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GREEK LITERATURE. The great British philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead once commented that all philosophy is but a footnote to Plato . A similar point can be made regarding Greek literature as a whole.
Over a period of more than ten centuries, the ancient Greeks created a literature of such brilliance that it has rarely been equaled and never surpassed. In poetry, tragedy, comedy, and history, Greek writers created masterpieces that have inspired, influenced, and challenged readers to the present day.
To suggest that all Western literature is no more than a footnote to the writings of classical Greece is an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless true that the Greek world of thought was so far-ranging that there is scarcely an idea discussed today that was not debated by the ancient writers. The only body of literature of comparable influence is the Bible.
The language in which the ancient authors wrote was Greek. Like English, Greek is an Indo-European language; but it is far older. Its history can be followed from the 14th century BC to the present. Its literature, therefore, covers a longer period of time than that of any other Indo-European language .
Scholars have determined that the Greek alphabet was derived from the Phoenician alphabet. During the period from the 8th to the 5th century BC, local differences caused the forms of letters to vary from one city-state to another within Greece. From the 4th century BC on, however, the alphabet became uniform throughout the Greek world.
There are four major periods of Greek literature: preclassical, classical, Hellenistic-Roman, and Byzantine. Of these the most significant works were produced during the preclassical and classical eras.
At the beginning of Greek literature stand the two monumental works of Homer, the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey'. The figure of Homer is shrouded in mystery. Although the works as they now stand are credited to him, it is certain that their roots reach far back before his time (see Homeric Legend). The 'Iliad' is the famous story about the Trojan War. It centers on the person of Achilles, who embodied the Greek heroic ideal.
While the 'Iliad' is pure tragedy, the 'Odyssey' is a mixture of tragedy and comedy. It is the story of Odysseus, one of the warriors at Troy. After ten years fighting the war, he spends another ten years sailing back home to his wife and family. During his ten-
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