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Western literature, history of literatures in the language of the Indo-European family, in addition to a small number of other languages who cultures became closely associated with the West, from old times come the present.

Diverse together they are, european literatures, favor European languages, are components of a usual heritage. Greek, Latin, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic, Celtic, and also Romance languages are all members that the Indo-European family. (Finnish and also Hungarian and also Semitic language of the east Mediterranean, such as Hebrew, room not Indo-European. Literatures in this languages are, however, closely associated with significant Western literatures and also are regularly included amongst them.) The common literary heritage is essentially that originating in ancient Greece and Rome. It was preserved, transformed, and spread through Christianity and thustransfer come the vernacular languages of the europe Continent, the west Hemisphere, and other areas that were cleared up by Europeans. To the current day, this body of writing displays a unity in that main functions that sets it apart from the literatures the the remainder of the world. Together common qualities are taken into consideration here.


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For specific information about the significant national literatures or literary heritages of the West, watch such short articles as American literature, English literature, German literature, Greek literature, Latin American literature, and also Scandinavian literature. Miscellaneous other western literatures—including those in the Armenian, Bulgarian, Estonian, Lithuanian, and also Romanian languages—are also treated in separate entries.

Ancient literature

The distinct fact about ancient Western literature is that the greater part of it has actually perished. Some of it had actually been forgotten prior to it was feasible to commit it come writing; fire, war, and the ravages the time have actually robbed posterity of many of the rest; and the restitutions the archaeologists and also paleographers achieve from time come time room small. Yet surviving writings in Greek and also far much more in Latin have consisted of those that on ancient testimony significant the heights got to by the an innovative imagination and intellect of the ancient world.


Five old civilizations—Babylon and Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and also the culture of the Israelites in Palestine—each come into call with one or much more of the others. The two many ancient, Assyro-Babylonia, with its broken clay tablets, and also Egypt, v its rotted papyrus rolls, make no direct literary signal to the modern age; yet Babylon created the very first full code of laws and also two epics of archetypal myth, which became echoed and re-echoed in distant lands, and also Egypt’s mystical intuition that a mythological world recorded the imagination of the Greeks and also Romans. Hebrew culture exerted its greatest literary influence on the West since of the place hosted by its early writings as the Old testimony of the Christian Bible; and also this literary works profoundly affected Western consciousness with translation from about the time of St. Augustine onward into every vernacular language and into Latin. Till then, Judaism’s focused spirituality set it apart from the Greek and Roman world.

Though influenced by the religious myths of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Egypt, Greek literature has no straight literary ancestry and appears self-originated. Roman writers looked to Greek precept because that themes, treatment, and selection of verse and metre. Rome eventually passed the torch on come the beforehand Middle Ages, whereby time Greek had actually been subsumed under a wholly Latin tradition and also was just rediscovered in its own right at the Renaissance—the “classical” heritage afterward ending up being a risk to herbal literary development, particularly when specific critics of the 17th century began to firmly insist that the subjects and also style of contemporary writing need to conform with those to work by Greece and also Rome.

All the the chief kinds of literature—epic, tragedy, comedy, lyric, satire, history, biography, and prose narrative—were established by the Greeks and also Romans, and also later breakthroughs have for the most component been secondary extensions. The Greek epos of Homer to be the version for the Latin the Virgil; the lyric pieces of Alcaeus and also Sappho were echoed in the job-related of Catullus and also Ovid; the background of Thucydides was succeeded by the of Livy and Tacitus; yet the tragedy that the an excellent Athenians that the fifth century bc had actually no worthy equivalent in roman inn Seneca nor had actually the thoughtful writings of Plato and Aristotle in those of any ancient Roman, because that the practical Romans were not philosophers. Conversely, Greek authors excelled in abstraction, the Romans had an abnormally concrete vision and, together their art of portraiture shows, were intensely interested in human being individuality.

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In sum, the work of this writers and others and perhaps particularly that that Greek writer expresses the imaginative and also moral temper of western man. It has helped to develop his values and also to hand top top a tradition to remote generations. Homer’s epics extend their issue from the ideal treatment that strangers to behaviour in cases of deep involvement amongst rival heroes, their foes, and the overseeing gods; the tragedies the Aeschylus and also Sophocles space a sublime expression of man’s breakthrough right into moral awareness of his situation. Among Roman writer an elevated Stoicism stressing the sense of duty is typical to many, native Naevius, Ennius, and also Cato to Virgil, Horace, and Seneca. A human ideal is come be watched in the savage satire of Juvenal and also in Anacreon’s songs of love and also wine, as it is in the philosophical thought of Plato and also Aristotle. It is provided voice by a chorus the Sophocles, “Wonders room many, but none is much more wonderful than man, the power that crosses the white sea. . . .” The human being ideal hosted up in Greek and also Latin literature, formed after people had arised from previously centuries the barbarism, was to be transformed, prior to the old world came to its close, right into the spiritual right of Judeo-Christianity, whose authors foreshadowed middle ages literature.