Life and Works of Ancient Greek Writers
ENGLISH – YEAR 11
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...
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