Literature of the western world: the ancient

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Western literature, history of literatures in the languages of the Indo-European family, along with a small number of other languages whose cultures became closely associated with the West, from ancient times to the present.

Diverse as they are, European literatures, lượt thích European languages, are parts of a comtháng heritage. Greek, Latin, Germanic, Baltic và Slavic, Celtic, và Romance languages are all members of the Indo-European family. (Finnish and Hungarian and Semitic languages of the eastern Mediterranean, such as Hebrew, are not Indo-European. Literatures in these languages are, however, closely associated with major Western literatures & are often included ahy vọng them.) The comtháng literary heritage is essentially that originating in ancient Greece and Rome. It was preserved, transformed, and spread by Christianity và thus transmitted to lớn the vernacular languages of the European Continent, the Western Hemisphere, và other regions that were settled by Europeans. To the present day, this body of writing displays a unity in its main features that sets it apart from the literatures of the rest of the world. Such common characteristics are considered here.


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For specific information about the major national literatures or literary traditions of the West, see such articles as American literature, English literature, German literature, Greek literature, Latin American literature, & Scandinavian literature. Various other Western literatures—including those in the Armenian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Lithuanian, and Romanian languages—are also treated in separate entries.

Ancient literature

The stark fact about ancient Western literature is that the greater part of it has perished. Some of it had been forgotten before it was possible to lớn commit it khổng lồ writing; fire, war, and the ravages of time have robbed posterity of most of the rest; và the restitutions that archaeologists & paleographers achieve sầu from time lớn time are small. Yet surviving writings in Greek and far more in Latin have included those that on ancient testimony marked the heights reached by the creative sầu imagination và intellect of the ancient world.


Five sầu ancient civilizations—Babylon & Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, và the culture of the Israelites in Palestine—each came inlớn liên hệ with one or more of the others. The two most ancient, Assyro-Babylonia, with its broken clay tablets, và Egypt, with its rotted papyrus rolls, make no direct literary signal khổng lồ the modern age; yet Babylon produced the first full code of laws and two epics of archetypal myth, which came lớn be echoed and re-echoed in distant lands, & Egypt’s mystical intuition of a supernatural world caught the imagination of the Greeks and Romans. Hebrew culture exerted its greakiểm tra literary influence on the West because of the place held by its early writings as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible; and this literature profoundly influenced Western consciousness through translation from about the time of St. Augustine onward into every vernacular language as well as inkhổng lồ Latin. Until then, Judaism’s concentrated spirituality mix it apart from the Greek and Roman world.

Though influenced by the religious myths of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, & Egypt, Greek literature has no direct literary ancestry & appears self-originated. Roman writers looked lớn Greek precept for themes, treatment, và choice of verse và metre. Rome eventually passed the torch on to the early Middle Ages, by which time Greek had been subsumed under a wholly Latin tradition & was only rediscovered in its own right at the Renaissance—the “classical” tradition afterward becoming a threat lớn natural literary development, particularly when certain critics of the 17th century began lớn insist that the subjects and style of contemporary writing should conkhung with those employed by Greece và Rome.

All of the chief kinds of literature—epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric, satire, history, biography, & prose narrative—were established by the Greeks and Romans, và later developments have sầu for the most part been secondary extensions. The Greek epic of Homer was the model for the Latin of Virgil; the lyric fragments of Alcaeus và Sappho were echoed in the work of Catullus & Ovid; the history of Thucydides was succeeded by that of Livy and Tacitus; but the tragedy of the great Athenians of the 5th century bc had no worthy counterpart in Roman Seneca nor had the philosophical writings of Plalớn and Aristotle in those of any ancient Roman, for the practical Romans were not philosophers. Whereas Greek writers excelled in abstraction, the Romans had an unusually concrete vision &, as their art of portraiture shows, were intensely interested in human individuality.

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In sum, the work of these writers và others và perhaps especially that of Greek authors expresses the imaginative and moral temper of Western man. It has helped to create his values & khổng lồ hvà on a tradition khổng lồ distant generations. Homer’s epics extend their concern from the right treatment of strangers to behaviour in situations of deep involvement aước ao rival heroes, their foes, & the overseeing gods; the tragedies of Aeschylus & Sophocles are a sublime expression of man’s breakthrough into lớn moral awareness of his situation. Amuốn Roman authors an elevated Stoicism stressing the sense of duty is common lớn many, from Naevius, Ennius, & Cato to Virgil, Horace, và Seneca. A human igiảm giá khuyến mãi is khổng lồ be seen in the savage satire of Juvenal and in Anacreon’s songs of love và wine, as it is in the philosophical thought of Plato lớn and Aristotle. It is given voice by a chorus of Sophocles, “Wonders are many, but none is more wonderful than man, the power that crosses the white sea. . . .” The human ikhuyễn mãi giảm giá held up in Greek và Latin literature, formed after civilization had emerged from earlier centuries of barbarism, was lớn be transformed, before the ancient world came khổng lồ its cđại bại, into the spiritual igiảm giá khuyến mãi of Judeo-Christianity, whose writers foreshadowed medieval literature.


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