Greek Literature & Philosophy


Learning Objects (11)

Direct Access Links:
The Trial of Socrates  (Famous Trials)
The Relationship Between Socrates and Plato  (Famous Trials)
Meletus, the “Principal Accuser”  (Famous Trials)
The Clouds by Aristophanes, 423 B.C.  (Famous Trials)
Plato  (History)
More About Plato  (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Aristotle  (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Ancient Greek Literature  (Ancient HIstory Encyclopedia)
Author Says Whole Culture Wrote Iliad and Odyssey  (National Geographic)
Greek Philosophy  (Ancient History Encyclopedia)
Philosophy is a Greek Creation  (


Greek literature has influenced not only its Roman neighbors to the west but also countless generations across the European continent. Greek writers are responsible for the introduction of such genres as poetry, tragedy, comedy, and western philosophy to the world. Explore some of the most renowned figures of their time – but if you get hooked, know that there are many more!


Famous Greek Characters

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The Trial of Socrates

The trial and execution of Socrates in Athens in 399 B.C.E. puzzles historians. Why, in a society enjoying more freedom and democracy than any the world had ever seen, would a 70-year-old philosopher be put to death for what he was teaching?

The Relationship Between Socrates and Plato

Most of what we think we know about Socrates comes from a student of his over forty years his junior, Plato. Socrates himself wrote–so far as we know–nothing. Plato (427 to 347 B.C.E) is especially important to our understanding of the trial of Socrates because he, along with Xenophon, wrote the only two surviving accounts of the defense (or apology) of Socrates.

Meletus, the “Principal Accuser”

Meletus, a poet, initiated the prosecution against Socrates, although most scholars consider him to a “puppet” of the best-known and most influential of the three accusers, Anytus. The affidavit sworn out by Meletus made two related charges against Socrates: “refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the State and of introducing new and different gods” and “corrupting the youth.”

The Clouds by Aristophanes, 423 B.C.

We get one contemporary view of Socrates from playwright Aristophanes. In his play Clouds, first produced in 423 B.C.E., Aristophanes presents Socrates as an eccentric and comic headmaster of a “thinkery” (or “thoughtery”). He is portrayed “stalking the streets” of Athens barefoot, “rolling his eyes” at remarks he found unintelligent, and “gazing up” at the clouds.


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The Athenian philosopher Plato (c.428-347 B.C.) is one of the most important figures of the Ancient Greek world and the entire history of Western thought. In his written dialogues he conveyed and expanded on the ideas and techniques of his teacher Socrates. The Academy he founded was by some accounts the world’s first university and in it he trained his greatest student, the equally influential philosopher Aristotle.


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More About Plato

Plato (429?–347 B.C.E.) is, by any reckoning, one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy. An Athenian citizen of high status, he displays in his works his absorption in the political events and intellectual movements of his time, but the questions he raises are so profound and the strategies he uses for tackling them so richly suggestive and provocative that educated readers of nearly every period have in some way been influenced by him, and in practically every age there have been philosophers who count themselves Platonists in some important respects.


Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) numbers among the greatest philosophers of all time. Judged solely in terms of his philosophical influence, only Plato is his peer: Aristotle’s works shaped centuries of philosophy from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance, and even today continue to be studied with keen, non-antiquarian interest. A prodigious researcher and writer, Aristotle left a great body of work, perhaps numbering as many as two-hundred treatises, from which approximately thirty-one survive.



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Ancient Greek Literature

The Greeks were a passionate people, and this zeal can be seen in their literature. They had a rich history of both war and peace, leaving an indelible imprint on the culture and people.

To fully understand and appreciate Greek literature one must separate it, divide the oral epics from the tragedies and comedies as well as the histories from the philosophies. Greek literature can also be divided into distinct periods: Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. The literature of the Archaic era mostly centered on myth; part history and part folklore. Homer’s epics of the Iliad and the Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony are significant examples of this period.


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Author Says Whole Culture Wrote Iliad and Odyssey

The Iliad and The Odyssey are two of the key works of Western civilization. But almost nothing is known about their author and the date and manner of their creation. In Why Homer Matters, historian and award-winning author Adam Nicolson suggests that Homer be thought of not as a person but as a tradition and that the works attributed to him go back a thousand years earlier than generally believed.



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Greek Philosophy

Greek philosophers approached the big questions of life sometimes in a genuine scientific way, sometimes in mystic ways, but always in an imaginative fashion. Pythagoras considered a charlatan for claiming the doctrine of reincarnation, a half-naked Socrates haranguing people in the street with provocative and unanswerable questions, Aristotle tutoring great generals: these are examples of how Greek thinkers dared to question traditional conventions and to challenge the prejudices of their age, sometimes putting their own lives at stake. Greek Philosophy as an independent cultural genre began around 600 BCE, and its insights still persist to our times.


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Philosophy is a Greek Creation

Philosophy is a purely Greek invention. The word philosophy means“the love of wisdom”in Greek. Ancient Greek philosophy was the attempt made by some ancient Greeks to make sense out of the world around them, and explain things in a non-religious way.


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