Greek Classical Period

Greek Classical Period

The Greek Classical Period (500–323 b.c.e.) had a vast amount of influence on Western culture in terms of art, literature, philosophy, and architecture. This period occurred between the Archaic Period (800–500 b.c.e.) and Hellenistic Period (323–31 b.c.e.) and took place near the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Many renowned philosophers and writers appeared at this time, such as Aristotle, Euripides, and Sophocles.

Greece was a collection of city-states with different forms of government. The Classical Period marked the contribution of democracy to Western civilization, with its roots in the city-state of Athens. It was an aristocrat, Cleisthenes, who brought the ideas of democracy to Athens in 510 b.c.e.

The word democracy comes from the Greek word demos meaning “the dominion of the people.” Cleisthenes’ objective was to attain more power for the Greeks in Athens, by giving the people the power to vote.

Democracy for the Greeks meant that a majority of votes, taken in an assembly (which was every male’s duty when randomly chosen to attend), decided an issue. Males who did not attend a required assembly were no longer considered citizens, and their civil rights were taken away.

There were political conflicts during the Classical Period as well. The golden age, during the Classical Period, marked a time when Athens was strong. During this time the Greeks waged war on the Persians, who were a great threat with their growing military power, wealth, and size. A deadly war broke out in 479 b.c.e., during the Persian invasions, in which the Greeks destroyed the Persians.

Although Sparta and Athens joined forces in their conquest over the Persians, hostility between the two city-states grew and eventually erupted into a war against each other, known as the Peloponnesian War (431–404 b.c.e.). The end of the Peloponnesian War marked the end of the golden age due to the Spartans defeat of the Athenians.

Greek literature during the Classical Period brought about drama and its genres. The three tragedian playwrights were Euripides (484–406 b.c.e.), Aeschylus (525–456 b.c.e.), and Sophocles (496–406 b.c.e.).

Euripides was known for such plays as Hippolytus (428 b.c.e.) and Medea (431 b.c.e.) and his development of the New Comedy, such as in Alcestis, all while bringing his realist views into drama.

Aeschylus, a great poet as well as playwright, first brought a second actor to the stage. Aeschylus is known for many tragedies such as Suppliants (490 b.c.e.), Agamemnon (458 b.c.e.), and Promotheus Bound (456 b.c.e.). Sophocles was also a popular and talented tragedian who performed his plays at the Festival of Dionysus.

Sophocles was known for writing tragedies such as his Theban Plays: Antigone (441 b.c.e.), Oedipus Rex (425 b.c.e.), and Oedipus in Colonus (401 b.c.e.) as well as Electra (c. 410 b.c.e.) and Ajax (c. 440 b.c.e.). Sophocles is noted as one of the first playwrights to bring a third actor to the stage.