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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IX. CLASSICAL CIVILIZATION
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The literature of Greece begins with epic poetry. An epic may be defined as a long narrative in verse, dealing with some large and noble theme. The earliest epic poetry of the Greeks was inseparable from music. Wandering minstrels sang at feasts in the palaces of kings and accompanied their lays with the music of the clear-toned lyre. In time, as his verse reached a more artistic character, the singer was able to give up the lyre and to depend for effect solely on the poetic power of his narrative. Finally, the scattered lays were combined into long poems. The most famous are the Iliad and the Odyssey, works which the Greeks attributed to Homer.
Several centuries after Homer the Greeks began to create a new form of poetic expression—lyric poetry. In short poems, accompanied by the flute or the lyre, they found a medium for the expression of personal feelings which was not furnished by the long and cumbrous epic. The greatest lyric poet was Pindar. We still possess forty-four of his odes, which were written in honor of victorious athletes at the Olympian and other national games. Pindar's verses were so popular that he became, as it were, the "poet laureate" of Greece. When Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes, the native town of Pindar, he spared that poet's birthplace from the general ruin.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy