Greek Literature from Hellenism to the Imperial Era

Hellenism (3rd – 1st century BC)

Hellenistic Philology

The Greeks, who were only represented as a thin upper class in the Diadochian states after the triumph of Alexander the Great, saw themselves as heirs to the superior Greek culture (Hellenism, Koine). Therefore, at this time, collecting and opening up was v. a. the texts of ancient poets at the center of literary activity. These philological and literary-historical studies were carried out in new state centers such as Pergamon and Alexandria (Alexandrian Age, Alexandrian Library;Aristophanes of Byzantium, Aristarchus of Samothrace). This was now combined with specialist scientific work. The philologist Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a geographer and determined the circumference of the earth quite precisely; works on astronomy and medicine were also produced.

The learned poetry

Philological erudition also produced diverse (educational) poetry, e.g. B. Callimachos and Apollonios of Rhodes. The latter tried to revive the Homeric epic with his “Argonautica”; the poetic work of Callimachus includes v. a. Small forms such as hymns, elegies, epigrams. Also Theokritos that introduced with the bucolic (shepherd) sealing a new genus, used the small form (Eidyllion, Idyllic). Herodas depicted realistic everyday scenes close to mimus ; the didactic poem was represented byArat of Sikyon. The writing of history was inter alia. continued by Duris from Samos.

Encounter with Roman culture

Since the 2nd century BC Greek writers came into contact with noble Romans – for example the Stoic Panaitios and the historian Polybius with Scipio Aemilianus : the dispute with Rome was part of the history of Polybius and that of the universal scholar Poseidonius (1st century BC). Their ideas in turn influenced the Roman writers from the end of the 1st century BC. BC (about Cicero). The universal historians Diodor and Nikolaos of Damascus, the rhetor and historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the geographer Strabo which at the end of the 1st century BC B.C., were strongly determined by Rome in their questions. In the Augustan period, the grammarian and lexicographer Didymos in Alexandria summarized the results of Hellenistic learning.

The imperial era

A return to the classical era

In the year 30 BC With Alexandria, the last Hellenistic center finally came under Roman rule. There is no doubt that literary forms of Hellenism have had an impact far into the centuries AD, but that at the end of the 1st century BC is the most common. Atticism, which started in BC with its endeavor to revive classical styles, created a new moment; moreover, the political reality of the Roman Empire was not without consequences in Greek literature. In addition, the Greeks and Romans shared a common awareness of their cultural superiority over the “barbarians”. Around the birth of Christ, Philo of Alexandria combined Jewish faith and Stoic philosophy; Josephus Flavius represented Jewish history in the forms familiar to the Greco-Roman world and as part of it. The Platonizing writer Plutarch from Chaironeia (around 100 AD) collected and updated the legacy of Greek literature in numerous writings and harmonized it with the roman world; so in his parallel biographies he contrasted a Greek with a Roman. The second sophistry (including Dion of Prusa, Philostratos) represents a rhetorical return to the classical legacy. The Greek schools of rhetoric continued to be of great importance. Ideas of stoic philosophy were represented in Rome by the Roman knight C. Musonius Rufus and the freed Epictetus in Greek (the educated in the western part of the empire were bilingual in the first two centuries AD); Emperor Mark Aurel also wrote his Platonic-Stoic self-reflections in Greek.

Technical prose and novel

In the 2nd century AD, specialist writing emerged more strongly: Appian and Arrian (historians), Galen (physicians, philosopher and polyhistor), Ptolemy (astronomer and geographer), Apollonios Dyskolos (grammarian), Pausanias (author of local and country descriptions). The speaker Aelius Aristides and the satirical writer Lukian were literarily versatile. A representative of “colored writing”, which spreads a wealth of learned knowledge, was Athenaios. In the 3rd century, historiographical works were again created (the historian Cassius Dio Cocceianus wrote a history of Rome), v. a. But there was a revitalization of the philosophical literature by the Egyptian Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism, which influenced the entire literature. His student, the Syrian Porphyrios, developed a diverse scientific writing. Following his pupil Iamblichos from Chalkis, Proklos in Athens expanded the Neoplatonic teaching with his writings and hymns in the 5th century.

The entertainment needs of the Hellenistic and Roman world corresponded to the development of the new genre of the novel, in which a fantastic or exotic world was created for the educated class, who was denied active politics. Novels in Greek were written by Chariton of Aphrodisias, Xenophon of Ephesus, the Syrian Iamblichus, Achilles Tatios, Longos and Heliodorus.

The late period

The Greek language was also used by the earliest adherents of Christianity, so that the writings of the New Testament, which emerged from the 2nd half of the 1st century (Bible), are also part of Greek literature. Since the 3rd century, an extensive literature in the Greek language was created by Christian writers (Origen, Clement of Alexandria) who were entirely in the pagan educational tradition (early Christian literature). With the help of the traditional forms, dogmatic disputes within the church were carried out in the 4th century (Gregor von Nazianz, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom). – In the 4th century pagan rhetoric and epistolography flourished again through Libanios, Themistios and Emperor Julian, around the turn of the 5th century Synesius of Cyrene wrote speeches and letters in the Attic and hymns in the Doric dialect. In the 5th century, the Egyptian Nonnos once again created a great epic of mythological content with his “Dionysiacs”.

The transition from the pagan-Roman to the Christian-Eastern Roman or Byzantine state was at the same time the beginning of Byzantine literature (Byzantine culture), which was continued in modern Greek literature.

The importance of ancient Greek literature for European and world culture cannot be overestimated (antiquity). It decisively shaped the image of man, forms of language and thought, and the cultural expressions of humanity in general. The awareness of this awakened in Europe in the age of the Renaissance and humanism.

Greek Literature from Hellenism to the Imperial Era