Greek literature

In world literature history, Greek literature marks a great influence on the western world, serving as a starting point for the development of literary genres and themes that form part of western literature. The literary genres developed in Greek literature have left in humanity many works that have lasted in time for their form and content; and that have served as inspiration for future writers.

Greek literature

Related topics

Medieval literature

What is Greek literature?

Greek literature is the compendium of literary works produced by Ancient or Classical Greece, from 300 B.C. to the 4th century A.D., and which brings together the traditions, ways of thinking and histories that influenced Western culture. It can be studied in four periods or stages: the archaic stage, the classical stage, the Hellenistic stage and the Greco-Roman stage. Greek literature was the first to develop literary genres (epic, lyrical and dramatic) in the Western world.

Characteristics of Greek literature

Among the most outstanding characteristics of Greek literature we can mention the following:

Epic poetry (used to narrate epics and tales of wars or heroic adventures)

Lyric poetry (used for singing and dancing. This could be popular or cultured).

Historical context of Greek literature

As antecedents of the Greek literature we can emphasize that Greece was not yet conformed as a nation. Its most important cities were Athens as an intellectual center and Sparta as a warrior kingdom.

From the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. Greece developed its oral language, philosophical thought, politics and oratory through its literature and the creation of literary genres in which the most representative subjects of Western thought were dealt with.


Greek literature developed in three stages. These are: the archaic period, the classical period and the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman period.

The archaic epoch

At this stage of Greek literature, writing was not yet developed, and stories were transmitted orally. The subjects were myths, religious speculations and others related to culture. To this period belong the epics sung by Homer, known as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Tragedy and comedy were also born in Greece during this period.

The classical period

In this period the issues of truth and morality are raised in argumentative, rhetorical and oratorical genres, all of this developed in the field of philosophy and politics. Among the most important representatives of this moment, we can mention Plato and Aristotle with their classical works that have been part of Western thought for many centuries.

The Hellenistic and Greco-Roman period

At this time, Greek literature underwent certain transformations because Greek as a language became the national language of Macedonians and the territories of Alexander the Great’s empire. In this context, Greek literature changed from a popular public to a private, select and erudite one, where the center of the world is Rome until Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire.


The subjects touched upon in Greek literature were related to the Greek gods linked to fatum or destiny; philosophy linked to morality and reason; and politics.

In epic lyric, the themes were related to Greek heroes, their battles and their relationship with the Gods.

Lyric poetry was related to soul feelings and intimate emotions.

In theater, the themes were focused on great human passions and everyday life.


The literary genres used in classical Greek literature were epic poetry, lyric poetry and theatre. They also developed oratory.

In Greek epic poetry, the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey stand out as classics of this genre. These works are known as epics because they sing the exploits of Greek heroes.

In lyric poetry, sentimental and emotional themes. These could be performed by a soloist or by a choir. Representatives of this genre are Anacreontic, Safo and Pindaron, among others.

In theater, Greeks had two types of dramatic works, comedies and tragedies. Through this genre, it was sought that the spectator reflect and have fun with common life elements and with the virtues and vices of man in front of his destiny. The best-known playwrights of the Greek classical period are Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

Importance of Greek literature

Greek literature is important because it was the first to stand out in European history and was the generator of literary genres that have served as models for other countries.

Just as the aesthetics and arts of the West originated in Classical Greece, Greek literature gave rise to the great ideas of humanity and the questions of man and the role he plays in the world, life, death, its virtues, its vices, its pleasures and torments.


Of the most outstanding representatives of Greek literature we can mention the following:

Classical works of Greek literature

Of the classical works of Greek literature we can mention the following:

Written by Gabriela Briceño V.

How to cite this article?

Briceño V., Gabriela. (2019). Greek literature. Recovered on 23 February, 2024, de Euston96:

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