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.