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History of literature

The subject of the history of literature is a vast and vexed one. It firstly demands a coherent primary definition of what does and what does not constitute literature. The first writings from ancient Sumeria by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature, no more than do the Egyptian hieroglyphics or the thousands of logs from ancient Chinese regimes.

Moreover, it should be born in mind that given the significance of distance as a cultural isolator in early times, the historical development of literature did not occur at an even pace across the world.

The problematics 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 underpinning culture. Much has been written, for example, about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in the 3rd century BC, and the unquantifiable numbers of key texts which were said to have been consumed in the flames. The deliberate suppression of texts and often their authors by organisations of either a spiritual or a temporal nature mists the subject.

Certain primary texts however may be isolated which have a qualifying role as literature's first stirrings.

Early orally transmitted tales such as the Epic of Gilgamesh (8th millennium BC) or the Eve story of Lilith (16th century BC) were eventually written down. The stories in The Bible most certainly qualify as early literature as does another orally transmitted and subsequently transcribed epic, the story usually attributed to Homer, The Odyssey. In China, a mystical collection of poems attributed to Lao Tze, the Tao te Ching was assembled. The myths and legends of the Norsemen again were an orally transmitted tradition, in a culture in which poetry was highly prized: some of this vibrant oral culture survives having been (much) later written down by scholars, much of it however does not.

Both the Greek and Roman civilisations were document-centric and left in their wake a considerable corpus of literary work: poetry, plays, histories, satire and theatre.

Need sections accommodating:

Anglo-Saxon literature
Morte d'Arthur

The invention and subsequent widespread use of the printing press was a significant technological breakthrough and one which led to the widespread dissemination of texts, and one which was to mark a watershed in the history of literary development.

In the English language, the first work which is consonant with the novel form was Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

Need sections accommodating:

structuralist analysis e.g. deconstuctionism
digital literature

Please see western canon.

work in progress: user:sjc