Greek Studies

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Greek Studies or Ancient Greek Philology is the science of the language and literature of Ancient Greek. Rarely, the term Greek Studies in the sense of a science of the language and literature of Greek across all time periods is also used as a generic term for the sub-sciences of Ancient Greek Philology, Byzantine Studies and Neo-Greek Studies. In Greece itself, the course of study is simply called Φιλολογία (Philología).

Greek Studies can be studied at many German universities (degrees: Magister, Staatsexamen, Bachelor/Master) and, together with Latin Studies, forms the so-called Classical Philology, which belongs to the Classical Studies of Antiquity. To this day, the goal of the study of Greek Studies is the most secure mastery of the ancient Greek language, at least in its written form. This is practiced by translating Greek texts into German, but also by translating German texts into Greek. Since Greek Studies, like Latin Studies, deals with language and literature (the distinction between linguistics and literary studies is much less sharp in the classical philologies than in the modern philologies), a comprehensive knowledge of Greek literature and the ability to analyse and interpret it are among the aims of study, in addition to a mastery of the language. Knowledge of Ancient Greek or a Graecum is required for the study of Latin Studies, Ancient History and Classical Archaeology.

Greek Studies as a Literary Discipline

Greek Studies deals with all authors from the beginning of Greek writing (Homer or Hesiod) to Byzantine Studies, whereby the end of Greek and the beginning of Byzantine literature merge smoothly or cannot be clearly defined; the transition occurred at the latest around 600 AD with the end of ancient Greek historiography and Neoplatonism. In some cases, there are separate chairs for Byzantine Studies (e.g. FU Berlin), in others courses on Byzantine Studies are offered within Greek Studies (e.g. FSU Jena). It should be noted, however, that many Byzantinists are historians rather than philologists. On the whole, works of imperial and late antique literature have so far played a much smaller role in German Greek studies than for ancient historians and Latinists. The main focus within Greek Studies, at least in Germany, continues to be the study of the so-called “classical” authors, that is for

  • Drama: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Menander
  • Epic: Homer, Hesiod
  • Historiography: Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon
  • Poetry: Stesichoros, Sappho, Pindar, Bakchylides
  • Philosophy: Plato, Aristotle
  • Rhetoric: Lysias, Gorgias, Isocrates, Demosthenes

All these works were written before 300 B.C. In addition, there are some Hellenistic authors as well as the New Testament, which is written in the ancient Greek common language (Koine) (although the NT is treated more in theological courses than in Greek studies). Imperial and Late Ancient Greek literature, as mentioned, is still rarely treated at present; the only exceptions are some works of Second Sophistic and Neoplatonism, which have received increased attention from researchers in recent years.

Position of the subject

In Germany (to a lesser extent also in Switzerland and Austria), Greek Studies is part of the canon of subjects at German universities. Since the Greek language was taught for a long time together with Latin at most grammar schools, Greek Studies has always made its contribution to German teacher training at the universities as well. However, since nowadays only very few students learn Greek at schools, the number of students of Greek Studies is also rather low. In some cases, therefore, Greek Studies is even referred to as an orchid subject, since one does not have particularly good chances of finding work in the private sector outside of the teaching profession (which, of course, also applies to other humanities subjects). On the other hand, however, according to its defenders, the status of Greek Studies continues to be distinguished by the fact that Greek texts form the foundation of modern European society and set the beginning of European writing.

Neighbouring and special disciplines

For the education in literature and language, knowledge in the neighbouring and special disciplines should be taught. Above all, knowledge of Greek history, Greek culture and Greek philosophy is important, without which an understanding of many Greek texts is not possible. Especially for student teachers, a comprehensive knowledge of these areas is important, since their teaching is also part of the curriculum in Greek classes in schools. Among the special disciplines, epigraphy, papyrology and textual criticism are particularly worthy of mention. Papyrology in particular has been able to recover quite a few texts in recent decades(see: Oxyrhynchus) that were lost during the Middle Ages.

History of the subject

Greek philology has already been practiced in ancient times: At the time of Hellenism, Greek philologists studied the existing texts of Homer very closely, which were probably already very different at that time. With the rise of the Roman Empire, the Greek language also came to Rome; every upper-class Roman citizen could speak Greek as well as Latin (from about 150 BC). It is therefore not surprising that some Romans wrote their works in Greek (for example, Emperor Marcus Aurelius). With the onset of Late Antiquity (around 300), the knowledge of Greek in the West then declined, which also led to a decline of Greek philology in Western Europe. After this time, Greek philology was mainly preserved by Eastern Roman-Byzantine scholars; in Arabia, too, Greek literature, mainly Aristotle, was studied (though mostly in translation).

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in the 15th century, many Greek scholars fled to the West and especially to Italy, ushering in the Renaissance and Humanism – and Greek thus returned to Western Europe. From the 18th/19th century onwards, important personalities such as Winckelmann, Goethe and Nietzsche dealt with Greek, and Johann Heinrich Voß produced his famous translation of the Homeric epics. The civilization of Ancient Greece has since been considered exemplary for almost 200 years, losing this status only after the Second World War. In the 19th century, the zenith of Greek studies in Germany was reached.[1] Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff is considered to be the most internationally important philologist of this period. In the later 20th century, the importance of Greek philology declined more and more (parallel to the decline in the importance of Greek in German grammar schools), but nevertheless important Greek philologists have always worked in both West and East Germany (for example Bruno Snell, Friedrich Zucker). Today, Greek can be studied at most universities where Latin can also be studied, since the two subjects together form Classical Philology and are often combined by students in terms of subject matter.

Active use of the ancient Greek language

There is a group of about 15 to 20 people in Western Europe who are engaged in actively using the ancient Greek language and speaking it like a living language. This initiative came from the Heidelberg professor of Greek, Herwig Görgemanns. In addition, courses in Ancient Greek are held regularly in Greece itself, led by Helmut Quack, a high school teacher from Husum.


  • Handbook of Classical Studies
  • Albrecht Liess: Die Einführung des Griechischen als Lehrfach an der Universität Ingolstadt (im 16. Jahrhundert). In: Liber ad Magistrum. Festgabe Herrn Universitätsprofessor Dr. Johannes Spörl zu seinem 60. Geburtstag dargebracht von seinen Schülern, Munich 1964, pp. 113-119.
  • Joachim Latacz: Die Gräzistik der Gegenwart. In: Ernst-Richard Schwinge (ed.): Die Wissenschaften vom Altertum am Ende des 2. Jahrtausends n. Chr. B. G. Teubner, Stuttgart/Leipzig 1995, ISBN 3-519-07429-X, S. 41-89.
  • Heinz-Günther Nesselrath (ed.): Einleitung in die griechische Philologie. Teubner, Stuttgart [u. a.] 1997, ISBN 3-519-07435-4.
  • Walther Ludwig: Hellas in Deutschland – Darstellungen der Gräzistik im deutschsprachigen Raum aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-86295-4 (on Franciscus Irenicus, Martin Crusius and Johann Caspar Löscher).
  • Peter Riemer, Michael Weißenberger, Bernhard Zimmermann: Einführung in das Studium der Gräzistik. C. H. Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-46629-X.

See also

  • Greek language
  • Greek literature
  • Greek (subject)
  • Classical philology
  • Latin Studies
  • Linguistics
  • Philology
  • Society for Ancient Philosophy
  • List of Classical Philologists
  • List of known Graecists
  • List of known Byzantinists
  • List of known neo-Grecists

Web links


  1. Kjeld Matthiessen: From Erasmus to Nietzsche. Beginnings and Development of Greek as a University Subject in Germany. In: Horst-Dieter Blume, Cay Lienau (eds.): German-Greek Encounters since the Enlightenment (= Choregia vol. 5). Lienau, Münster 2007, ISBN 978-3-934017-08-5, pp. 5-36.