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The Classical Age of Greece 800 B.C. – A.D. 200 Basic Background Together, the cultural achievements of ancient Greece and those of ancient Rome form the cornerstone of Western civilization. 5 categories of people – aristocrats, common folk, slaves, warriors, and artists & writers .

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the classical age of greece

The Classical Age of Greece

800 B.C. – A.D. 200

basic background
Basic Background
  • Together, the cultural achievements of ancient Greece and those of ancient Rome form the cornerstone of Western civilization.
  • 5 categories of people – aristocrats, common folk, slaves, warriors, and artists & writers.
  • Women in Athens were not treated equally and were the equivalent of slaves, while women of Sparta were offered equality in physical training, participation in athletics, business, and land ownership.
  • The unique way of life in ancient Greece encouraged creativity and excellence in all pursuits.
  • From fierce athletic competitions to boldly ambitious education programs, the Greeks aimed for the best in all things.
  • In this atmosphere, literature flourished.
the alphabet
The Alphabet
  • The alphabet we have today is the Roman version of the Greek alphabet, which the Greeks developed from the Phoenician alphabet.
  • Previous writing systems were complicated and difficult to use, requiring years of training. The simplicity of using letters to represent all the sounds in the Greek language made widespread literacy a possibility for the first time in history.
arts humanities
Arts & Humanities
  • The ancient Greeks combined idealism (quest for perfection) and realism (realistic depictions) to create works of great beauty. Even today, the influence of Greek architects, sculptors, and writers can be felt, from the design of many of our public buildings to the staging of the latest drama.
  • Greek literature begins with the epics the Iliad and the Odyssey, believed to have been composed by Homer, the blind poet. The Trojan War, which took place around 1250 B.C. serves as the backdrop for these two epic poems, whose oral versions existed much earlier than the written form.
  • During the 600s B.C. the lyric poem became popular. This type of poetry is shorter and more personal than the epic. The lyric allowed poets to express their thoughts and feelings.
  • During the 400s B.C., drama became the most important literary form.
  • The Greeks created the form of tragedy – a serious drama about the downfall of a tragic hero – and comedy.
  • The 3 greatest dramatists were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
  • The comedies of Aristophanes often poked fun at customs, politics, and respected Athenians.
more on greek drama
More on Greek Drama
  • Originated at the springtime religious festivals in Athens to honor Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility.
  • Chorus of masked dancers sang to this god.
  • Thespis, a Greek poet, introduced the first actor on stage. (What dramatic term comes from his name?)


Plays continued on the religious purpose for some time, but eventually turned more towards entertainment.
  • Writers began competing for prizes by staging plays at the Dionysus festivals. Today, only 35 of these plays have survived.
  • With the addition of more actors, came the use of dialogue and more complex plot lines and intrigue.
  • Most plays were based on familiar legends and myths. The audience knew the story behind the play, but the characters did not (dramatic irony).
  • Overall, Greek drama served as a way to ponder life’s mysteries, celebrate its glory, and come to terms with its suffering.
the legacy of language
The Legacy of Language
  • Many of the words we use today have Greek origins. Can you guess the meaning of the root of these commonly used words?
  • Root – astra = astronaut, asterisk, astronomy
  • Root – biblio = bibliography, Bible
  • Root – log = dialogue, monologue, eulogy
  • Root – polis = police, political, metropolis

Astra = STAR

Biblio = BOOK

Log = WORD


sophocles author of oedipus the king
Sophocles, author of Oedipus the King
  • Lived 496? – 406 B.C. (How old was he?)
  • In youth, skillful wrestler, dancer, musician
  • Military leader, ambassador, public treasurer
  • Helped establish first Athenian public hospital
  • Highly regarded.
sophocles the writer
Sophocles the Writer
  • Wrote over 120 plays – only 7 have survived intact.
  • Won the Dionysian drama festival 18 times – more than any other writer of his time.
  • Enlarged the chorus from 12 to 15 members, introduced painted scenery, and added a 3rd speaking actor.
  • His plays are known for their powerful language, superb artistry, and unforgettable characters.