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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

William Smith, A Smaller History of Ancient Greece

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER II

Origin of the Greeks, and the Heroic Age

ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT

HOMER

PLATO

ARISTOTLE

THE GREEK OLD TESTAMENT (SEPTUAGINT)

THE NEW TESTAMENT

PLOTINUS

DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE

MAXIMUS CONFESSOR

SYMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN

CAVAFY

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Page 2

The civilization of the Greeks and the development of their language bear all the marks of home growth, and probably were little affected by foreign influence. The traditions, however, of the Greeks would point to a contrary conclusion. It was a general belief among them that the Pelasgians were reclaimed from barbarism by Oriental strangers, who settled in the country and introduced among the rude inhabitants the first elements of civilization. Attica is said to have been indebted for the arts of civilized life to Cecrops, a native of Sais in Egypt. To him is ascribed the foundation of the city of Athens, the institution of marriage, and the introduction of religious rites and ceremonies. Argos, in like manner, is said to have been founded by the Egyptian Danaus, who fled to Greece with his fifty daughters, to escape from the persecution of their suitors, the fifty sons of his brother AEgyptus. The Egyptian stranger was elected king by the natives, and from him the tribe of the Danai derived their name, which Homer frequently uses as a general appellation for the Greeks. Another colony was the one led from Asia by Pelops, from whom the southern peninsula of Greece derived its name of Peloponnesus. Pelops is represented as a Phrygian, and the son of the wealthy king Tantalus. He became king of Mycenae, and the founder of a powerful dynasty, one of the most renowned in the Heroic age of Greece. From him was descended Agamemnon, who led the Grecian host against Troy.

The tale of the Phoenician colony, conducted by Cadmus, and which founded Thebes in Boeotia, rests upon a different basis. Whether there was such a person as the Phoenician Cadmus, and whether he built the town called Cadmea, which afterwards became the citadel of Thebes, as the ancient legends relate, cannot be determined; but it is certain that the Greeks were indebted to the Phoenicians for the art of writing; for both the names and the forms of the letters in the Greek alphabet are evidently derived from the Phoenician. With this exception the Oriental strangers left no permanent traces of their settlements in Greece; and the population of the country continued to be essentially Grecian, uncontaminated by any foreign elements.

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