Introduction: A Brief History of Greek Poetry
Despite being considered as one of the most ancient of literatures, the origins of Greek poetry date back to Mycenaean times, around the 5th century BC. The first recorded poems were the epic tales of Homer, King of the Ancient Greeks, and his two epics, The Odyssey and The Iliad. It is believed that these gems of romantic lyrical poetry served as the basis for the development of Greek poetry. From Homer to Hesiod, hundreds of poets over the centuries have contributed to the evolution of Greek Poetry.
The Classical Era: The Height of Greek Poetry
The Classical era, in particular the 5th century BC, saw the development of various genres in Greek poetry. This included the tragedy, with Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus as the big names on the Athenian amphitheater stage. There were also great comedic plays by Aristophanes and lyric poets such as the blind beggar Homer, Pindar and Sappho, who could well be described as the patron saint of Greek poetry. During the Classical era, writers shifted their gaze from the heavens to the human experience. Concepts such as love, justice, courage and virtue became the focus of much philosophical debate. Questions of the divine, the meaningfulness of life, the power of memory and death were explored in poetically beautiful terms.
Hellenistic Era: New Images for an Ancient Language
The death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period in Greek poetry. During this time, the great playwrights of the Classical era, such as Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, were replaced by epic poets and with the emergence of calligraphy, literary criticism, and rhetorical writing, the language changed and adapted to the needs of the time. The Greek language was no longer seen as a medium through which to tell heroic stories, but a way to explain the basic values that hold humanity together; such as love, justice, faith and understanding. Roman poets such as Virgil also made their mark during this period, contributing to the development of Greek Poetry.
The Decline of Greek Poetry
By the 5th century AD, Greek Literature had entered into a period of decline. Greek was no longer the language of choice and new technologies and literary forms had begun to take over, such as the romance novel, satire, and the novel itself. Although it continued to exist as an influence, by 600AD Greek poetry had largely fallen out of favour.
Modern Greek Poetry: Reviving the Classics
Modern Greek poetry has sought to reclaim its ancient roots, combining the poetic traditions of old with the new and experimental forms such as free verse and modernist criticism. Writers such as Constantine Cavafy and C.P. Cavafy have blended their own contributions with those of their forebears, creating works that are at once unique yet still bursting with classical hints and nuances.
The Global Impact of Greek Poetry
The impact of Greek poetry is felt across the world, particularly in the realm of popular culture. From the music of Led Zeppelin to the screenplays of the Coen Brothers and the words of Shakespeare, the work of ancient Greek writers has served as a source of inspiration for writers and musicians for centuries. Greek poetry also has a strong presence in the virtual world, with multiple online blogs and literary journals dedicated to the appreciation and exploration of Greek literature.
The Preservation of Greek Poetry
The preservation of Greek poetry is a common theme among those who maintain an appreciation of the ancient literature. Organizations such as ‘The Homeric Society’ promote the spirit of Homeric research and encourage classicists, educators and students to share their knowledge and experiences of reading Greek poetry. Various websites and digital libraries have also been set up to ensure that the Classics remain accessible to a wider audience.
The Influence of Ancient Greek Poetry on Modern Language
The influence of ancient Greek poetry on modern language is undeniable. Words such as ‘hedonism’ ‘pedagogy’ and ‘democracy’ are all of Greek origin and are commonly used in everyday English, testament to the pervasive influence of Greek literature on the evolution of human language.
The Education of Greek Poetry
It is important to remember that despite its creativity and power, Greek poetry still requires the skill of an experienced and qualified educator in order for its value to be properly understood. Although the language of the poems needs to be preserved and respected, this should be combined with an understanding of the various forms of Greek poetry and its social and historical context. In addition to teaching the Classics, it is also important for teachers to give students the opportunity to explore their own creative relationship with the material.
Greek poetry has a long and storied history that is as fascinating as it is inspiring. Over the centuries, a variety of genres and forms of the ancient literature have been developed, with poets such as Homer, Aeschylus and Sappho defining the essence of Greek poetry. Despite its decline in the modern world, there is still a vibrant appreciation and celebration of Greek poetry, with dedicated teachers, students and scholars helping to ensure that the legacy of the Classics remains alive and well.