inspirations of tragedy were already failing. Euripides marks a period of transition in the tragic art, and is, in fact, the mediator between the classical and the romantic drama. The myths and traditions with which the elder dramatists had dealt no longer commanded an unquestioning faith. Euripides himself was imbued with the new intellectual scepticism of the day; and the speculative views which were conflicting in his own mind are reflected in his plays. He had much picturesque and pathetic power; he was a master of expression; and he shows ingenuity in devising fresh resources for tragedy—especially in his management of the choral songs. Aeschylus is Panhellenic, Sophocles is Athenian, Euripides is cosmopolitan. He stands nearer to the modern world than either of his predecessors; and though with him Attic tragedy loses its highest beauty, it acquires new elements of familiar human interest.
In Attica, as in England, a period of rather less than fifty years sufficed for the complete development of the tragic art. The two distinctive characteristics of Athenian drama are its originality and its abundance. The Greeks of Attica were not the only inventors of drama, but they were the first people who made drama a complete work of art. And the great tragic poets of Attica were remarkably prolific. Aeschylus was the reputed author of 70 tragedies, Sophocles of 113, Euripides of 92; and there were others whose productiveness was equally great.
Comedy represented the lighter side, as tragedy the graver side, of the Dionysiac worship; it was the joy of spring following the gloom of winter. The process of growth was nearly the same as in tragedy; but the Dorians, not Comedy.the Ionians of Attica, were the first who added dialogue to the comic chorus. Susarion, a Dorian of Megara, exhibited, about 580 b.c., pieces of the kind known as “Megarian farces.” Epicharmus of Cos (who settled at Syracuse) gave literary form to the Doric farce, and treated in burlesque style the stories of gods and heroes, and subjects taken from everyday life. His Syracusan contemporary Sophron (c. 450) was a famous writer of mimes, chiefly scenes from low-class life. The most artistic form of comedy seems, however, to have been developed in Attica. The greatest names before Aristophanes are those of Cratinus and Eupolis; but from about 470 b.c. there seems to have been a continuous succession of comic dramatists, amongst them Plato Comicus, the author of 28 comedies, political satires Aristophanes.and parodies after the style of the Middle Comedy. Aristophanes came forward as a comic poet in 427 b.c., and retained his popularity for about forty years. He presents a perhaps unique union of bold fancy, exquisite humour, critical acumen and lyrical power. His eleven extant comedies may be divided into three groups, according as the licence of political satire becomes more and more restricted. In the Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps and Peace(425-421) the poet uses unrestrained freedom. In the Birds, Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae and Frogs (414-405) a greater reserve may be perceived. Lastly, in the Ecclesiazusae and the Plutus (392-388) personal satire is almost wholly avoided. The same general tendency continued. The so-called “Middle Comedy” (390-320) represents the transition from the Old Comedy, or political satire, to satire of a literary or social nature; its chief writers were Antiphanes of Athens and Alexis of Thurii. The “New Comedy” (320-250) resembled the modern “comedy of manners.”
Its chief representative was Menander (342-291), the author of 105 comedies. Fragments have been discovered of seven of these, of sufficient length to give an idea of their dramatic action. His plays were produced on the stage as late as the time of Plutarch, and his γν?μαι, distinguished by worldly wisdom, were issued in the form of anthologies, which enjoyed great popularity. Other prominent writers of this class were Diphilus, Philemon, Posidippus and Apollodorus of Carystus. About 330 b.c. Rhinthon of Tarentum revived the old Doric farce in his Hilarotragoediae or travesties of tragic stories. These successive periods cannot be sharply or precisely marked off. The change which gradually passed over the comic drama was simply the reflection of the change which passed over the political and social life of Athens. The Old Comedy, as we see it in the earlier plays of Aristophanes, was probably the most powerful engine of public criticism that has ever existed in any community. Unsparing personality was its essence. The comic poet used this recognized right on an occasion at once festive and sacred, in a society where every man of any note was known by name and sight to the rest. The same thousands who heard a policy or a character denounced or lauded in the theatre might be required to pass sentence on it in the popular assembly or in the courts of law.
The development of Greek poetry had been completed before a prose literature had begun to exist. The earliest name in extant Greek prose literature is that of Herodotus; and, when he wrote, the Attic drama had already Literary prose.passed its prime. There had been, indeed, writers of prose before Herodotus; but there had not been, in the proper sense of the term, a prose literature. The causes of this comparatively late origin of Greek literary prose are independent of the question as to the time at which the art of writing began to be generally used for literary purposes. Epic poetry exercised for a very long period a sovereign spell over the Greek mind. In it was deposited all that the race possessed of history, theology, philosophy, oratory. Even after an age of reflection had begun, elegiac poetry, the first offshoot of epic, was, with iambic verse, the vehicle of much which among other races would have been committed to prose. The basis of Greek culture was essentially poetical. A political cause worked in the same direction. In the Eastern monarchies the king was the centre of all, and the royal records afforded the elements of history from a remote date. The Greek nation was broken up into small states, each busied with its own affairs and its own men. It was the collision between the Greek and the barbarian world which first provided a national subject for a Greek historian. The work of Herodotus, in its relation to Greek prose, is so far analogous to the Iliad in its relation to Greek poetry, that it is the earliest work of art, and that it bears a Panhellenic stamp.
The sense and the degree in which Herodotus was original may be inferred from what is known of earlier prose-writers. For about a century before Herodotus there had been a series of writers in philosophy, mythology, geography Early prose writers.and history. The earliest, or among the earliest, of the philosophical writers were Pherecydes of Syros (550 b.c.) and the Ionian Anaximenes and Anaximander. It is doubtful whether Cadmus of Miletus, supposed to have been the first prose writer, was an historical personage. The Ionian writers, especially called λογογρ?φοι, “narrators in prose” (as distinguished from ?ποποιο?, makers of verse), were those who compiled the myths, especially in genealogies, or who described foreign countries, their physical features, usages and traditions. Hecataeus of Miletus (500 b.c.) is the best-known representative of the logographi in both these branches. Hellanicus of Mytilene (450 b.c.), among whose works was a history of Attica, appears to have made a nearer approach to the character of a systematic historian. Other logographi were Charon of Lampsacus; Pherecydes of Leros, who wrote on the myths of early Attica; Hippys of Rhegium, the oldest writer on Italy and Sicily; and Acusilaus of Argos in Boeotia, author of genealogies (see Logographi, and Greece: Ancient History, “Authorities”).
Herodotus was born in 484 b.c.; and his history was probably not completed before the beginning of the Peloponnesian War (431 b.c.). His subject is the struggle between Greece and Asia, which he deduces from the legendary rape Herodotus.of the Argive Io by Phoenicians, and traces down to the final victory of the Greeks over the invading host of Xerxes. His literary kinship with the historical or geographical writers who had preceded him is seen mainly in two things. First, though he draws a line between the mythological and the historical age, he still holds that myths, as such, are worthy to be reported, and that in certain cases it is part of his duty to report them. Secondly, he follows the example of such writers as Hecataeus in describing the natural and social features of countries. He seeks to combine the part of the geographer or intelligent traveller with his proper part as historian. But when we turn from these minor traits to the larger aspects of his work, Herodotus stands forth as an artist whose conception and whose method were his own. His history has an epic unity. Various as are the subordinate parts, the action narrated is one, great and complete; and the unity is due to this, that Herodotus refers all events of human history to the principle of divine Nemesis. If Sophocles had told the story of Oedipus in the Oedipus Tyrannus alone, and had not added to it the Oedipus at Colonus, it would have been comparable to the story of Xerxes as told by Herodotus. Great as an artist, great too in the largeness of his historical conception, Herodotus fails chiefly by lack of insight into political cause and effect, and by a general silence in regard to the history of political institutions. Both his strength and his weakness are seen most clearly when he is contrasted with that other historian who was strictly his contemporary and who yet seems divided from him by centuries.
Thucydides was only thirteen years younger than Herodotus; but the intellectual space between the men is so great that they seem to belong to different ages. Herodotus is the first artist in historical writing; Thucydides is the Thucydides.first thinker. Herodotus interweaves two threads of causation—human agency, represented by the good or bad qualities of men, and divine agency, represented by the vigilance of the gods on behalf of justice. Thucydides concentrates his attention on the human agency (without, however, denying the other), and strives to trace its exact course. The subject of Thucydides is the Peloponnesian War. In resolving to write its history, he was moved, he says, by these considerations. It was probably the greatest movement which had ever affected Hellas collectively. It was possible for him as a contemporary to record it with approximate accuracy. And this record was likely to have a general value, over and above its particular interest as a record, seeing that the political future was likely to resemble the political past. This is what Thucydides means when he calls his work “a possession for ever.” The speeches which he ascribes to the persons of the history are, as regards form, his own essays in rhetoric of the school to which Antiphon belongs. As regards matter, they are always so far dramatic that the thoughts and sentiments are such as he conceived possible for the supposed speaker. Thucydides abstains, as a rule, from moral comment; but he tells his story as no one could have told it who did not profoundly feel its tragic force; and his general claim to the merit of impartiality is not invalidated by the possible exceptions—difficult to estimate—in the cases of Cleon and Hyperbolus.
Strong as is the contrast between Herodotus and Thucydides, their works have yet a character which distinguish both alike from the historical work of Xenophon in the Anabasis and the Hellenica. Herodotus gives us a vivid drama Xenophon.with the unity of an epic. Thucydides takes a great chapter of contemporary history and traces the causes which are at work throughout it, so as to give the whole a scientific unity. Xenophon has not the grasp either of the dramatist or of the philosopher. His work does not possess the higher unity either of art or of science. The true distinction of Xenophon consists in his thorough combination of the practical with the literary character. He was an accomplished soldier, who had done and seen much. He was also a good writer, who could make a story both clear and lively. But the several parts of the story are not grouped around any central idea, such as a divine Nemesis is for Herodotus, or such as Thucydides finds in the nature of political man. The seven books of the Hellenica form a supplement to the history of Thucydides, beginning in 411 and going down to 362 b.c. The chief blot on the Hellenica is the author’s partiality to Sparta, and in particular to Agesilaus. Some of the greatest achievements of Epaminondas and Pelopidas are passed over in silence. On the whole, Xenophon is perhaps seen at his best in his narrative of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand—a subject which exactly suits him. The Cyropaedeia is a romance of little historical worth, but with many good passages. The Recollections of Socrates, on the other hand, derive their principal value from being uniformly matter-of-fact. In his minor pieces on various subjects Xenophon appears as the earliest essayist. It may be noted that one of the essays erroneously ascribed to him—that On the Athenian Polity—is probably the oldest specimen in existence of literary Attic prose.
His contemporaries Ctesias of Cnidus and Philistus of Syracuse wrote histories of Persia and Sicily. In the second half of the 4th century a number of histories were compiled by literary men of little practical knowledge, who had been trained in the 513rhetorical schools. Such were Ephorus of Cyme and Theopompus of Chios, both pupils of Isocrates; and the writers of Atthides (chronicles of Attic history), the chief of whom were Androtion and Philochorus. Timaeus of Tauromenium was the author of a great work on Sicily, and introduced the system of reckoning by Olympiads.
The steps by which an Attic prose style was developed, and the principal forms which it assumed, can be traced most clearly in the Attic orators. Every Athenian citizen who aspired to take part in the affairs of the city, or even Oratory.to be qualified for self-defence before a law-court, required to have some degree of skill in public speaking; and an Athenian audience looked upon public debate, whether political or forensic, as a competitive trial of proficiency in a fine art. Hence the speaker, no less than the writer, was necessarily a student of finished expression; and oratory had a more direct influence on the general structure of literary prose than has ever perhaps been the case elsewhere. A systematic rhetoric took its rise in Sicily, where Corax of Syracuse (466 b.c.) devised his Art of Words to assist those who were pleading before the law-courts; and it was brought to Athens by his disciple Tisias. The teaching of the Sophists, again, directed attention, though in a superficial and imperfect way, to the elements of grammar and logic; and Gorgias of Leontini—whose declamation, however turgid, must have been striking—gave an impulse at Athens to the taste for elaborate rhetorical brilliancy.
Antiphon represents the earliest, and what has been called the grand, style of Attic prose; its chief characteristics are a grave, dignified movement, a frequent emphasis on verbal contrasts, and a certain austere elevation. The Attic orators.The interest of Andocides is mainly historical; but he has graphic power. Lysias, the representative of the “plain style,” breaks through the rigid mannerism of the elder school, and uses the language of daily life with an ease and grace which, though the result of study, do not betray their art. He is, in his own way, the canon of an Attic style; and his speeches, written for others, exhibit also a high degree of dramatic skill. Isocrates, whose manner may be regarded as intermediate between that of Antiphon and that of Lysias, wrote for readers rather than for hearers. The type of literary prose which he founded is distinguished by ample periods, by studied smoothness and by the temperate use of rhetorical ornament. From the middle of the 4th century b.c. the Isocratic style of prose became general in Greek literature. From the school of Rhodes, in which it became more florid, it passed to Cicero, and through him it has helped to shape the literary prose of the modern world. The speeches of Isaeus in will-cases are interesting,—apart from their bearing on Attic life,—because in them we see, as Dionysius says, “the seeds and the beginnings” of that technical mastery in rhetorical argument which Demosthenes carries to perfection. Demosthenes.Isaeus has also, in a degree, some of the qualities of Lysias. Demosthenes excels all other masters of Greek prose not only in power but in variety; his political speeches, his orations in public or private causes, show his consummate and versatile command over all the resources of the language. In him the development of Attic prose is completed, and the best elements in each of its earlier phases are united. The modern world can more easily appreciate Demosthenes as a great natural orator than as an elaborate artist. But, in order to apprehend his place in the history of Attic prose, we must remember that the ancients felt him to be both; and that he was even reproached by detractors with excessive study of effect. Aeschines is the most theatrical of the Greek orators; he is vehement, and often brilliant, but seldom persuasive. Hypereides was, after Demosthenes, probably the most effective; he had much of the grace of Lysias, but also a wit, a fire and a pathos which were his own. Portions of six of his speeches, found in Egypt between 1847 and 1890, are extant. The one oration of Lycurgus which remains to us is earnest and stately, reminding us both of Antiphon and of Isocrates. Dinarchus was merely a bad imitator of Demosthenes. There seems more reason to regret that Demades is not represented by larger fragments. The decline of Attic oratory may be dated from Demetrius of Phalerum (318 b.c.), the pupil of Aristotle, and the first to introduce the custom of making speeches on imaginary subjects as practised in the rhetorical schools. Cicero names him as the first who impaired the vigour of the earlier eloquence, “preferring his own sweetness to the weight and dignity of his predecessors.” He forms a connecting link between Athens and Alexandria, where he found refuge after his downfall and promoted the foundation of the famous library.
In later times oratory chiefly flourished in the coast and island settlements of Asia Minor, especially Rhodes. Here a new, florid style of oration arose, called the “Asiatic,” which owed its origin to Hegesias of Magnesia (c. 250 b.c.).
The place of Plato in the history of Greek literature is as unique as his place in the history of Greek thought. The literary genius shown in the dialogues is many-sided: it includes dramatic power, remarkable skill in parody, Philosophical prose—Plato and Aristotle.a subtle faculty of satire, and, generally, a command over the finer tones of language. In passages of continuous exposition, where the argument rises into the higher regions of discussion, Plato’s prose takes a more decidedly poetical colouring—never florid or sentimental, however, but lofty and austere. In Plato’s later works—such, for instance, as the Laws, Timaeus, Critias—we can perceive that his style did not remain unaffected by the smooth literary prose which contemporary writers had developed. Aristotle’s influence on the form of Attic prose literature would probably have been considerable if his Rhetoric had been published while Attic oratory had still a vigorous life before it. But in this, as in other departments of mental effort, it was Aristotle’s lot to set in order what the Greek intellect had done in that creative period which had now come to an end. His own chief contribution to the original achievements of the race was the most fitting one that could have been made by him in whose lifetime they were closed. He bequeathed an instrument by which analysis could be carried further, he founded a science of reasoning, and left those who followed him to apply it in all those provinces of knowledge which he had mapped out.6 Theophrastus, his pupil and his successor in the Lyceum, opens the new age of research and scientific classification with his extant works on botany, but is better known to modern readers by his lively Characters, the prototypes of such sketches in English literature as those of Hall, Overbury and Earle.
(C) The Literature of the Decadence.—The period of decadence in Greek literature begins with the extinction of free political life in the Greek cities. So long as the Greek commonwealths were independent and vigorous, Greek life Character of the creative age.rested on the identity of the man with the citizen. The city state was the highest unit of social organization; the whole training and character of the man were viewed relatively to his membership of the city. The market-place, the assembly, the theatre were places of frequent meeting, where the sense of citizenship was quickened, where common standards of opinion or feeling were formed. Poetry, music, sculpture, literature, art, in all their forms, were matters of public interest. Every citizen had some degree of acquaintance with them, and was in some measure capable of judging them. The poet and the musician, the historian and the sculptor, did not live a life of studious seclusion or engrossing professional work. They were, as a rule, in full sympathy with the practical interests of their time. Their art, whatever its form might be, was the concentrated and ennobled expression of their political existence. Aeschylus breathed into tragedy the inspiration of one who had himself fought the great fight of national liberation. Sophocles was the colleague of Pericles in a high military command. Thucydides describes the operations of the Peloponnesian War with the practical knowledge of one who had been in charge of a fleet. Ictinus and Pheidias gave shape in stone, not to mere visions of the studio, but to the more glorious, because more 514real and vivid, perceptions which had been quickened in them by a living communion with the Athenian spirit, by a daily contemplation of Athenian greatness, in the theatre where tragic poets idealized the legends of the past, in the ecclesia where every citizen had his vote on the policy of the state, or in that free and gracious society, full of beauty, yet exempt from vexatious constraint, which belonged to the age of Pericles. The tribunal which judged these works of literature or art was such as was best fitted to preserve the favourable conditions under which they arose. Criticism was not in the hands of a literary clique or of a social caste. The influence of jealousy or malevolence, and the more fatal influence of affectation, had little power to affect the verdict. The verdict was pronounced by the whole body of the citizens. The success or failure of a tragedy was decided, not by the minor circumstance that it gained the first or second prize, but by the collective opinion of the citizens assembled in the theatre of Dionysus. A work of architecture or sculpture was approved or condemned, not by the sentence of a few whom the multitude blindly followed, but by the general judgment of some twenty thousand persons, each of whom was in some degree qualified by education and by habit to form an independent estimate. The artist worked for all his fellow-citizens, and knew that he would be judged by all. The soul of his work was the fresh and living inspiration of nature; it was the ennobled expression of his own life; and the public opinion before which it came was free, intelligent and sincere.
Philip of Macedon did not take away the municipal independence of the Greek cities, but he dealt a death-blow to the old political life. The Athenian poet, historian, artist might still do good work, but he could never again have The transition to Hellenism.that which used to be the very mainspring of all such activity—the daily experience and consciousness of participation in the affairs of an independent state. He could no longer breathe the invigorating air of constitutional freedom, or of the social intercourse to which that freedom lent dignity as well as grace. Then came Alexander’s conquests; Greek civilization was diffused over Asia and the East by means of Greek colonies in which Asiatic and Greek elements were mingled. The life of such settlements, under the monarchies into which Alexander’s empire broke up, could not be animated by the spirit of the Greek commonwealths in the old days of political freedom. But the externals of Greek life were there—the temples, the statues, the theatres, the porticos. Ceremonies and festivals were conducted in the Greek manner. In private life Greek usages prevailed. Greek was the language most used; Greek books were in demand. The mixture of races would always in some measure distinguish even the outward life of such a community from that of a pure Greek state; and the facility with which Greek civilization was adopted would vary in different places. Syria, for example, was rapidly and completely Hellenized. Judaea resisted the process to the last. In Egypt a Greek aristocracy of office, birth and intellect existed side by side with a distinct native life. But, viewed in its broadest aspect, this new civilization may be called Hellenism. Hellenism (q.v.) means the adoption of Hellenic ways; and it is properly applied to a civilization, generally Hellenic in external things, pervading people not necessarily or exclusively Hellenic by race. What the Hellenic literature was to Hellas, that the Hellenistic literature was to Hellenism. The literature of Hellenism has the Hellenic form without the Hellenic soul. The literature of Hellas was creative; the literature of Hellenism is derivative.
Alexandria was the centre of Greek intellectual activity from Alexander to Augustus. Its “Museum,” or college, and its library, both founded by the first Ptolemy (Soter), gave it such attractions for learned men as no other The Alexandrian period.
Poetry.city could rival. The labours of research or arrangement are those which characterize the Alexandrian period. Even in its poetry spontaneous motive was replaced by erudite skill, as in the hymns, epigrams and elegies of Callimachus, in the enigmatic verses of Lycophron, in the highly finished epic of Apollonius Rhodius, and in the versified lore, astronomical or medical, of Aratus and Nicander. The mimes of Herodas (or Herondas) of Cos (c. 200 b.c.), written in the Ionic dialect and choliambic verse, represent scenes from everyday life. The papyrus (published in 1891) contains seven complete poems and fragments of an eighth. They are remarkably witty and full of shrewd observations, but at times coarse. The pastoral poetry of the age—Dorian by origin—was the most pleasing; for this, if it is to please at all, must have its spring in the contemplation of nature. Theocritus is not exempt from the artificialism of the Hellenizing literature; but his true sense of natural beauty entitles him to a place in the first rank of pastoral poets. Bion of Ionia and Moschus of Syracuse also charm by the music and often by the pathos of their bucolic verse. Excavations on the site of the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus have brought to light two hexameter poems and a paean (in Ionic metre) on Apollo and Asclepius by a local poet named Isyllus, who flourished about 280. Tragedy was represented by the poets known as the Alexandrian Pleiad. But it is not for its poetry of any kind that this period of Greek Erudition and science.literature is memorable. Its true work was in erudition and science. Aristarchus (156 b.c.), the greatest in a long line of Alexandrian critics, set the example of a more thorough method in revising and interpreting the ancient texts, and may in this sense be said to have become the founder of scientific scholarship. The critical studies of Alexandria, carried on by the followers of Aristarchus, gradually formed the basis for a science of grammar. The earliest Greek grammar is that of Dionysius Thrax (born c. 166), a pupil of Aristarchus. Translation was another province of work which employed the learned of Alexandria—where the Septuagint version of the Old Testament was begun, probably about 300-250 b.c. Chronology was treated scientifically by Eratosthenes, and was combined with history by Manetho in his chronicles of Egypt, and by Berossus in his chronicles of Chaldaea. Euclid was at Alexandria in the reign of Ptolemy Soter. Herophilus and Erasistratus were distinguished physicians and anatomists, and the authors of several medical works. The general results Summary.of the Alexandrian period might perhaps be stated thus. Alexandria produced a few eminent men of science, some learned poets (in a few cases, of great literary merit) and many able scholars. The preservation of the best Greek literature was due chiefly to the unremitting care of the Alexandrian critics, whose appreciation of it partly compensated for the decay of the old Greek perceptions in literature and art, and who did their utmost to hand it down in a form as free as possible from the errors of copyists. On the whole, the patronage of letters by the Ptolemies had probably as large a measure of success as was possible under the existing conditions; and it was afforded at a time when there was special danger that a true literary tradition might die out of the world.
The Graeco-Roman period in the literature of Hellenism may be dated from the Roman subjugation of Greece. “Greece made a captive of the rough conqueror,” but it did not follow from this intellectual conquest that Athens The Graeco-Roman period.became once more the intellectual centre of the world. Under the empire, indeed, the university of Athens long enjoyed a pre-eminent reputation. But Rome gradually became the point to which the greatest workers in every kind were drawn. Greek literature had already made a home there before the close of the 2nd century b.c. Sulla brought a Greek library from Athens to Rome. Such men as Cicero and Atticus were indefatigable collectors and readers of Greek books. The power of speaking and writing the Greek language became an indispensable accomplishment for highly educated Romans. The library planned by Julius Caesar and founded by Augustus had two principal departments, one for Latin, the other for Greek works. Tiberius, Vespasian, Domitian and Trajan contributed to enlarge the collection. Rome became more and more the rival of Alexandria, not only as possessing great libraries, but also as a seat of learning at which Greek men of letters found appreciation and encouragement. Greek poetry, especially in its higher forms, rhetoric and literary criticism, history and philosophy, were all cultivated by Greek writers at Rome.
The first part of the Graeco-Roman period may be defined as extending from 146 b.c. to the close of the Roman republic. At its commencement stands the name of one who had more real affinity than any of his contemporaries First part: 146-30b.c.with the great writers of old Athens, and who, at the same time, saw most clearly how the empire of the world was passing to Rome. The subject of Polybius (c. 205-120) was the history of Roman conquest from 264 to 146 b.c. His style, plain and straightforward, is free from the florid rhetoric of the time. But the distinction of Polybius is that he is the last Greek writer who in some measure retains the spirit of the old citizen-life. He chose his subject, not because it gave scope to learning or literary skill, but with a motive akin to that which prompted the history of Thucydides—namely, because, as a Greek citizen, he felt intensely the political importance of those wars which had given Rome the mastery of the world. The chief historical work which the following century produced—the Universal History of Diodorus Siculus (fl. c. 50 b.c.)—resembled that of Polybius in recognizing Rome as the political centre of the earth, as the point on which all earlier series of events converged. In all else Diodorus represents the new age in which the Greek historian had no longer the practical knowledge and insight of a traveller, a soldier or a statesman, but only the diligence, and usually the dullness, of a laborious compiler.
The Greek literature of the Roman empire, from Augustus to Justinian, was enormously prolific. The area over which the Greek language was diffused—either as a medium of intercourse or as an established branch of the higher Second part: 30b.c.-a.d. 529.education—was co-extensive with the empire itself. An immense store of materials had now been accumulated, on which critics, commentators, compilers, imitators, were employed with incessant industry. In very many of its forms, the work of composition or adaptation had been reduced to a mechanical knack. If there is any one characteristic which broadly distinguishes the Greek literature of these five centuries, it is the absence of originality either in form or in matter. Lucian is, in his way, a rare exception; and his great popularity—he is the only Greek writer of this period, except Plutarch, who has been widely popular—illustrates the flatness of the arid level above which he stands out. The sustained abundance of literary production under the empire was partly due to the fact that there was no open political career. Never, probably, was literature so important as a resource for educated men; and the habit of reciting before friendly or obsequious audiences swelled the number of writers whose taste had been cultivated to a point just short of perceiving that they ought not to write.
In the manifold prose work of this period, four principal departments may be distinguished. (1) History, with Biography, and Geography. History is represented by Dionysius of Halicarnassus—also memorable for his criticisms on Departments of prose literature.the orators and his effort to revive a true standard of Attic prose—by Cassius Dio, Josephus, Arrian, Appian, Herodian, Eusebius and Zosimus. In biography, the foremost names are Plutarch, Diogenes La?rtius and Philostratus; in geography, Hipparchus of Nicaea, Strabo, Ptolemy and Pausanias. (2) Erudition and Science. The learned labours of the Alexandrian schools were continued in all their various fields. Under this head may be mentioned such works as the lexicons of Julius Pollux, Harpocration and Hesychius, Hephaestion’s treatise on metre, and Herodian’s system of accentuation; the commentaries of Galen on Plato and on Hippocrates; the learned miscellanies of Athenaeus, Aelian and Stobaeus; and the Stratagems of Polyaenus. (3) Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres. The most popular writers on the theory of rhetoric were Hermagoras, Hermogenes, Aphthonius and Cassius Longinus—the last the reputed author of the essay On Sublimity. Among the most renowned teachers of rhetoric—now distinctively called “Sophists,” or rhetoricians—were Dio Chrysostom, Aelius Aristides, Themistius, Himerius, Libanius and Herodes Atticus. Akin to the rhetorical exercises were various forms of ornamental or imaginative prose—dialogues, letters, essays or novels. Lucian, in his dialogues, exhibits more of the classical style and of the classical spirit than any writer of the later age; he has also a remarkable affinity with the tone of modern satire, as in Swift or Voltaire. His Attic prose, though necessarily artificial, was at least the best that had been written for four centuries. The emperor Julian was the author both of orations and of satirical pieces. The chief of the Greek novelists (the forerunner of whom was Aristides of Miletus, c. 100 b.c., in his Milesian Tales) are Xenophon of Ephesus and Longus, representing a purely Greek type of romance, and Heliodorus—with his imitators Achilles Tatius and Chariton—representing a school influenced by Oriental fiction. There were also many Christian romances in Greek, usually of a religious tendency. Alciphron’s fictitious Letters—founded largely on the New Comedy of Athens—represent the same kind of industry which produced the letters of Phalaris, Aristaenetus and similar collections. (4) Philosophy is represented chiefly by Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, in both of whom the Stoic element is the prevailing one; by the Neoplatonists, such as Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus; and by Proclus, of that eclectic school which arose at Athens in the 5th century a.d.
The Greek poetry of this period presents no work of high merit. Babrius versified the Aesopic Fables; Oppian (or two poets of this name) wrote didactic poems on fishing Verse.and hunting; Nonnus and Quintus Smyrnaeus made elaborate essays in epic verse; and the Orphic lore inspired some poems and hymns of a mystic character. The so-called Sibylline Oracles, in hexameter verse, range in date from about 170 b.c. to a.d. 700, and are partly the expression of the Jewish longings for the restoration of Israel, partly predictions of the triumph of Christianity. By far the most pleasing compositions in verse which have come to us from this age The Anthology.are some of the short poems in the Greek Anthology, which includes some pieces as early as the beginning of the 5th century b.c. and some as late as the 6th century of the Christian era.
The 4th century may be said to mark the beginning of the last stage in the decay of literary Hellenism. From that point the decline was rapid and nearly continuous. The attitude of the church towards it was no longer that which had been held by Clement of Alexandria, by Justin Martyr or by Origen. There was now a Christian Greek literature, and a Christian Greek eloquence of extraordinary power. The laity became more and more estranged from the Greek literature—however intrinsically pure and noble—of the pagan past. At the same time the Greek language—which had maintained its purity in Italian seats—was becoming corrupted in the new Greek Rome of the East. In a.d. 529 Justinian put forth an edict by which the schools of heathen philosophy were formally closed. The act had at least a symbolical meaning. It is necessary to guard against the supposition that such assumed landmarks in political or literary history always mark a definite transition from one order of things to another. But it is practically convenient, or necessary, to use such landmarks.
Bibliography.—The first attempt at a connected history of Greek literature was the monumental and still indispensable work of J. A. Fabricius (14 vols., 1705-1728; new ed. in 12 vols. by G. C. Harless, 1790-1809); this was followed by F. Sch?ll’s Hist. de la litt?rature grecque (1813). Both these works begin with the earliest times and go down to the latest period of the Byzantine empire. Of more modern and recent works the following may be mentioned: G. Bernhardy, Grundriss der griechischen Literatur (1836-1845; 4th ed., 1876-1880; 5th ed. of vol. i., by R. Volkmann, 1892), chiefly confined to the poets; C. O. M?ller, History of Greek Literature (unfinished), written for the London Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and published in English in 1840, the translation being by G. Cornewall Lewis and J. W. Donaldson (the latter completed the work to the end of the Byzantine period for the edition of 1858; the German text was published by E. M?ller in 1841; 4th ed. by E. Heitz, 1882-1884); W. Mure, Critical History of the Language and Literature of Ancient Greece (1850-1857); T. Bergk, Griechische Literaturgeschichte (1872-1894, vols. 2, 3, ed. G. Hinrichs, vol. 4 by R. Peppm?ller) containing epos, 516lyric, drama down to Euripides, and the beginnings of prose; R. Nicolai, Griechische Literaturgeschichte (2nd ed., 1873-1878), useful for bibliography, but in other respects unsatisfactory; J. P. Mahaffy, Hist. of Classical Greek Literature (4th ed., 1903); A. and M. Croiset, Hist. de la litt?rature grecque (1887-1899, 2nd ed. 1896); W. Christ, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur bis auf die Zeit Justinians (4th ed., 1905; 5th ed., pt. i., by O. St?hlin and W. Schmid, 1908), by far the most serviceable handbook for the student. F. Susemihl’s Geschichte der griechischen Literatur in der Alexandrinerzeit (1891-1892) is especially valuable for its notes. Of smaller manuals the following will be found most useful: G. G. Murray, History of Ancient Greek Literature(1897); F. B. Jevons, History of Greek Literature (3rd ed., 1900) down to the time of Demosthenes; A. and M. Croiset, Manuel d’hist. de la litt?rature grecque (1900; Eng. trans., by G. F. Heffelbower, N.Y., 1904); also the general sketches by U. von Wilamowitz-M?llendorff in Die Kultur der Gegenwart, i. 8 (1905), by A. Gercke in the Sammlung G?schen (Leipzig, 2nd ed., 1905), and by R. C. Jebb in Companion to Greek Studies (Cambridge, 1905). Other works generally connected with the subject are: E. H?bner, Bibliographie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft(2nd ed., 1889), pp. 161-17l; W. Engelmann, Bibliotheca scriptorum classicorum (8th ed., by E. Preuss, 1880); J. B. Mayor, Guide to the Choice of Classical Books (1896), p. 86; W. Kroll, Die Altertumswissenschaft im letzten Vierteljahrhundert 1875-1900 (1905), p. 465 foll.; J. E. Sandys,History of Classical Scholarship (1906-1908); “Bibliotheca philologica classica,” in C. Bursian’s Jahresbericht ?ber die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft; articles in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclop?die der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (1894—).
(R. C. J.; X.)