Introduction to Ancient Greek Criticism 

English Criticism has its root in the ancient Greek period; the word criticism derives from a Greek word, krites, meaning to judge. Criticism doesn’t follow creation; it goes simultaneously with creation. Poet chooses to and not to write in a particular way, with selected words, etc.

The process of creating is critical in itself. So, criticism cannot simply be reduced to be a task of dwelling on an already existing text—however, that is also a criticism.  In ancient Greece, the art of ‘rhapsode’ involved an element of interpretation: a rhapsode would perform a song which he himself hadn’t composed but his performance would be highly self-conscious and interpretative one.

In Shakespeare’s play, Othello, the character of Iago is very cunning and villainous in our eyes but the same character can be performed in a way where we find his gestures to be justified up to the extent where we pity him.

Every reading and redoing of a particular text is an interpretation and every interpretation is a criticism. In this way, literary criticism dates back to the time of first creation, which is to say roughly about 800 years before the birth of Christ. This is the time of epic poets like Homer and Hesoid. 

Following this, came the period of great dramatist Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles and the philosophers Socrates, Pluto, Aristotle. After the death of Alexander (323 BC), the library of Alexandria in the city of Alexandria, Egypt became the hub of scholarship and knowledge.

The library hosted such renowned poets and grammarians as Callimachus, Apollonius Rhodius, Aristarchus, and Zenodotus. We know of these figures partly through the work of Suetonius (ca. 69–140 AD), who wrote the first histories of literature and criticism.

During, roughly, around thousand years poets, philosophers, rhetoricians, grammarians, and critics laid down many basic terms and concepts regarding literary criticism and these concepts would shape the future of literary criticism.

These include the concept of “mimesis” or imitation; the concept of beauty and its connection with truth and goodness; the ideal of the organic unity of a literary work; the social, political, and moral functions of literature; the connection between literature, philosophy, and rhetoric; the nature and status of language; the impact of literary performance on an audience; the definition of figures of speech such as metaphor, metonymy, and symbol; the notion of a “canon” of the most important literary works; and the development of various genres such as epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, and song.