The beginnings of Greek literature must be sought in the extension of Byzantine literary tradition, but at the same time diverge from this in both form and content. As a linguistic model in the theocratic Byzantine, an archaic art language prevailed based on the tradition of the church fathers. Worldly motives were without literary prestige, but e.g. satirical poems have probably been more prevalent than we currently have evidence of. See Byzantine Empire (Literature).
It is a defining problem to what extent one should distinguish between a recent literature written in a language that is an imitation of classical examples, and that which, historically, can be called Greek. In the 1830s, Norwegian nationalism adopted antiquity as a model for the state and the archaic art language katharevusa as official language. The synthesis between ancient and Greek Orthodox Christianity, which was promoted by the state-carrying forces through the fanatics (the Greek nobility in Constantinople, cf. the district of Fener) and confirmed by historians Sp. Zambelios (1815–81) and K. Paparrigopoulos (1815–91) in the 1850s and 1860s, were a significant deterrent both to the development of a national language on the grounds of the vernacular (what was later termed dimotiki ) and to a national literature.
Long before Constantinople fell in 1453, a rich poetic tradition in the common people had emerged. The poems have mythical or legendary content (eg the Adonis and Alexander figures). They praise love, are characterized by local patriotic glow and depict homesickness. The mirologues (death complaints) include devoted the Kharon motif. This oral literature gained new sustenance during the liberation struggle against the Turks, as the so-called cleft songs reverberated in the mountains from Peloponnese to Epirus. The quality of Greek folk poetry was first discovered – both in Western Europe and among the Greeks themselves – with Claude Fauriel’s groundbreaking Chants populaires de la Grèce modern (Paris, 1825).
Some literary flourishing in the vernacular was unthinkable in the Byzantine Empire. Neither the religious tradition nor the social conditions in society invited literary recordings in the vernacular. It is on the periphery of Greco-Byzantine territory that Greek literature has its places of worship. In eastern Anatolia at present-day Erzurum (“the land of the Romans”), an epic emerged around the border soldier Digenis Akritas. This epic is written for the first time in the 12th century and is conventionally regarded as the beginning of Greek literature. The social satire appears early as a poetic genre. Theodoros Prodromos, called the Poor ( Ftokhoprodromos), ironic about the great social differences in Constantinople in the 13th century.
In the extension of the Crusader era, at the same time, Frankish (= Catholic) Western Europe began to play an increasingly important role in the Levant, both economically, socially and literarily. In Rhodes, a nice love poem developed, and in Cyprus, petrarchism prevailed until the conquest of the Turks in 1566.
Socio-political terms for productive Greek literature first arose in Crete under the Venetian colonial rule (1217–1669). For 150 years of the “Cretan literary golden age” (c. 1490–1645), Venetians with Cretan dialect as their mother tongue (see Crete ) retrieved cultural nourishment from Italy and conveyed it to the Greeks, usually in Latin writing. The genres comprised everything from shepherd poetry à la Guarini to religious drama, from frivolous poetry à la François Villon to serious comedy. Cretan machinations often went Italian originals high. So popular was it approx. 10,000 verse major novel Erotokritos by Vitzentzos Kornaros (probably written in 1592) that until recently it could have been reconstructed from the common people. At the same time wrote Georgios Khortatsis tragedy Erofili, one of the Cretan literature masterpieces. In Crete there were academies based on Italian designs. Since the 1960s, Cretan theater has been the subject of extensive research.
After Crete was captured by the Turks, poets in the Ionian Islands (the Seven Islands) continued the Italian-Cretan tradition. It gained a clear national form through Dionysios Solomos (1798-1857), whose Hymn to Freedom was elevated to Greek national anthem when the Seven Islands were united with Greece in 1864. On the mainland, however, the Greek Enlightenment became(1770–1820) largely replaced by an obscurantist period of Greek literature. While a recent national literature took its first steps on the periphery of the Greek state, Athens went on a cot tour; hungry patriotism in an archaic language brought the new state into a cultural backwater in the Balkans. Still around the turn of the century, the learned Athenian Academy organized poetry competitions where a romanticized and classically form-filled poem was put to the fore. This pompous and most incomprehensible language of art prevailed in parallel with “The Great Idea”, ie a cultural – and territorial – renaissance for ancient Greece. A few katharevusa- writers, however, have remained in hindsight. The purist style that characterizes Emmanouil Roidis (1836-1904) and the deeply religious Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851-1911) are widely recognized. Roidis wrote a certain satire about the female pope Johanna.
The poet Aristotelis Valaoritis (1824–79), the Victor Hugo of the Greeks, rose above the pedantry of the purists. He was among those who paved the way for the first prose work on dimotiki. It was written in 1888 by Jannis Psycharis (Jean Psichari) (1857-1929), professor at the Oriental School in Paris and Ernest Renan’s son-in-law. The novel My Journey became a vernacular manifesto and gained many followers.
Nowhere does the Katharevusa appear more unnatural than in the theater. As late as 1903, a dimotiki installation of Aiskhylos’ Orestien led to street fights in Athens. Greek theater begins with Andonios Matesis (1794-1875). He wrote in an approximate vernacular with the theme of social fermentation at Zakynthos, but was long an isolated pioneer. With Spyros Melas (1883–1966), Angelos Terzakis (1907–79) and Jakovos Kambanellis (b. 1922), Greek theater has been enriched in terms of both thematic and dramatic techniques, and today there is a remarkable vitality. The journalist Dimitris Psathas (1903–79) wrote a large number of popular comedies.
At the focal point between antiquarianism and dimoticism stands the nationalist Kostis Palamas (1858–1943), the decadent poet of Alexandria Konstandinos Kavafis (1863–1933) and Angelos Sikelianos (1884–1951) who, through his poems, supported the visions of the Greeks. The socialist Kostas Varnalis (1884–1974) also left traces with his poems. Poetry has always been close to the Greeks, and it is no coincidence that two Nobel Prizes in literature (1963 and 1979) have fallen to lyricists, the diplomat Giorgos Seferis (1900-71) and the former surrealist Odysseas Elytis (1911-96). One of the most read poets today is arguably Jannis Ritsos (1909–90), especially known as underground poets in the junta era. Also during the Civil War (1946-49) there was not insignificant resistance poetry. Through the music of Theodorakis Ritsos and Elytis have gained wide popularity.
Since the “1930 generation”, Greek prose has freed itself from both art language and extreme dimoticism. The state had then consolidated itself after the Asia Minor disaster and the population exchange with Turkey. Stratis Myrivilis (1892–1969), Kosmas Politis (1893–1974), Fotis Kondoglou (1897–1965), Giorgos Theotokas (1906–66) and Angelos Terzakis are all talented storytellers with a rich and artful language. Myrivilis’ anti-war novel, Life in the Tomb, is among the world’s first of its kind. The authorship of M. Karagatsis (1908–60) is steeped in Freudian ideas. Several Greek authors have taken inspiration from Scandinavian poetry (Ibsen, Strindberg, Hamsun).
The novel has been a favorite genre among Greeks. The classics include Georgios Viziinos (1849–96) who wrote on Catharevusa, while Argyris Eftaliotis (1849–1923) and Grigorios Xenopoulos (1867–1951) follow the linguistic ideology of Psykharis. Exile writer Dimitris Khadzis (1913–86) belongs to a new generation of short story artists with Thessaloniki as the center.
Among the post-war prose writers, the Cretaceous Nikos Kazantzakis (1883–1957) stands out as one of the greatest narratives of contemporary literature in literature. His cosmopolitan outlook and programmatic vernacular were long a thorn in the eyes of Greek society’s traditional forces. Pandelis Prevelakis (1909–86) portrays his home island of Crete, while Andonis Samarakis, also Cretan, represents nihilism in novel form. Among the frequently translated authors are Stratis Tsirkas, Sotiris Patatzis, Kostas Takhtsis and Vasilis Vasilikos. More and more women are making their mark in recent literature, social breakthroughs that have been followed by Lilika Nakou by Dido Sotiriou, Margarita Limberaki and Galatia Sarandi.