Attic Greek is the Greek dialect of the ancient region of Attica, including the polis of Athens. Often called classical Greek, it was the prestige dialect of the Greek world for centuries and remains the standard form of the language that is taught to students of ancient Greek. As the basis of the Hellenistic Koine, it is the most similar of the ancient dialects to later Greek. Attic is traditionally classified as a member or sister dialect of the Ionic branch.
Origin and range
Greek is the primary member of the Hellenic branch of the Indo-European language family. In ancient times, Greek had already come to exist in several dialects, one of which was Attic. The earliest attestations of Greek, dating from the 16th to 11th centuries BC, are written in Linear B, an archaic writing system used by the Mycenaean Greeks in writing their language; the distinction between Eastern and Western Greek is believed to have arisen by Mycenaean times or before. Mycenaean Greek represents an early form of Eastern Greek, the group to which Attic also belongs. Later Greek literature wrote about three main dialects: Aeolic, Doric, and Ionic; Attic was part of the Ionic dialect group. “Old Attic” is used in reference to the dialect of Thucydides (460–400 BC) and the dramatists of 5th-century Athens whereas “New Attic” is used for the language of later writers following conventionally the accession in 285 BC of Greek-speaking Ptolemy II to the throne of the Kingdom of Egypt. Ruling from Alexandria, Ptolemy launched the Alexandrian period, during which the city of Alexandria and its expatriate Greek-medium scholars flourished.
The original range of the spoken Attic dialect included Attica and a number of the Aegean Islands; the closely related Ionic was also spoken along the western and northwestern coasts of Asia Minor in modern Turkey, in Chalcidice, Thrace, Euboea, and in some colonies of Magna Graecia. Eventually, the texts of literary Attic were widely studied far beyond their homeland: first in the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean, including in Ancient Rome and the larger Hellenistic world, and later in the Muslim world, Europe, and other parts of the world touched by those civilizations.