Classical Literature in English Translation | Index of Classical Authors
Genres and Literary Terminology: Philosophy | Epic | Epigrams | Old Comedy | Roman Drama | Satire | Epistle | Terminology for Tragedy | Tragedy | Meter in Greek and Latin Poetry
At some point in our prehistory people started telling stories to one another. Later, stories were composed in forms that others could repeat. Story-telling is easy to envision as the origin of some forms of literature, especially bardic ballads, novels, and plays. Even philosophy is an attempt to explain a story or truth about the world. Here is a quick look at how the genres of Greek and Latin literature evolved and many of the major contributors to the genres -- at least those whose works survive.
After a quick review of the genres you'll find an alphabetical list of the Greek and then the Roman writers.
Ancient thinkers wrote verse about what they observed in nature. Did that make them scientists? poets? Yes, but they are generally referred to as Presocratic Philosophers. Many aspects of culture were still without distinct form at this time, which was during the Archaic Age of Ancient Greece.
Drama / Plays
The origin of drama is mired in legend, but to the best of our information, drama seems to have arisen as part of religious worship. Today we divide plays into the categories of comedy and tragedy.
The word tragedy appears to come from the words for 'goat' and 'song' or 'ode'.
The first element in Greek tragedy was the chorus, which danced and sang poetry created by the dramatist at the religious festivals.
Actors came later, with the great tragedians.
Comedy seems to have come from phallic processions followed by sacrifices, but we don't know. Its etymology appears to come from komos (connected with revels), plus the word for 'song'.
- Epic Poetry
The man credited with creating the epics we know of as the Iliad and Odyssey, (whom we refer to as Homer) was a rhapsode, a person who accompanied his improvised performances with a musical instrument. Epic poetry came to be distinguished by its distinct (epic) meter.
- Lyric Poetry
Lyric poetry, developed according to legend, by Terpander, was poetry accompanied by a lyre.
Epigrams were composed for funerals. It was an epigrammatist, Mimnermus of Smyrna, who is credited with developing the elegiac meter that was used for love poetry (elegies).
History, as developed by Herodotus, was a (prose) story about whatever Herodotus set his inquiring mind to.
Ancient Historians Timeline
In ancient Rome, satire was a recognized and somewhat defined literary verse genre. It was the only genre the Romans claimed as their own invention. Some early novels fell within the genre of (Menippean) satire.
- Epistle (main Roman writers)
Epistles are linked with Satire, as in the work of Horace, but some epistle writers used the letter for for actual correspondence, so the style is quite varied.
Main Classical Roman Epistle Writers
Here you will find some resources on this site related to Classical writers and the genres of Classical literature, specifically, timelines of the major Greek and Roman authors, articles about the writers and their genres that are on this site, and links to some of their writing, mostly in English.
Greek and Roman Writers of Drama - Comedy and Tragedy
Classical Greek and Roman Writers ...
and some of their works, mostly translated into English
Greek Classical Writers
Aeschylus | Aeschylus Plays in English | Aeschylus Resources
Aesop Biography | Fables of Aesop
Aristophanes | About the Individual Plays of Aristophanes | Aristophanes Plays in English
Aristotle | Aristotle Texts in English