Craig White's Literature Courses
Ancient & Classical
Greek Poets &
The School of Athens (1509-11), the Vatican
Early Greek Poets
Homer (8th c BCE)—epics: Iliad,
Hesiod (8c BCE)—Greek
spoken-word poet or poetical tradition, to whom or which is credited
Works and Days,
Shield of Heracles.
Major source for Greek myths.
Greek poet (7c BC), remembered as creator of the elegy (poem commemorating the dead) and as the first Greek
lyric poet. His works
survive only in fragments, but the ancient Greeks ranked him with Homer and
Sappho (late 7th c. BCE)—"Of an estimated
12,000 lines of verse attributed to her, virtually all is lost, much having
been destroyed by the medieval Church: one complete poem, some citations,
and fragments survive. Originally accompanied by lyre, her poetry included
cultic hymns, mythological narrative, epithalamia, satire, and intensely
passionate poetry about women." (Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in
the United States)
Aesop (ca. 620-564 BC)—Greek
storyteller, traditional source of folk tales and fables with animal characters;
Aesop's Fables (e.g. "The Goose that lay the Golden Eggs," "The
Town Mouse and the City Mouse," "The Tortoise and the Hare," "The Ant and
Playwrights of Classical Greece (i.e. 5th century BCE,
"the Athenian Golden Age")
Aeschylus (525-456 BCE):
7 plays survive, incl. Prometheus Bound (attributed; ca. 478?);
Oresteia trilogy (456);
7 plays survive, incl. Oedipus
the King (ca. 442);
Antigone (ca. 420);
Oedipus at Colonnus
Euripides (480-406 BCE):
18 or 19 plays survive, incl. Medea (431),
The Trojan Women (415),
The Bacchae (405),
Hippolytus (429 BCE), on which Racine's
Phedre(1677) and O'Neill's
Desire Under the Elms (1924) are based.
Classical Greek Comic Playwrights:
(c. 448-385 BCE):
11 of 30 plays survive, including
The Birds (414 BCE),
The Frogs (405);
primarily identified with "Old Comedy" involving sexual and scatological
humor, buffoonery, and political satire.
BC): popular Athenian poet and playwright of New Comedy. Nearly all of his work
is now lost. One complete play survives: Dyskolos.
Philosophers (many others but less well known)
Socrates (470-400 BCE): wrote nothing but
appears as main character in Plato's Dialogues. "Socratic dialogue" is modeled
after his method of questioning to reveal truth or untruth.
The Republic (book
of dialogues on justice and the state); 35 dialogues; 13 letters (Epistles)
(some of doubtful authenticity)
Nicomachean Ethics, & many works on nature and logic
(BCE dates run backwards!)
Mathematicians, Medical Doctors, Scientists, Engineers of Ancient & Classical Greece
Mathematics, physics, and astronomy: The ancient and classical
Greeks developed early forms of geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; also early analogue computers such as the
Antikythera mechanism, discovered in 1900-01.
Euclid (fl. ca.
300 BCE) "the father of geometry," whose Elements served as a
mathematics textbook until the 20th century.
(ca. 580-500 BCE), attributed developer of the Pythagorean Theorem (In a right
triangel the square of the hypotenuse [the side opposite the right angle] is
equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides)
(287-212 BCE), mathematician, physicist, engineer, astronomer; applied
mathematics to physical phenomena, explaining the principles of levers and
developing "Archimedes's Screw" or water pump.
Hipparchus (ca. 190-120
BCE), founder of trigonometry.
90-161 CE), mathematician, geographer, astronomer, remembered now as the
namesake of the "Ptolemaic system" or earth-centered planetary system.
Biology, botany, and medicine:
Greek physicians enjoyed excellent reputations throughout
the Mediterranean civilizations throughout the classical era.
(ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC), "the father of modern medicine" who developed much of
the terminology still used by medical doctors today. His name survives in the
"Hippocratic Oath" and "Hippocratic baldness."Aristotle and his successor at the
Lyceum, Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BCe
and his successor at the Lyceum Theophrastus (c. 371 – c.
287 BCE) wrote numerous tracts on biology and botany that remain important
and influential in the history of science.
– c. 200/c. 216
CE), accomplished researcher in anatomy, physiology, pathology,
pharmacology, and neurology, influenced Western medicine profoundly for 1300
Why read and study the Greeks?
Earlier instances of human writing, records, or literature are found in
China, Mesopotamia, India, the Holy Land, and elsewhere, but Ancient and Classical Greece
typically appear as the foundation of Western Civilization and its literature.
Why is Greek literature and thought considered so
foundational to Western Civilization or cultural education? (Question responds to increasingly multicultural population and curriculum.)
Greek literature and culture stand at the
beginning of a relatively
unbroken or continuous chain of influences and learning. Other
cultures have achieved accomplishments comparable to the Greeks', but those
other cultures' advances rose and fell with less continuous influence—often
because records were lost, or the cultures that wrote them disappeared or left
Greek empires also rose and fell, but Greek learning and
achievements survived not only in architecture and sculpture but in writing or permanent
records, some of which were preserved by scholars in schools and libraries
within and beyond Greek civilization.
Even after the Greek empires collapsed, Greeks remained
important people in the civilized world. Greeks were often the engineers,
diplomats, translators, scholars, teachers—-people who knew how or learned how.
Greek language remained widespread as a language of
learning and commerce. (The New Testament of the Bible was written in Greek
during the Roman Empire.)
Greek drama directly influenced Roman drama, both of which
influenced the Renaissance drama of Shakespeare, later playwrights, and modern
Greek empires (especially Athens but also Sparta)
influenced the politics, languages, science, philosophies, and technologies of the Phoenicians, the
Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, the European empires of the Renaissance, the
founding of the USA, and so on.
Consequently, classical Greece may function as Western
Civilization's and literature's Origin Story—a
story that tells how a culture began and with what principles or values.
Gender and ethnic studies challenge such studies' general
exclusion of women writers and voices beyond the Western tradition. Most
multicultural studies, however, acknowledge the pervasive influence of classical Western Civilization
and its predominance in various institutions of learning. As a result, many multicultural or gender studies are
arranged in reaction to, dialogue with, or difference from this long-established tradition.
More positively, Greek literature is from so long ago that in
some senses it belongs to no one, and many different cultural groups freely
identify with it.
Greek literature also provides much of our knowledge of Greek
(> Roman) mythology,
But aside from literary allusions, these
aspects of the Greek influence are far less important than Greek influence on
politics, art, literature, philosophy, technology, science, architecture, etc.
See also Classical
Primary Sources / Strands of Western Civilization
Apollo, god of poetry