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Life and Works of Ancient Greek Writers

By eych3209 Sep 12, 2013 1919 Words
Life and Works of Ancient Greek Writers


Homer was the most important and earliest of the Greek and Roman writers. Greeks and Romans didn't count themselves educated unless they knew his poems. His influence was felt not only on literature, but on ethics and morality via lessons from his masterpieces. He is the first source to look for information on Greek myth and religion. Yet, despite his prominence, we have no firm evidence that he ever lived.

In the Western classical tradition, Homer is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest of ancient Greek poets. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature. The stories provide an important insight into early human society, and illustrate, in some aspects, how little has changed. Further controversy about authorship springs from the differing styles of the two long narrative poems, indicating they were composed a century apart, while other historians claim only decades –the more formal structure of The Iliad is attributed to a poet at the height of his powers, whereas the more colloquial, novelistic approach in The Odyssey is attributed to an elderly Homer.

Homer enriched his descriptive story with liberal use of simile and metaphor, which has inspired a long path of writers behind him. His structuring device was to start in the middle–in medias res– and then fill in the missing information via remembrances.

The two narrative poems pop up throughout modern literature: Homer’s The Odyssey has parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and his tale of Achilles in The Iliad is echoed in J.R.R. Tolkein'sThe Fall of Gondolin. Even the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? makes use of The Odyssey.

Other works have been attributed to Homer over the centuries, most notably the Homeric Hymns, but in the end only the two epic works remain enduringly his.


Pindar, although difficult for many of us today to read or appreciate, was considered one of, if not, the greatest Greek lyric poet. Pindar is the first Greek poet to reflect on the nature of poetry and on the poet's role. Like other poets of the Archaic Age, he has a profound sense of the vicissitudes of life, but he also articulates a passionate faith in what men, by the grace of the gods, can achieve. His poetry illustrates the beliefs and values of Archaic Greece at the dawn of the classical period. He was probably born in 522 BC or 518 BC. It is reported that he was stung on the mouth by a bee in his youth and this was the reason he became a poet of honey-like verses. Pindar was about twenty years old in 498 BC when he was commissioned by the ruling family in Thessaly to compose his first victory ode (Pythian 10). Pindar seems to have used his odes to advance his and his friends’ personal interests. In 462 BC, he composed two odes in honour of Arcesilas, king of Cyrene, pleading for the return from exile of a friend. In the latter ode, Pindar proudly mentions his own ancestry, which he shared with the king, as an Aegeid or descendant of Aegeus, the legendary king of Athens. In his first Pythian ode, composed in 470 BC in honour of the Sicilian tyrant Hieron, Pindar celebrated a series of victories by Greeks against foreign invaders: Athenian and Spartan-led victories against Persia, and victories by western Greeks led by Theron of Acragas and Hieron against Carthaginians and Etruscans at the battles of Himera and Cumae. Lyric verse was conventionally accompanied by music and dance, and Pindar himself wrote the music and choreographed the dances for his victory odes. Sometimes he trained the performers at his home in Thebes, and sometimes he trained them at the venue where they performed.

Pindar lived to about eighty years of age. He died around 440 BC while attending a festival at Argos. His ashes were taken back home to Thebes by his musically-gifted daughters, Eumetis and Protomache. Nothing is recorded about his wife and son except their names, Megacleia and Daiphantus. About ten days before he died, the goddess Persephone appeared to him and complained that she was the only divinity to whom he had never composed a hymn. She said he would come to her soon and compose one then. One of his last odes (Pythian 8) indicates that he lived near a shrine to the oracle Alcmaeon and that he stored some of his wealth there.


Sophocles was the second of the 3 greatest Greek writers of tragedy (with Aeschylus and Euripides). He is known best for what he wrote about Oedipus, the mythological figure who proved central to Freud and the history of psychoanalysis. He lived through most of the 5th century, experiencing the Age of Pericles and the Peloponnesian War.

As a result of an oracle that said their baby would grow up to kill his father, Laius and Jocasta ordered their baby exposed on Mt. Cithaeron. His feet were pinned together -- resulting in the swollen feet that gave him his name Oedipus. A shepherd had pity on Oedipus and brought the baby to the king of Corinth who brought him up as his own. When he grew up, Oedipus heard a prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, so he headed away from Corinth to avoid this fate. Passing a rude man whom he didn't know (but who was in reality his birth father Laius) on the road, Oedipus killed the stranger and then proceeded to Thebes, where he married the recently widowed Jocasta. When Oedipus and Jocasta learned what they had done, Jocasta killed herself and Oedipus blinded himself in order to save Thebes. Freud named a psychological complex after Oedipus -- the Oedipal Complex.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and Antigone. They are generally known as the Theban plays. Sophocles influenced the development of the drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles was a wealthy member of the rural deme (small community) of ColonusHippius in Attica, which was to become a setting for one of his plays, and he was probably born there. He was born a few years before the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

Sophocles’ first artistic triumph was in 468 BC, when he took first prize in the Dionysia theatre competition over the reigning master of Athenian drama, Aeschylus. At the age of 16, Sophocles was chosen to lead the paean (a choral chant to a god), celebrating the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War.

He was one of the most famous, respected, and influential philosophers of all time. A type of love (Platonic) is named for him. We know the Greek philosopher Socrates mostly through Plato's dialogues. He saw tripartite structures in the world around him. His social structure theory had a governing class, warriors, and workers. He thought the human soul contained reason, spirit, and appetite. He may have founded an institution of learning known as the Academy, from which we get the word academic. Plato was born around May 21 in 428 or 427 B.C., a year or two after Pericles died and during the Peloponnesian War. He was related to Solon and could trace his ancestry to the last legendary king of Athens, Codrus. When Plato died, in 347 B.C., after Philip II of Macedonia had begun his conquest of Greece, leadership of the Academy passed not to Aristotle, who had been a student and then teacher there for 20 years, and who expected to follow, but to Plato's nephew Speusippus. The Academy continued for several more centuries. Eroticism: Plato's Symposium contains ideas on love held by various philosophers and other Athenians. It entertains many points of view, including the idea that people were originally doubled -- some with the same gender and others with the opposite, and that, once cut, they spend their lives looking for their other part. This idea "explains" sexual preferences. The mythical place known as Atlantis appears as part of a parable in a fragment of Plato's late dialogue Timaeus and also in Critias. In the Middle Ages, Plato was known mostly through Latin translations of Arabic translations and commentaries. In the Renaissance, when Greek became more familiar, far more scholars studied Plato. Since then, he has had an impact on math and science, morals, and political theory. Instead of following a political path, Plato thought it more important to educate would-be statesmen. For this reason, he set up a school for future leaders. His school was called the Academy, named for the park in which it was located. Plato's Republic contains a treatise on education. Plato is considered by many to be the most important philosopher who ever lived. He is known as the father of idealism in philosophy. His ideas were elitist, with the philosopher king the ideal ruler. Plato is perhaps best known to college students for his parable of a cave, which appears in Plato's Republic. ARISTOTLE

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was one of the most important western philosophers, a student of Plato, teacher of Alexander the Great, and tremendously influential in the middle Ages. Aristotle wrote on logic, nature, psychology, ethics, politics, and art. He is credited with developing deductive reasoning.

Aristotle was born in the city of Stagira in Macedonia. His father, Nichomacus, was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia.

In 367, at the age of 17, Aristotle went to Athens to attend the institution of philosophical learning known as the Academy, which was founded by Socrates' pupil Plato, where he stayed until Plato's death in 347. Then, since he wasn't named successor, Aristotle left Athens, traveling around until 343 when he became tutor for Amyntas' grandson, Alexander -- later known as "the Great."

In 336, Alexander's father, Philip of Macedonia, was assassinated. Aristotle returned to Athens in 335.

Upon his return to Athens, Aristotle lectured for twelve years in a place that came to be known as the Lyceum. Aristotle's style of lecturing involved walking around in covered walkways, for which reason Aristotle was called "Peripatetic" (i.e., walking about).

In 323, when Alexander the Great died, the Assembly in Athens declared war against Alexander's successor, Antipon. Aristotle was considered an anti-Athenian, pro-Macedonian, and so he was charged with impiety. Aristotle went into voluntary exile to Chalcis, where he died of a digestive ailment in 322 B.C., at the age of 63.

Aristotle's philosophy, logic, science, metaphysics, ethics, politics and system of deductive reasoning have been of inestimable importance ever since. Aristotle's syllogism is at the basis of deductive reasoning. A textbook example of a syllogism is: Major premise: All humans are mortal.

Minor premise: Socrates is a human.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

In the Middle Ages, the Church used Aristotle to explain its doctrines.

Sources: and

Prepared by: Teacher Charizze M. Herrero

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