Ancient Greek language

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Ancient Greek refers to a group of dialects used between approximately the 9th century BC and the 9th century AD. It adopted its current alphabet, the Greek alphabet, approximately around 800 BC, being an adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet, thanks to trade between Greece and Phoenicia.

Attic

The most prominent Ancient Greek dialect was Attic, the language of Athens during the “Classical period”, which embraces the 4th and 5th centuries BC. This is the language of Demosthenes, Plato and Thucydides. Ionic is a dialect that was most famously used by the historian Herodotus. A limited amount of writing has come down to us in the other Ancient Greek dialects (such as Aeolic, Arcadian-Cypriot, and Doric). The inclusion of Ancient Macedonian in Greek is debated. Greek writers (and poets in particular) came to associate the dialects with particular styles of poetry. Aeolic, for instance, was the dialect of the poet Sappho. The Doric dialect came to be associated with Bucolic poetry, to such an extent that the poet Theocritus removed all non-Doric traces from his poems about the countryside. Similarly, though early scholars believed it to be an early stage of Ionic, the language of the Homeric poems has also been shown to be a literary language.[1]

Koiné Greek

Attic Greek enjoyed wide use during the Classical period, and came to be even more widespread in the post-classical period as Koiné Greek. During the Roman Empire, even as well-educated Romans were expected to have command of the literature of the Classical period, the unprestigious Koiné came to have wide use through much of the Empire as the language of business, the everyday and the lower classes.

Christianity

In the first centuries of the common era, the new Christian religion and the Greek language had an intense, productive relationship. Most crucially, the New Testament was written in Koiné Greek, and much of the proselytizing of the early Christians must have taken place in Greek. Furthermore, Greek played an important role in the elaboration and refinement of Christian doctrine. Greek writers were at the forefront of every major theological debate and were widely influential, even on writers in Latin.

Cicero had earlier complained that the Latin language was not well-suited to philosophy, and Christians writing in Latin had similar problems. After the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, and the definition of orthodoxy became a matter of state, many Latin-speaking theologians looked east to Greek-speakers and their long tradition of philosophical inquiry for clarification.

Late Ancient Greek

During the last centuries of Antiquity, Ancient Greek underwent some important phonetic and phonological changes that prefigured the main pronunciation features of Byzantine and Modern Greek.

Footnotes

  1. Homer's language is mostly Ionic, but with an admixture of words from other dialects.