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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

William Smith, A Smaller History of Ancient Greece

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER XXII

Sketch of the History of Greek Literature from the Earliest Times to the Reign of Alexander the Great

Cf. A Short History of Greek Philosophy

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

More...


Page 2

The mode in which these poems were preserved has occasioned great controversy in modern times. Even if they were committed to writing by the poet himself, and were handed down to posterity in this manner, it is certain that they were rarely read. We must endeavour to realise the difference between ancient Greece and our own times. During the most flourishing period of Athenian literature manuscripts were indifferently written, without division into parts, and without marks of punctuation. They were scarce and costly, could be obtained only by the wealthy, and read only by those who had had considerable literary training. Under these circumstances the Greeks could never become a reading people; and thus the great mass even of the Athenians became acquainted with the productions of the leading poets of Greece only by hearing them recited at their solemn festivals and on other public occasions. This was more strikingly the case at an earlier period. The Iliad and the Odyssey were not read by individuals in private, but were sung or recited at festivals or to assembled companies. The bard originally sung his own lays to the accompaniment of his lyre. He was succeeded by a body of professional reciters, called Rhapsodists, who rehearsed the poems of others. and who appear at early times to have had exclusive possession of the Homeric poems. But in the seventh century before the Christian era literary culture began to prevail among the Greeks; and men of education and wealth were naturally desirous of obtaining copies of the great poet of the nation. From this cause copies came to be circulated among the Greeks; but most of them contained only separate portions of the poems, or single rhapsodes, as they were called. Pisistratus, the tyrant or despot of Athens, is said to have been the first person who collected and arranged the poems in their present form, in order that they might be recited at the great Panathenaic festival at Athens.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature


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