Literature

Hi everyone!

Sorry for my absence, I swear I will write more.

However, I want to start writing about literature so let’s talk about my beloved Greeks!

I’ve always been fascinated by the Ancient Greece, mythology, how they lived etc. In fact, I study ancient greek (with latin too) and I often translate their texts. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to translate, you’ve probably seen how your vision of things has changed (or it’s just me?). When I hear a word, for example, I automatically understand the basic concept without looking for it because I just remembered the greek word (it mainly happens with latin though but it depends on the language). The study of these dead languages also helped me with learning the modern languages such as French or Spanish because I can recognize easily their roots and then learn intuitively.

Here we go! Ancient greek literature goes from the from the earliest texts until the time of the Byzantine Empire, when the last neoplatonic school was closed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (VIII century to 529 a.C.). Before the VIII century, there was a period of profound cultural crisis called the “Greek Dark Ages” and it went from from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC to the first signs of the Greek poleis, city states, in the 9th century BC. During this time, nothing was written and the transmission of informations or poems was mainly oral. The earliest surviving works of ancient Greek literature, dating back to the early Archaic period(VIII-VI BC.), are the two epic poems “The Iliad”and “The Odyssey”, set in the Mycenaean era. These two epics, along with the “Homeric Hymns” and the two poems of “Hesiod”, “Theogony” and “Works and Days” comprised the major foundations of the Greek literary tradition that would continue into the Classical (V-IV BC), Hellenistic (323 BC-31 BC)and Roman Periods.

How did these texts arrive in our centuries?

After 529 AC, the greek language wasn’t spoken anymore in Europe so it was mainly translated by Arabs (it was replaced by Latin). We have texts written by the monks or coming from Toledo, Baghdad and Palermo, where schools for translation were located. Most of them couldn’t speak greek so, when an element was unclear, they used to write “Graecum est, non legitur” which that means “It’s greek and impossible to read”. This caused a lot of mistakes in their transcription. Only in the XIV century, greek was studied again, mainly in Florence and by important italian authors such as Boccaccio who looked for lost books or poems in old monasteries.

About the greek language.

The earliest known Greek writings are Mycenaean , written in the Linear B syllabary on clay tablets. These documents contain prosaic records largely concerned with trade (lists, inventories etc.); no real literature has been discovered. Michael Ventris and John Chadwick, the original decipherers of Linear B, state that literature almost certainly existed in Mycenaean Greek , but it was either not written down or, if it was, it was on wooden tablets, which did not survive the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces. Then we can find 3 important dialects such as Aeolic, Doric and Ionic. Aeolic was spoken mainly in Boeotia (a region in Central Greece); Thessaly, in the Aegean island of Lesbos; and the Greek colonies of Asia Minor (Aeolis). The Aeolic dialect shows many archaisms in comparison to the other Ancient Greek dialects (Attic, Ionic, Doric) and it’s widely known as the language of Sappho and Alcaeus of Mytilene. Aeolic poetry mostly uses four classical meters known as the Aeolics: Glyconic (the most basic form of Aeolic line), hendecasyllabic verse, Sapphic stanza, and Alcaic stanza (the latter two are respectively named for Sappho and Alcaeus).

Doric was spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese as well as in Sicily, Epirus, Southern Italy, Crete, Rhodes, some islands in the southern Aegean Sea and some cities on the south east coast of Anatolia.

Ionic is generally divided into two major time periods, Old Ionic (or Old Ionian) and New Ionic (or New Ionian). The transition between the two is not clearly defined, but 600 BC is a good approximation. The works of Homer ( The Iliad, The Odyssey, and theHomeric Hymns) and of Hesiod were written in a literary dialect called Homeric Greek or Epic Greek, which largely comprises Old Ionic, with some borrowings from the neighboring Aeolic dialect to the north. The poet Archilocus wrote in late Old Ionic.The most famous New Ionic authors are Anacreon, Theognis, Herodotus and Hippocrates. The meter was dactylic hexameter.

(Linear B)

The main division in greek literature was between prose and poetry. Within poetry there were epic poetry, lyric and drama. Lyric and drama were further divided into more genres: lyric in four ( elegiac, iambic, monodic lyric and choral lyric); drama in three (tragedy, comedy and pastoral drama).Prose literature can largely be said to begin with Herodotus so we have historiography (with Thucydide too). We also have the texts written by Philosophers (Aristotle, for example.)

In the next article, I will talk in deep about the epic poetry, Homer and his poems.

See you next time!

-Stefania

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