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The Role of Greek and Roman Literature

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THE ROLE OF GREEK AND ROMAN LITERATURE

Over the years, literature of ancient Greece and Rome has affected art, religion, philosophy, science and mathematics, medicine, drama, and poetry profoundly. It has served as a basic model for the development of later European literatures and, consequently, the writings of the historians, geographers, philosophers, scientists, and rhetoricians are read today as sources of historical information and enjoyment.

Alfred Whitehead, the famous British philosopher-mathematician, once commented that: "[A]ll philosophy is but a footnote to Plato" (Comptons Encyclopedia). A similar point can be made regarding Greek literature as a whole. The Greek world of thought was far ranging and ideas discussed today have been previously debated by ancient writers. In fact, until recently, in Western culture, an acquaintance with classical Latin (as well as Greek) literature was basic to a liberal education. Roman literature such as epic and lyric poetry, rhetoric, history, comic drama and satire (the last genre being the only literary form that the Romans invented) serve as today's backbone for a basic understanding of expression and artistic creativity, as well as history.

Greek comedies such as those of Naevius and Andronicus, as well as historical writings in epic poems (First Punic War), tell the story of Rome and its conquests and served as prototypes for Aroman epics. Later poets imitated early Roman writers as they used these early writings for springboards into further development of drama. For example, Plautus's lively plays were a model for much subsequent European comedy and are still performed today (encarta.msn).

Epic Greek poetry was exclusively in verse, but evolved from the folk ballads of early people of Greece who had an oral literature composed of songs about the actions of their heroes. Mythical and heroic events that are not celebrated in the Homeric works became the subject matter of a number of subsequent epics. Many of these epics, composed from the 8th century to the 6 century B.C. by unknown poets called the cyclic poets, concerned the Trojan War and war of the Seven Against Thebes. Historians have learned a great deal about Greek life through poems such as Hesiod's major work Works and Days, which draws from everyday life of a Boeotian farmer (encarta.msn 2).

Tragedy in drama as we know it today is said to have been originated in the 6th century B.C. by Attic poet Thespis, who is credited with spoken passages for actors to complement the lyric utterances of the chorus. Sophocles and Euripides, Greek playwrights, used psychological insight into their characterizations. Comedy, grouped in two divisions (Middle and New) from 400-336 B.C. and 336-250 B.C. replaced satire with social comedy which involved family types, plot and character development, and romantic themes. Menander was the chief writer of New Comedy and his work had a strong influence upon the Latin dramatists of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, notably Plautus and Terence. Extensive portions of many of these plays survive today.

Plato and Aristotle were two major Greek philosophical writers. Plato developed some aspects of Socrates' philosophy and expressed, in written dialogues, the philosophy later called idealism. They are also literary masterpieces, having many qualities common to poetry and drama. Aristotle, a pupil of Plato, wrote a large number of works on logic, metaphysics, ethics, rhetoric, and politics. These writings are read and analyzed by many people

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