Classical Greek literature begins with the recorded accounts of Homer in the eighth century BC and draws to a close with the rise of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The successes and achievements of classical Greek literature are due in part to the conditions surrounding this time period. The Golden Age of Greece which lasted from the early fifth century to the late fourth century provided the ideal environment for all aspects of Greek culture and society to flourish. As a result, Greek literature saw unprecedented growth and greatly evolved. The influences of Greek literature from this time period are still felt throughout the world today. Western literature owes much of its origins to the literary advancements made by the poets, playwrights and philosophers of this period. The Classical Period saw the emergence of many genres of Western literature including lyrical poetry (which can be divided into four subcategories: elegiac, iambic, monodic lyric and choral lyric), dramatic expositions of comedy and tragedy, historiography, philosophy and political rhetoric. As Alfred North Whitehead once said, "philosophy is but a footnote to Plato," implying that Western literature is no more than a mere afterthought to the literary works of the classical Greeks and furthering insinuating the importance of this period of unparalleled literary growth ("Ancient Greek Literature").
Greek literature as a whole greatly developed during this period as well. Classical Greek literature has its roots in the oral tradition. Oral storytelling was the most effective way to preserve the cultural history and ancestry of a people, from one generation to the next because literacy was uncommon. It enabled the Greeks to transmit information to large groups of people and allowed Grecian society to develop a fund of common knowledge and history. Aoidos (similar to bards) would put legends, histories, and religious stories into verse and travel the country singing these narratives, therefore creating a fixed identity and tradition for all of Greece and aiding in the development of a cultural memory which could be passed from generation to generation ("Greek Literature"). These ballads and epics were set to the tune music and sung, often with the accompaniment of instruments or simple dances -providing beguilement and schooling at the same time. In the eighth century, it is believed that Homer recorded the epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, for the first time, beginning a history of recorded literary works ("A History of Ancient Greece: Greek Literature").
The Classical Period saw the creation of lyrical poetry. This type of poetry got its name because it was originally sung by individuals and a chorus accompanied by an instrument called the lyre. Actors would take turns reciting the lines of a poem with a chorus. Often the actor and the members of the chorus would wear masks, and the chorus would complement the poetry with interpretive dances. This type of entertainment is most closely associated with our modern-day play. Lyrical poetry was performed at festivals honoring gods and goddesses, or celebrations of seasonal events. Formal competitions, where poets and playwrights would submit their work and compete for prizes, became widespread ("A History of Ancient Greece: Greek Literature"). Lyric poetry can be divided into four genres: elegiac, iambic, monodic lyric and choral lyric - two of which were not accompanied by lyre, but by flute. These latter two genres were elegiac poetry and iambic poetry. Both were written in ionic dialect - elegiac poetry was in elegiac couplets and iambic poems in iambic trimeter. Lyric poetry in a narrow sense was written in aeolic dialect and meters were incredibly varied ("Ancient Greek Literature").
Ancient Greek drama developed around the prominent Grecian theater culture, particularly in Athens during its Golden Age. Works, therefore, are written in Attic dialect. The dialogues are in iambic trimeter, while the chorus is in the meters of choral lyric ("Ancient Greek Literature"). The two types of plays which emerged during this revival were the tragedy and the comedy. Both were staged in similar ways, yet differed greatly in content. Tragic plays, despite their name, were not necessarily gloomy. They were sincerely dramatic, and dealt with a number of intricate and thought-provoking topics such as psychology, philosophy, and morality. Comic plays, on the other hand, were filled with vulgar and boisterous jokes, intended to incite laughter and to entertain. Despite their light and humorous presentation, some playwrights used plays to express genuine and sincere political and social commentary ("A History of Ancient Greece: Greek Literature"). In the years that followed the Greco-Persian Wars, the strong nationalistic fervor in Athens was expressed in hundreds of tragedies based on heroic and legendary ideas of the past. The tragic plays grew out of simple choral songs and dialogues performed at the festival of the god Dionysus, known as the Great Dionysia. Like tragedy, comedy arose from a festival in honor of Dionysus, but in this case the plays were full of frank obscenity, rudeness, and insult. In Athens, the comedies became an official part of festival celebrations in 486 BC. As is the case with many works during this time period, few tragedies and comedies still remain. A third dramatic genre, about which little is known, was the satyr play. Although the genre was popular, only one example has survived in its entirety, Euripides' Cyclops ("Ancient Greek Literature").
Historiography also made important strides during the Classical Greek Period. Much of our understanding of the Peloponnesian War stems from the works and efforts of various historians of the time. The critical use of sources, inclusion of documents, and laborious research has exponentially influenced later generations of historians. Often accounts of the historian differ greatly from that of the poet and philosopher. Recorded history, as opposed to dramas and poems, from this period allows modern-day historians to have a more objective view on events of the Classical Greek Period ("Ancient Greek Literature").
Many believe that single-handedly, the greatest achievement of classical Greek literature was in philosophy. Of all the genres which emerged during this time, philosophy has had the greatest influence on Western society. The conditions surrounding the Golden Age of Athens set the stage for such thought and achievement to occur. Skills such as oration, logic, and rhetoric were polished, and the study of mathematics and the sciences (both natural and social) were encouraged. Philosophers explored matters other than those that are today considered philosophical - with treatises covering logic, the physical and biological sciences, ethics, politics, constitutional government, and literary theory. With the death of Aristotle in 322 BC, the classical period of Greek literature came to an end ("Ancient Greek Literature").
The age of classical Greece drew to a close with the end of the fourth century BC. However because of the literary progress made during this time, classical Greece still has a huge effect on modern Western thought and traditions. Almost all of Western literature can trace its roots to classical Greek traditions. Many of the themes present in ancient Greek plays and poems are still used in literature today, and even new literature that deals with distinctively modern themes still owes much in the way of technique and style to the golden age of Greece and the classical Greek literary period as a whole.