Famous Surviving Greek Literary Masterpieces

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The Greek civilization has contributed much to mankind, from architecture, to sculpture, to music, literature and many others.

Agamemnon by: Aeschylus

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Bust of Aeschylus

Agamemnon is a tragedy written by no less than the “Father of Greek Tragedy” himself – Aeschylus. He was an ancient Greek playwright and a soldier believed to be born in 525 BCE and died in Sicily about 456 BCE. He is often recognized as the father or the founder of tragedy, and is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays survive. Seven of his works have survived.

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Agamemnon describes his death at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra, who was angry both at Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia and at his keeping the Trojan prophetess Cassandra as a concubine. Cassandra enters the palace even though she knows she will be murdered by Clytemnestra as well, knowing that she cannot avoid her gruesome fate. The ending of the play includes a prediction of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who will surely avenge his father.

Antigone by: Sophocles

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Marble relief of Sophocles

This is a tragedy written by Sophocles about 442 BCE. Sophocles is thought to have lived from 496 BCE – 406 BCE. He was the second of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived to the present day.

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It’s about a young woman who’s confused on which to prioritize – her duty to her family or her duty to her country. Polynices and Eteocles, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes’ civil war, have both been killed in battle. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has declared that Eteocles will be honored and Polynices disgraced. The rebel brother’s body will not be sanctified by holy rites, and will lay unburied on the battlefield, prey for carrion animals. Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead brothers, and they are now the last children of the ill-fated Oedipus. Antigone brings Ismene outside the city gates late at night for a secret meeting: Antigone wants to bury Polynices’ body, in defiance of Creon’s edict. Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, but she is unable to dissuade Antigone from going to do the deed by herself.

The Trojan Women by: Euripides

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Statue of Euripides

The Trojan Women was written by Euripides. He was born in 480 BCE and died in 406 BCE. He was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens. Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-five plays. Eighteen of Euripides’ plays have survived complete.

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The Trojan Women is a tragedy which was produced during the Peloponnesian War, it is often considered a commentary on the capture of the Aegean island of Melos and the subsequent slaughter and subjugation of its populace by the Athenians earlier in 415 BCE, the same year the play premiered.

The Clouds by: Aristophanes

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A sketch of Aristophanes

This poem was written by Aristophanes. He was thought to have lived from 456 BCE to 386 BCE. He was the son of Philippus, was a Greek Old Comic dramatist. He is also known as the Father of Comedy and the Prince of Ancient Comedy.

The Clouds is a comedy lampooning the sophist and the intellectual trends of late fifth-century Athens. Although it took last place in the comic festival Aristophanes entered it in, it is one of his most famous works because it offers a highly unusual portrayal of Socrates. Many also find the play to be quite funny as an irreverent satire of pretentious academia.

Work and Days by: Hesiod

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Work & Days is a poem written by Hesiod whose favorite theme is rural life. Hesiod was an early Greek poet and rhapsode, who presumably lived around 700 BC. Hesiod and Homer are generally considered the earliest Greek poets whose work has survived since at least Herodotus’ time, and they are often paired.

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Hesiod wrote a poem of some 800 verses, the Works and Days, which revolves around two general truths: labor is the universal lot of Man, but he who is willing to work will get by.

Scholars have interpreted this work against a background of agrarian crisis in mainland Greece, which inspired a wave of documented colonization in search of new land. This work lays out the five Ages of man, as well as containing advice and wisdom, prescribing a life of honest labor and attacking idleness and unjust judges (like those who decided in favor of Perses) as well as the practice of usury. It describes immortals who roam the earth watching over justice and injustice. The poem regards labor as the source of all good, in that both gods and men hate the idle, which resemble drones in a hive.

The Logoi By: Demosthenes

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Demosthenes

The Logoi is a compilation of speeches by Demosthenes. He was regarded as the Prince of Greek Oratory. Demosthenes, who lived about 384 BCE to 322 BCE, was a prominent Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens. His orations constitute the last significant expression of Athenian intellectual prowess and provide a thorough insight into the politics and culture of ancient Greece. The Alexandrian Canon compiled by Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace recognized Demosthenes as one of the 10 greatest Attic orators and logographers. Cicero acclaimed him as “the perfect orator,” while Quintilian extolled him as “lex orandi” and underscored that “inter omnes unus excellat”.

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The Logoi – the famous speeches by Demosthenes, in a 1570 edition, in Greek surrounded by Greek commentary, amongst other works of the period.

The Histories by: Herodotus

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Herodotus of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC (484 BCE-425 BCE) and is regarded as the “Father of History” in Western culture. He was the first historian to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. “The Histories” of Herodotus is considered the first work of history in Western literature. Written about 440 BCE in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories tells the story of the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BCE. Herodotus traveled extensively around the ancient world, conducting interviews and collecting stories for his book. At the beginning of The Histories, Herodotus sets out his reasons for writing it.

History of the Peloponnesian War by: Thucydides

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This important historic piece was written by Thucydides (c. 460 BC – c. 395 BC). He was a Greek historian and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of “scientific history” due to his strict standards of evidence-gathering and analysis in terms of cause and effect without reference to intervention by the gods. He has also been called the father of the school of political realism, which views the relations between nations as based on might rather than right. His classical text is still studied at advanced military colleges worldwide, and the Melian Dialogue remains a seminal work of international relations theory.

The History of the Peloponnesian War is an account of the Peloponnesian War in Ancient Greece, fought between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Delian League (led by Athens). It was written by Thucydides, an Athenian general who served in the war. It is widely considered a classic and regarded as one of the earliest scholarly works of history. The History was divided into eight books by editors of later antiquity.

Iliad by: Homer

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Homer is a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The ancient Greeks generally believed that Homer was a historical individual, but modern scholars are skeptical: no reliable biographical information has been handed down from classical antiquity, and the poems themselves manifestly represent the culmination of many centuries of oral story-telling and a well-developed “formulaic” system of poetic composition.

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The Iliad together with the Odyssey, one of two ancient epic poems traditionally attributed to Homer. The poem is commonly dated to the late 9th or to the 8th century BCE, and many scholars believe it is the oldest extant work of literature in the ancient Greek language, making it one of the first works of ancient Greek literature. The existence of a single author for the poems is disputed as the poems themselves show evidence of a long oral tradition and hence, possible multiple authors.

Odyssey by: Homer

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The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed also to Homer. The poem was probably written near the end of the eighth century BC, somewhere along the Greek-controlled western Turkey seaside, Ionia. The poem is, in part, a sequel to Homer’s Iliad and mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home to Ithaca following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War During this absence, his son Telemachus and wife Penelope must deal with a group of unruly suitors, called Proci, to compete for Penelope’s hand in marriage, since most have assumed that Odysseus has died.

See also

10 Most Famous Surviving Greek Sculptures

The Greatest Surviving Greek Architectures

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