In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hellenistic Literature

  • Introduction
  • General Guides to Hellenistic Literature
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies of Poetry
  • Collections of Literary Fragments
  • Literary Aesthetics
  • Roman Reception of Hellenistic Literature

Classics Hellenistic Literature
Dee L. Clayman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0051


The Hellenistic era, so named by J. G. Droysen, begins with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE and ends in 31 BCE, when the Romans effectively took control of the Mediterranean after the battle of Actium. The term was later applied to the cultural output of the age by Wilamowitz. The dramatic developments in art and literature, philosophy and science that characterize this period are usually attributed to the dramatic political and social changes that swept over the Greek world after Alexander’s death. This picture is complicated by the fact that some aspects of the Hellenistic appear in the last part of the fourth century, when the social and political changes that theoretically inspired them were only just getting under way. Though these and other difficulties have challenged the traditional definition, on the whole it has proven to be a useful label.

Historical and Cultural Background

In the political vacuum created by Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his empire was divided among his generals, with Antigonus taking control of Macedonia and the league of Greek cities subject to it; Seleucus, a large part of the former Persian Empire; and Ptolemy, Egypt. These were the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Diadochai, the successors of Alexander, where the literary and artistic achievements of the Hellenistic age were created in political and cultural environments that differed from democratic Athens.

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