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The Hellenistic era began ("officially") with the death of Alexander the Great, and ended (rather vaguely) with the consolidation of the Roman Empire; it can also be argued that it permeated the entire duration of the latter, ending terminally only with the fall of Rome, and the consequent beginning of the Medieval era.

The Hellenistic era is characterized more by the spead of the common (Gr. koine) Greek language across the eastern Mediterranean than with the narrower, Aristotelian understanding of Hellenism in ethnic, polis-based terms. Many of the luminaries of the era were in fact not of Greek, but of Roman, Illyrian, Scythian, Syrian, Egyptian, or other Middle Eastern descent: Marcus Aurelius wrote his "Meditations" (literally, "To Oneself") in the common, Alexandrian Greek of his time, and most literate Romans of his time must have been conversant enough in Greek to read classical texts with fluency and solid comprehension. All books of the New Testament were written originally in Alexandrian Greek (although, of course, by non-Greeks), and the Septuagint saw to it that the Old Testament was translated to the same lingua franca as well.

After a long, recent period in which Hellenistic culture was held in relative disrepute (i.e. relatively to Plato and Aristotle), and a longer and earlier one yet when it was viewed as morally suspect by religious Christians, the major philosophical schools of the Hellenistic era, i.e. Stoic, Skeptic, and Epicurean, are attracting renewed attention by scholars and the general readership alike. The uniformly agent-driven bias of Hellenistic philosophy, and of Epicureanism in particular, strikes a relevant note with modern individualism.

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