Modern Greek Literature from 15th to 19th Century

Modern Greek literature, term for modern Greek literature in the modern Greek language.

According to most literary historians, the beginnings of modern Greek literature lie in the late Byzantine epic Digenis Akritas (10th / 11th centuries). The same linguistic tradition, which remained alive after the conquest of Constantinople (1453), includes other vernacular works of this time (Byzantine culture [literature]), for example. the didactic poem of Spaneas (12th century), the begging poems of Ptochoprodromos (12th century) and folk songs composed in connection with “Digenis Akritas”

15th to 19th century

If the conditions of almost four centuries of foreign rule (1453-1821) and the resulting cultural standstill in the creation of well-known literary works were unsuitable, a special, anonymous folk poetry, partly shaped by the desire for freedom, developed everywhere in Greece (e.g. Klephten songs, lamentations, historical songs and two-line songs). The significance of this poetry lies in the fact that, alongside the Christian Orthodox tradition, it was the most important bearer of a Greek consciousness and the poetic function of language. During the first decades of the philhellenic 19th century, the strong poetic expressiveness of Greek folk songs met with great enthusiasm in literary circles in Europe, C.-C. Fauriel: “Chants populaires de la Grèce modern”, 2 volumes, 1824-25, translated by W. Müller : “Modern Greek folk songs”, 2 volumes, 1825; Translation of several folk songs by Goethe and others).

In the areas not yet occupied by the Turks, e.g. B. on the Dodecanese, on Cyprus and v. a. in Crete, a diverse literature flourished under the rule of the Venetians. Century reached its climax with the Cretan theater (“Erophile” by Georgios Chortatzis; “Abraham’s Sacrifice” and others) and some epic-lyrical poems (“Erotokritos” by V. Kornaros).

Only in the second half of the 18th century did a Greek educational movement in the spirit of the European Enlightenment awaken at the courts of the Danube principalities, where Greek hegemons ruled, as well as at the Greek universities in Bucharest and Iași, whose declared aim was to raise the level of education in occupied Greece. The Greek scholars who worked there, as well as A. Korais in Paris and R. Velestinlis in Vienna, with their scientific and literary work formed the basis for the emergence of a modern Greek literature, entirely in the sense of a national statehood and closely connected with the goal of liberation.

The signs for this were set during the liberation struggle (1821-26) and first in the area of ​​lyric poetry by A. Kalvos and D. Solomos, whereby the exemplary character of their poetry differs considerably from one another: A. Kalvos wrote in the purist, antiquated language (Katharevusa); D. Solomos, on the other hand, wrote poetry in the living vernacular (Demotike) and thus laid the foundations of poetry in the newly founded Greek state (1830). The fact that Katharevusa initially remained the linguistic means of expression in the field of prose may be due to a need of the Greeks, at the zero point of their recent history, for historicity and an educational program of the young state determined by scholars.

But also in poetry from 1830 to 1880, a time that can be considered as modern Greek romanticism, the pathetic poetry of the “Athens School”, which emulated ancient Greek models, dominated. It was not until the publication of the book “Meine Reise” (My Journey) (1888) by the linguist J. Psycharis, which was written in the vernacular, that a new era of modern Greek literature began, in which the connection to the poetry of D. Solomos and the Greek folk song was resumed. The dependence on Western models was replaced by the pursuit of an independent literature.

This led to the development of the Greek “Ithographia” (narrative description of customs), which took the place of the bourgeois novel in Greece because of the historical special path and the lack of an organically developing bourgeoisie. The stories and novellas show elements of the moral history or the homeland novel, but mostly went beyond the scope of the genre and were harbingers of the socially critical and psychological novel. The most important representative of the genre was the master of the Greek story A. Papadiamantis.

  1. Roidis and G. Visyinos were also significantly involved in the consolidation of a literary-critical consciousness and also wrote in Katharevusa.

At the same time the poets and storytellers of the generation of the “1880s” gathered around the strong personality of K. Palamas, who made living language a rich and dynamic means of expression. Lorentzos Mavilis (* 1860, † 1912), Ioannis Gryparis (* 1870, † 1942), A. Karkavitsas and G. Xenopoulos.

At the end of the 19th century there were also some stage works, dramatic idylls and moral descriptions, often with song interludes in the style of the vaudevilles.

Modern Greek Literature from 15th to 19th Century

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