Jump to navigation Jump to search For a more in-literature dissertations table of the history of literature, see List of years in literature.
Literature and writing, though connected, are not synonymous. The very first writings from ancient Sumer by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature—the same is true of some of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics or the thousands of logs from ancient Chinese regimes. Moreover, given the significance of distance as a cultural isolator in earlier centuries, the historical development of literature did not occur at an even pace across the world. The problems of creating a uniform global history of literature are compounded by the fact that many texts have been lost over the millennia, either deliberately, by accident, or by the total disappearance of the originating culture. Certain primary texts, however, may be isolated which have a qualifying role as literature’s first stirrings. Many texts handed down by oral tradition over several centuries before they were fixed in written form are difficult or impossible to date. The core of the Rigveda may date to the mid 2nd millennium BC.
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey date to the 8th century BC and mark the beginning of Classical Antiquity. They also stand in an oral tradition that stretches back to the late Bronze Age. Chinese poetry, comprising 305 works by anonymous authors dating from the 11th to 7th centuries BC. Among the earliest Chinese works of narrative history, Zuo Zhuan is a gem of classical Chinese prose. This work and the Shiji or Records of the Grand Historian, were regarded as the ultimate models by many generations of prose stylists in ancient China. The books that constitute the Hebrew Bible developed over roughly a millennium.
The oldest texts seem to come from the eleventh or tenth centuries BCE, whilst most of the other texts are somewhat later. They are edited works, being collections of various sources intricately and carefully woven together. The Old Testament was compiled and edited by various men over a period of centuries, with many scholars concluding that the Hebrew canon was solidified by literature dissertations the 3rd century BC. Ancient Greek society placed considerable emphasis upon literature. A playwright named Aeschylus changed Western literature forever when he introduced the ideas of dialogue and interacting characters to playwriting.
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In doing so, he essentially invented «drama»: his Oresteia trilogy of plays is seen as his crowning achievement. Philosophy entered literature in the dialogues of Plato, who converted the give and take of Socratic questioning into written form. The New Testament is an unusual collection of texts—John’s Book of Revelation, though not the first of its kind, essentially defines apocalypse as a literary genre. In many respects, the writers of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire chose to avoid innovation in favor of imitating the great Greek authors. Satire is one of the few Roman additions to literature—Horace was the first to use satire extensively as a tool for argument, and Juvenal made it into a weapon.
Augustine of Hippo and his The City of God do for religious literature essentially what Plato had done for philosophy, but Augustine’s approach was far less conversational and more didactive. Knowledge traditions in India handed down philosophical gleanings and theological concepts through the two traditions of Shruti and Smriti, meaning that which is learnt and that which is experienced — this included the Vedas. Greeks and Romans fell out of favor in Europe. Following Rome’s fall, Islam’s spread across Asia and Africa brought with it a desire to preserve and build upon the work of the Greeks, especially in literature. Greek works remained extant: they were preserved and copied carefully by Muslim scribes. In Europe Hagiographies, or «lives of the saints», are frequent among early medieval texts.
In November 1095 — Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont. Between Augustine and The Bible, religious authors had numerous aspects of Christianity that needed further explication and interpretation. This epic has been influential in the West since it was translated in the 18th century, first by Antoine Galland. Many imitations were written, especially in France. Arabic manuscript of the One Thousand and One Nights. Theologus Autodidactus deals with various science fiction elements such as spontaneous generation, futurology, the end of the world and doomsday, resurrection, and the afterlife. Among other innovations in Arabic literature was Ibn Khaldun’s perspective on chronicling past events—by fully rejecting supernatural explanations, Khaldun essentially invented the scientific or sociological approach to history.
Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, the national epic of Iran, is a mythical and heroic retelling of Persian history. It is the longest epic poem ever written. From Persian culture the book which would, eventually, become the most famous in the west is the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Amir Arsalan was also a popular mythical Persian story, which has influenced some modern works of fantasy fiction, such as The Heroic Legend of Arslan. The two primary streams of Ottoman written literature are poetry and prose.
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