A History of Ancient Greek Literature








Copyright, 1897,



The vast progress made in all departments of literary scholarship, and the minuteness with which knowledge is now subdivided, threaten to leave the general reader bewildered at the diversity and bulk of what is presented to him. The exact historian of literature concentrates his attention on so narrow a field that he cannot be expected to appeal to a wide class; those who study what he writes are, or must in some measure grow to be, his fellow-specialists. But the more precisely each little area is surveyed in detail, the more necessary does it become for us to return at frequent intervals to an inspection of the general scheme of which each topographical study is but a fragment magnified. It has seemed that of late the minute treatment of a multitude of intellectual phenomena has a little tended to obscure the general movement of literature in each race or country. In a crowd of handbooks, each of high authority in itself, the general trend of influence or thread of evolution may be lost.

The absence of any collection of summaries of the literature of the world has led the Publisher and the Editor of the present series to believe that a succession of attractive volumes, dealing each with the history of literature in a single country, would be not less welcome than novel. The Editor has had the good fortune to interest in this project a number of scholars whose names guarantee a rare combination of exact knowledge with the power of graceful composition. He has the pleasure of being able to announce that this interest has taken a practical shape, and that already there is being prepared for the press a considerable series of volumes, most of them composed by men pre-eminently recognised for their competence in each special branch of the subject. If there are one or two names less generally familiar to the public than the rest, the Editor confidently predicts that the perusal of their volumes will more than justify his invitation to them to contribute. Great care will be taken to preserve uniformity of form and disposition, so as to make the volumes convenient for purposes of comparison, and so as to enable the literatures themselves to be studied in proper correlation.

In preparing these books, the first aim will be to make them exactly consistent with all the latest discoveries of fact; and the second, to ensure that they are agreeable to read. It is hoped that they will be accurate enough to be used in the class-room, and yet pleasant enough and picturesque enough to be studied by those who seek nothing from their books but enjoyment. An effort will be made to recall the history of literature from the company of sciences which have somewhat unduly borne her down—from philology, in particular, and from political history. These have their interesting and valuable influence upon literature, but she is independent of them, and is strong enough to be self-reliant.

Hence, important as are the linguistic origins of each literature, and delightful as it may be to linger over the birth of language, little notice will here be taken of what are purely philological curiosities. We shall tread the ground rapidly until we reach the point where the infant language begins to be employed in saying something characteristic and eloquent. On the other hand, a great point will be made, it is hoped, by dwelling on the actions, the counter-influences, of literatures on one another in the course of their evolution, and by noting what appear to be the causes which have led to a revival here and to a decline there. In short, we shall neglect no indication of change or development in an adult literature, and our endeavour will be to make each volume a well-proportioned biography of the intellectual life of a race, treated as a single entity. Literature will be interpreted as the most perfect utterance of the ripest thought by the finest minds, and to the classics of each country rather than to its oddities and rather than to its obsolete features will particular attention be directed.

With these words, I venture to introduce the volume in which Professor Gilbert Murray prepares us for the consideration of all modern literature by describing the evolution of prose and verse in the history of Ancient Greece.



To read and re-read the scanty remains now left to us of the Literature of Ancient Greece, is a pleasant and not a laborious task; nor is that task greatly increased by the inclusion of the 'Scholia' or ancient commentaries. But modern scholarship has been prolific in the making of books; and as regards this department of my subject, I must frankly accept the verdict passed by a German critic upon a historian of vastly wider erudition than mine, and confess that I 'stand helpless before the mass of my material.' To be more precise, I believe that in the domain of Epic, Lyric, and Tragic Poetry, I am fairly familiar with the researches of recent years; and I have endeavoured to read the more celebrated books on Prose and Comic Poetry. Periodical literature is notoriously hard to control; but I hope that comparatively few articles of importance in the last twenty volumes of the Hermes, the Rheinisches Museum, the Philologus, and the English Classical Journals, have escaped my consideration. More than this I have but rarely attempted.

If under these circumstances I have nevertheless sat down to write a History of Greek Literature, and have even ventured to address myself to scholars as well as to the general public, my reason is that, after all, such knowledge of Greek literature as I possess has been of enormous value and interest to me; that for the last ten years at least, hardly a day has passed on which Greek poetry has not occupied a large part of my thoughts, hardly one deep or valuable emotion has come into my life which has not been either caused, or interpreted, or bettered by Greek poetry. This is doubtless part of the ordinary narrowing of the specialist, the one-sided sensitiveness in which he finds at once his sacrifice and his reward; but it is usually, perhaps, the thing that justifies a man in writing.

I have felt it difficult in a brief and comparatively popular treatise to maintain a fair proportion between the scientific and aesthetic sides of my subject. Our ultimate literary judgments upon an ancient writer generally depend, and must depend, upon a large mass of philological and antiquarian argument. In treating Homer, for instance, it is impossible to avoid the Homeric Question; and doubtless many will judge, in that particular case, that the Question has almost ousted the Poet from this book. As a rule, however, I have tried to conceal all the laboratory work, except for purposes of illustration, and to base my exposition or criticism on the results of it. This explains why I have so rarely referred to other scholars, especially those whose works are best known in this country. I doubt, for instance, if the names of Jebb, Leaf, and Monro occur at all in the following pages. The same is true of such writers as Usener, Gomperz, Susemihl, and Blass, to whom I owe much; and even of W. Christ, from whose Geschichte der Griechischen Litteratur I have taken a great deal of my chronology and general framework. But there are two teachers of whose influence I am especially conscious: first, Mr. T. C. Snow, of St. John's College, Oxford, too close a friend of my own for me to say more of him; and secondly, Professor Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, of Göttingen, whose historical insight and singular gift of imaginative sympathy with ancient Greece seem to me to have changed the face of many departments of Hellenic study within the last fifteen years.

My general method, however, has been somewhat personal, and independent of particular authorities. I have tried—at first unconsciously, afterwards of set purpose—to realise, as well as I could, what sort of men the various Greek authors were, what they liked and disliked, how they earned their living and spent their time. Of course it is only in the Attic period, and perhaps in the exceptional case of Pindar, that such a result can be even distantly approached, unless history is to degenerate into fiction. But the attempt is helpful even where it leads to no definite result. It saves the student from the error of conceiving 'the Greeks' as all much alike—a gallery of homogeneous figures, with the same ideals, the same standards, the same limitations. In reality it is their variety that makes them so living to us—the vast range of their interests, the suggestiveness and diversity of their achievements, together with the vivid personal energy that made the achievements possible. It was not by 'classic repose' nor yet by 'worship of the human body,' it was not even by the mere possession of high intellectual and æsthetic gifts, that they rose so irresistibly from mere barbarism to the height of their unique civilisation: it was by infinite labour and unrest, by daring and by suffering, by loyal devotion to the things they felt to be great; above all, by hard and serious thinking.

Their outer political history, indeed, like that of all other nations, is filled with war and diplomacy, with cruelty and deceit. It is the inner history, the history of thought and feeling and character, that is so grand. They had some difficulties to contend with which are now almost out of our path. They had practically no experience, but were doing everything for the first time; they were utterly weak in material resources, and their emotions, their 'desires and fears and rages,' were probably wilder and fierier than ours. Yet they produced the Athens of Pericles and of Plato.

The conception which we moderns form of these men certainly varies in the various generations. The 'serene and classical' Greek of Winckelmann and Goethe did good service to the world in his day, though we now feel him to be mainly a phantom. He has been succeeded, especially in the works of painters and poets, by an æsthetic and fleshly Greek in fine raiment, an abstract Pagan who lives to be contrasted with an equally abstract early Christian or Puritan, and to be glorified or mishandled according to the sentiments of his critic. He is a phantom too, as unreal as those marble palaces in which he habitually takes his ease. He would pass, perhaps, as a 'Græculus' of the Decadence; but the speeches Against Timarchus and Against Leocrates show what an Athenian jury would have thought of him. There is more flesh and blood in the Greek of the anthropologist, the foster-brother of Kaffirs and Hairy Ainos. He is at least human and simple and emotional, and free from irrelevant trappings. His fault, of course, is that he is not the man we want, but only the raw material out of which that man was formed: a Hellene without the beauty, without the spiritual life, without the Hellenism. Many other abstract Greeks are about us, no one perhaps greatly better than another; yet each has served to correct and complement his predecessor; and in the long-run there can be little doubt that our conceptions have become more adequate. We need not take Dr. Johnson's wild verdict about the 'savages' addressed by Demosthenes, as the basis of our comparison: we may take the Voyage d' Anacharsis of the Abbé Bartelemi. That is a work of genius in its way, careful, imaginative, and keen-sighted; but it was published in 1788. Make allowance for the personality of the writers, and how much nearer we get to the spirit of Greece in a casual study by Mr. Andrew Lang or M. Anatole France!

A desire to make the most of my allotted space, and also to obtain some approach to unity of view, has led me to limit the scope of this book in several ways. Recognising that Athens is the only part of Greece of which we have much real knowledge, I have accepted her as the inevitable interpreter of the rest, and have, to a certain extent, tried to focus my reader's attention upon the Attic period, from Æschylus to Plato. I have reduced my treatment of Philosophy to the narrowest dimensions, and, with much reluctance, have determined to omit altogether Hippocrates and the men of science. Finally, I have stopped the history proper at the death of Demosthenes, and appended only a rapid and perhaps arbitrary sketch of the later literature down to the fall of Paganism, omitting entirely, for instance, even such interesting books as Theophrastus's Characters, and the Treatise on the Sublime.

In the spelling of proper names I have made no great effort to attain perfect consistency. I have in general adopted the ordinary English or Latin modifications, except that I have tried to guide pronunciation by leaving k unchanged where c would be soft, and by marking long syllables with a circumflex. Thus Kimon is not changed to Cimon, and Leptînes is distinguished from Æschines. I have not, however, thought it necessary to call him Leptînês, or to alter the aspect of a common word by writing Dêmêtêr, Thûkŷdidês. In references to ancient authors, my figures always apply to the most easily accessible edition; my reading, of course, is that which I think most likely to be right in each case. All the authors quoted are published in cheap texts by Teubner or Tauchnitz or the English Universities, except in a few cases, which are noted as they occur. Aristotle, Plato, and the Orators are quoted by the pages of the standard editions; in the Constitution of Athens, which, of course, was not contained in the great Berlin Aristotle, I follow Kenyon's editio princeps.

Philologists may be surprised at the occasional acceptance in my translations of ancient and erroneous etymologies. If, in a particular passage, I translate ἠλίβατος 'sun-trodden,' it is not that I think it to be a 'contracted form,' of ἡλιόβατος, but that I believe Euripides to have thought so.

An asterisk * after the title of a work signifies that the work is lost or only extant in fragments. Fragmentary writers are quoted, unless otherwise stated, from the following collections: Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum by Karl Müller; Philosophorum, by Mullach; Tragicorum, by Nauck; Comicorum, by Kock; Epicorum, by Kinkel; Poetæ Lyrici Græci, by Bergk. These collections are denoted by their initial letters, F. H. G., F. P. G., and so on. C. I. A. is the Corpus Inscriptionum Atticarum, C. I. G. the Corpus Inscriptionum Græcarum. In a few cases I have used abbreviations for a proper name, as W. M. for Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, but not, I think, in any context where they are likely to be misunderstood.

Among the friends who have helped me with criticisms and suggestions, I must especially express my indebtedness to Mr. George Macdonald, lecturer in Greek in this University, for much careful advice and correction of detail throughout the book.


Glasgow, February 1897.




Hon. M. A. of Trinity College, Cambridge.

A succession of attractive volumes dealing with the history of literature in each country. Each volume will contain about three hundred and fifty 12mo pages, and will treat an entire literature, giving a uniform impression of its development, history, and character, and of its relation to previous and to contemporary work.

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MODERN SCANDINAVIAN LITERATURE. By Dr. Georg Brandes, of Copenhagen.

CHINESE LITERATURE. By Herbert A. Giles, M. A., LL. D. (Aberd.), Professor of Chinese in the University of Cambridge, and late H. B. M. Consul at Ningpo.

SANSKRIT LITERATURE. By A. A. Macdonell, M. A., Deputy Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford.


BOHEMIAN LITERATURE. By Francis, Count Lützow, author of "Bohemia: An Historical Sketch."

JAPANESE LITERATURE. By W. G. Aston, C. M. G., M. A., late Acting Secretary at the British Legation at Tokio.

SPANISH LITERATURE. By J. Fitzmaurice-Kelly, Member of the Spanish Academy.

ITALIAN LITERATURE. By Richard Garnett, C. B., LL. D., Keeper of Printed Books in the British Museum.

ANCIENT GREEK LITERATURE. By Gilbert Murray, M. A., Professor of Greek in the University of Glasgow.

FRENCH LITERATURE. By Edward Dowden, D. C. L., LL. D., Professor of English Literature at the University of Dublin.



American Literature. By Prof. W. P. Trent, of Columbia University.

German Literature.

Hungarian Literature. By Dr. Zoltán Beöthy, Professor of Hungarian Literature at the University of Budapest.

Latin Literature. By Dr. Arthur Woolgar-Verrall, Fellow and Senior Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1957, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.