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CSET English – Greek Classical and Hellenistic Period Literature

For today’s CSET English review I’m going to look at the Greek Classical and Hellenistic Period in Literature. The writing is generally easy to identify for this period. The writers have single names like Plato or Socrates, and the work speaks for itself like Ulysses and The Odyssey. You can’t really forget those.

These periods are known for comedy, tragedy, elegies, epics, epigrams, lyrical poetry, odes, and pastorals. Plus there are the many philosophies (boring ones in my personal opinion, but all philosophies are better than warm milk before bedtime).

I’m going to leave out the poets because there’s so much work to read and not enough time to analyze it all. However, the most famous poets of the time were Sappho and Pindar. Let’s begin with the playwrights:


The Persians
A Greek tragedies that it describes a historical event. The theme is hubris–blaming Persia’s loss on the king’s pride. The Kind, Xerxes built a bridge that angered the gods.

Seven against Thebes
The theme of this story is gods interfering in human affairs. The story is about Oedipus’ sons agreeing to share the throne. When Eteocles refuses to relinquish his authority, his brother, Polynices, wages war against him. The brothers kill each other in the end.

The Suppliants
This story is about the Daughters of Danaus and their father, King of Argos. He agrees to have their married to the sons of Aegyptus. However, when an oracle tells him that one of the husbands will kill him, he orders his daughters to kill their husbands on their wedding nigh. All but one due so, and that husband kills the king in the end.

The Oresteia
It tells the story of another King of Argos and the hubris that leads to his downfall. Much of the story revolves around Cassandra and her curse for rejecting Apollo. There are three parts: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides.

Prometheus Bound
A play with a bunch of static dialogue. Why? Because Prometheus is bound to a rock…didn’t you read the title?


The Iliad 

Ever see the movie Troy? You now have a really bad summary of The Illiad. BUT it is a summary indeed! The greatest difference is the gods are more involved.

There’s no way to summarize’s Homer’s work and do it justice, but here’s a brief synopsis: Nine years have passed since the start of the Trojan War. The Achaeans capture  Chryseis and Briseis. Chryseis’ father works as a priest for Apollo and he asks Agamemnon, leader of the Achaeans for their return. Initially he resists, but Chryseis creates a curse that causes man Achaeans to die. Achillies refuses to give up Brises. Achillies despises the Achaeans and wants to see them lose, so he asks his mother to have Zeus intervene. Eventually he does and the Trojans beat the pants of the Achaeans.

Stupid Achillies doesn’t want to fight, but he’s worried about his dying friends, so he gives his armor to friend, Patroclus. Hector kills him with Apollo’s help and steals the armor. When Achillies finds out, he rejoins the Achaeans and goes on a killing spree. He kills Hector and refuses to allow the Trojans to bury him. Eventually, he’s moved to return the body to the Trojans.

The Odyssey 

Hmm…let’s make this explanation shorter: The Odyssey is 10 years after the end of the 10-year Trojan war. Telemachus is the son of Odysseus, who hasn’t returned home after the Trojan war. His mother has to choose between 108 thirsty “suitors”. Telemachus searches for his father and discovers that he has been captured. Much of the epic poem is about Odysseus’ journey home to his family where he defeats the suitors and reclaims his throne.Themes include loneliness, a longing for home, temptation, and human weakness. The Trojan horse and Odysseus’ disguise reveal a motif of disguise/deceit.



Creon’s refusal to allow Antigone and Ismene to bury their brother, Polynices, causes his downfall. The two women and men are the children of Oedipus. Antigone refuses to listen to Creon and secretly buries her brother. When Creon discovers the truth, he vows to have her killed. However, Haemon, Creon’s son, rebukes his father’s wishes and verbally stands against him. Though Creon is warned that Not burying Polynices will bring trouble to their city of Thebes, he places her in a tomb anyway. Realizing the his own fears and the fear of the people, he decides to bury Polynices and to free Antigone, but it’s too late. Haemon finds her body and stabs himself. Creon’s wife also kills herself. Creon realizes that his arrogance and pride have caused his misery. He prays to the guards that he might die too, but his guards take him back to his chamber.

Oedipus the King

The people of Thebes are plagued and dying left and right. They plead to the king, Oedipus, to discover the truth. He uses his brother-in-law, Creon, to find a way to remove the curse. Creon learns that if the former king of Thebes’, Laius, murder is caught and expelled, the city will be cured. Creon brings a prophet named Tiresias to reveal the truth. After being accused of being the murderer, Tiresias confesses that Oedipus is the true murderer. The rest of the story revolves around Oedipus discovering that he was an orphan and the son of Laius. It is revealed that Oedipus was raised as an orphan in Corinth. Returning to Thebes, he murdered his father along the way and married his own mother. His mother and wife, Jocasta, kills herself when she learns the truth. Oedipus stabs his own eyes and begs Creon to exile him from the city in order to find his daughters. Creon happily does so.

Oedipus at Colonus

Oedipus wanders along with the help of Antigone. She takes him to the place he will be buried and meets up with Ismene. He learns that his two sons are fighting for the throne. Polynices pleads with Oedipus to support him, but Oedipus predicts that he and his brother, Eteocles, will die together. Polynices asks Antigone to give him a proper burial if he dies. She warns him, but he says that his fate is up to the gods. Oedipus dies/disappears and the girls head back to Thebes in order to prevent the fight between brothers.



Medea is a nutcase. Yes, her husband leaves her for another woman and Medea thinks he’s a spineless coward for this, but the woman doesn’t have it all. Creon realizes this and decides to exile her, but she begs for one more day in town. Once she receives this, she professes her desire to seek revenge on her husband. She gives his fiance a dress with poison. Creon notices the dress killing his daughter. Grieving for her, he embraces Glauce and dies with her. Then, Medea kills her own children to really get back at Jason. The she rides off on a dragon. (I utterly hated reading this story).

Trojan Women and Heracles are also popular plays by Euripides.



Lysistrata gets the women of Greece to refuse sex with their husbands until they agree to sign a peaceful treaty ending the war. The men approach the women with full erections multiple times in order to convince them to come home. After enough time passes, the men give in and Lysistrata gives a speech on their common heritage and how they’ve helped each other in the past.

The Clouds

Strepsiades is burdened by the obsession his son, Pheidippides, has for horses. Essentially, Pheidippides is bleeding his account dry. Strepsiades wants to enroll his son in a sophistry class next to their home, but Pheidippides refuses. So Strepsiades is forced to enroll himself. There, he meets Socrates and learns new philosophies. However, he’s condemned for being at the school when his son should be the one learning. The Course of Clouds convince him to enroll his son. Strepsiades forces Pheidippides to enter a classroom where he hears Just and Unjust arguing. Unjust wins the debate and takes Pheidippides on as a pupil. Pheidippides shifts from an addiction of horses to an addiction of sophistry, which also brings Stresiades problems. In the end, Stresiades realizes that he was deceived by The Course of Clouds and Socrates. To seek revenge, he sets the school’s roof on fire.

This satire is meant to point out the flaws in religion and education.


The Birds

Makedo sets out with his friend Goodhope to get away from society. They’re sick of politics and society as a whole. They’re searching for Tereus, a king who was once changed into the Hoopoe. They find a bird that leads them to Hoopoe, who isn’t a very impressive looking bird. They convince him to build a city in the sky to hide away from the gods and look down on the humans. Hoopoe agrees and they manage to convince a plethora of other birds to build the city. The story is a comedy with symbolism that relates to the Kingdom of God. Like many other works during this time, people read too much into it. It’s really escapist humor.

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